Downtown Still Sucks. Why?

Nothing could be more Dallas than installing a “river” where there never was one before. Some city leaders are proposing just that, a “River Walk” of sorts like San Antonio’s.

It’s no secret that Downtown Dallas can be a little morbid after 5PM, but I wouldn’t say it’s so bad that we have to look at San Antonio for inspiration.

The idea is this: flood Main Street. “Three feet deep, pull out the sidewalks, put up the awnings — damn,” said Dwaine Caraway (Dallas District 4). But actually the idea has been studied by Downtown Dallas Inc before. The problem: that canal will flood the historic buildings alongside it. Oops.

As far as San Antonio’s Riverwalk is concerned, I am not a fan. It is crowded, expensive to park and the restaurants and whatnot are mediocre and also expensive. Besides that, few locals I know there actually visit. The same goes for Oklahoma City. The Bricktown Canal is nice but it isn’t exactly a classy place to be. I do applaud their efforts but I think Thunder Basketball is what really saved the area the most. However, the Harkins Movie Theater was a fantastic addition to Bricktown and I visited it pretty regularly. Downtown Houston by the way, has an Angelika theater downtown.

If Dallas’ goal is to corral tourists downtown like the other cities, fine. But to create a place where locals actually want to visit will require a tad more effort.

First, Dallas must address safety concerns Downtown. Manhattan faced the same issue into the 1990s, but solved it with an agressive, multi-agency approach (and technology to essentially spy on the entire island). So far this month, Downtown Dallas had 35 crimes reported. By contrast, neighboring Uptown reported 20 incidents.

Second, transportation is a real concern. So let’s say you’re leaving the Windspear, what to do next? Well DART only has one line through Downtown and parking is expensive and limited. Buses are slow and semi-complicated to navigate. So you’ll likely leave Downtown and go to Uptown or elsewhere. But Washington, DC for example has the Circulator bus. The Circulator is a series of special bus lines connecting many of DCs tourist sites with important transportation hubs. Getting to Downtown Dallas is relatively easy (of course I’m still excited about the Horseshoe Project), it’s navigation within Downtown that gets complicated. It’s a mile and a half between the Convention Center and the museums, for example. It would be nice to park and then not touch my car again until I leave. Fortunately, DART is launching just such a service in August.

Third, let’s talk about attractions. We all remember the Ferris Wheel at Dealey Plaza. What a stupid idea. I’m talking about real attractions. Downtown already has several: the Art Museum, Nasher, Windspear, Klyde Warren Park, or the Farmer’s Market. Some nice clubs and bars would be fun. As would a variety of restaurants (TGI Fridays in the West End doesn’t count).

Finally, and this is already occurring, but more people need to live Downtown, but that won’t happen more until the issues above are addressed. If it were me, downtown housing would resemble West Village or Knox-Henderson. The largest apartment complexes down there now are so segregated from everything else! Besides that, how annoying is it to have to leave your neighborhood just to grocery shop or buy other basics?

Downtown Dallas is awfully pretty to look at but it is high time to have some substance to those bright lights. My issue with the Riverwalk idea is that it is another example of Dallas’ identity crisis. Stop wanting to copy everyone else. I live here because it isn’t like NYC. Or, if I cared so damn much about a Riverwalk, well San Antonio already has one!

Highland Park = Mayberry? LOL

A Wall Street Journal article yesterday talked about our beloved Highland Park, written by real estate journalist Alyssa Abkowitz.

The article describes the area’s perfectly manicured lawns and “traditional architecture.” It also mentions their charming 4th of July parade and Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.  “It’s like you’ve gone to Mayberry when you walk in,” said Mr. Ray Washburn of Highland Park Village, which he owns. My reaction: Image

Washburn bought HP Village in 2009 and is responsible for bringing in more upscale tenants like Stella McCartney and Dior. Very Mayberry, n’est pas?

Now we never did get to see little Opie grow up, but I’m quite sure he was never accused of raping a classmate or making bomb threats against his high school. Nor did Sheriff Andy Taylor rent a warehouse for Opie and his friends to get wasted underage. Image

In one episode, a family’s home is condemned because it is so run down. Rather than let the family face eviction, the entire community bands together to repair their home. Think of that in Highland Park, either a family letting their home get to that state or the community helping out.

