New Urbanism

Dallas leads the conversation about great walkable cities

Dallas leads the conversation about great walkable cities

My Furry Valentine
Public spaces in urban settings are part of the mission of the Congress for the New Urbanism. Photo by Renato Rimach Photography

If you want to know where the urban planners are, you should hoof it — walk, don't drive — over to The Adolphus, where a national conference has convened in Dallas for the very first time, to talk about improving the quality of urban life.

The 23rd annual Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) runs through May 2 and is subtitled "Meeting the Demand For Walkable Places."

"It's not our first time in Texas — we were in Austin seven years ago," says CNU spokesman Alex McKeag. "North Texas was selected this year because there's a strong contingency in the region who are doing great work, including Patrick Kennedy, who's president of the North Texas chapter, and quite a few senior members in North Texas who are very active in that region."

 Part of CNU's goal has been to incorporate public participation; one such event is the pop-up park taking place this week in Deep Ellum.

CNU also saw the current debates in Dallas — Trinity toll road, teardown of I-345, quality-of-life concerns — as meaningful and representative of similar national concerns.

"Dallas is a microcosm," McKeag says. "The highway teardown issue is happening all over the country, in cities like Seattle, where the Alaskan Way Viaduct has put them a billion dollars in the hole.

"It's a cautionary tale. We're trying to connect these issues all over country. There's a pent-up demand for places that are walkable and mixed-use and vibrant."

The conference draws about 1,300 people, including planners, engineers landscape architects, real estate developers, public officials and city advocates. Were you to put your ear to the door of an Adolphus conference room, you'd catch phrases like walkability, tactical urbanism, pocket neighborhoods and pocket parks.

Part of CNU's goal has been to incorporate public participation in events such as charrettes; one such event is the pop-up park taking place this week in Deep Ellum.

"A lot of city governments are cash-strapped and not sure where to put their public dollars," McKeag says. "Demonstration projects are a low-cost way to show what it's like, to have a hand in creating a great place and shows municipal government what's possible."

Other events that are open to the public include a lecture on Saturday, May 2, at 11:30 am by Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. And if you want to meet one of the dreamy urban planners, a closing party takes place on Saturday from 5-9 pm.

Simultaneously, there's a downtown Dallas rooftop tour on Saturday at 10 am hosted by Preservation Dallas, and a "creative bike ride" on Saturday 9 am that will explore the floodplain by bicycle with stops at designated areas to discuss ideas for the Trinity Park.

CNU's mission includes promoting diverse neighborhoods, pedestrians, public transit, public spaces, local history and ecology.

"We're bound by certain principles and have a stake against sprawling development," McKeag says. "You have people advocating for bicycle lanes, thinner streets. You have developers like Monte Anderson in Dallas who champion small-scale projects that empower people who live in the neighborhoods.

"The conversation is changing. People are talking about parks and open spaces and slowing down cars and tearing down freeways. That conversation wasn't happening 10 years ago."