Mr. Washburn is an older gentlemen and remembers the Highland Park of a bygone era. When Highland Park Village was a neighborhood shopping center and when other longtime residents knew their neighbors. In a tight-knit community, one knows when something is out of place, and you watch out for each other.

Nowadays, Highland Park is the epicenter of Dallas’ materialism, generally enforced by newcomers, “outsiders.” And this phenomenon can be seen all over the country: Beverly Hills, River Oaks, Coral Gables, Buckhead, or Scottsdale.

D Magazine wrote in their review Dallas’ suburbs, “we once eavesdropped on some high schoolers who were eating at Mi Cocina in Highland Park Village. One boy said to the group: Everyone in the word hates America. Everyone in America hates Texas. Everyone in Texas hates Dallas and everyone in Dallas hates Highland Park. Isn’t that awesome?”

That sums it up. HP is the center of their own world.

Even in Nichols Hills, Oklahoma where I grew up, the city’s relative affluence, as the home of ex-Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon, has now gained far more notoriety than its community feel. As a child I was never conscious of the area’s wealth, nor was my family by any means one of the wealthiest families. Home prices were also far lower back then, as is the case with Highland Park. Of the 44 current listings in Nichols Hills, just about half are for homes worth $1 Million and up. In Highland Park, the cheapest listing is nearly $700,000.

Were my family looking to buy into Nichols Hills now, we couldn’t. That sucks. Not to pick on California, but I blame you. You spoiled brats are pricing out the natives.

All is not lost. As Highland Park continues to drown in its own decadence, new genuinely family-oriented communities wil take its place. I love Lakewood. There is a lot to like about Southlake too, though it is (gasp!) in Tarrant County.

The point: you can spend your life chasing money or you can carve your own path. That’s exactly what the original residents of HP did! They left the established residences in the east and went “out west” to Dallas. They worked hard and built the prairie into the city we know today.

SMU on Lockdown – The Aftermath

I woke up this morning to an e-mail alert from SMU describing an “active” shooter on campus. He was first seen at 8:18 AM in the vicinity of the student center. However, this e-mail was sent at 9:06 AM when the campus first locked-down. Ten minutes later, the “shooter” was arrested near Mockingbird Station.

The shooter in fact was not armed with a gun but with a knife. The suspect also called 911 on himself at 6:00AM from his apartment on Melody Lane (that’s behind the new Sam’s Club/Walmart on NW Hwy/Skillman) to report that he was suicidal. He is now being evaluated at a psychiatric hospital, as reported by KRLD. Listen to an eyewitness account of the arrest here.

After the lockdown ended, SMU Provost Paul Ludden sent an e-mail saying that exams will continue as originally scheduled for 11:30 AM onwards today. As far as the exams taking place during the lockdown, “students who may have missed exams scheduled prior to 11 a.m. will need to work with their professors,” the SMU homepage says.”

The only exams going on began at 8:00AM and likely no student missed one because of this. Professors often begin early exams later at say, 9, at their discretion, as was the case with my 8AM Saturday statistics final last Spring.

One student taking an exam during the lockdown stated, “[my professor] didn’t even reschedule it.”

When asked about the procedure inside the classroom she added, “Well for one we figured out it’s near impossible to lock COX doors from the inside. Nothing thrilling though…just shut the lights off and talked about what’s happening.”

Another student was just arriving on campus when the suspect was first spotted. “…I’m in the library and was outside at 8:30AM,” she said.

SMUs Fondren Library is not even a block north of Airline and Dyer Streets where the suspect was first seen. At that exact location are 4 buildings housing students: The Service House, Pi Kappa Alpha House, Lambda Chi Alpha House and Sigma Alpha Epsilon House. All SMU dorms require an ID to unlock the door, 24/7.

Had this been a legitimate “active shooter” situation, the 52 minute lag in between the suspect’s arrival and SMUs lock-down, could have been disastrous. Unknowing students may have walked right into his path.

SMU last activated its emergency management system during a tornado outbreak in April last year. Conflicting messages were sent within seconds of each other, advising SMU to take shelter and then not, and then to take shelter again.

SMU must issue a statement describing what happened here and review its system for future accuracy and timeliness.