#CNU23 Day 1: Making a City, The Millennial Market, And 4 DFW Neighborhoods

April 30, 2015

CNU’s 23rd Annual Congress in Dallas this week has been described as a gathering of city designers who’ve all “seen the same UFO” – they all seem to share this experience of being looked at like they’re crazy when they begin explaining their practice of city design. Yet, to me many of these ideas seem a lot like common sense. Maybe it’s the millennial in me. Nonetheless it’s inspiring to be surrounded by so many healthy, engaged people working to make our cities places that people love.


The always-inspiring Gail Thomas began yesterday’s Opening Plenary  with video snippets of over 10 years of the Dallas Institute for Humanity’s symposium “What Makes a City”. Some of the most inspiring answers, from thought-leaders around the world posed that What make a city is….

Architecture & poetry; The character of the place; Form and process are interconnected. Form should allow groups to happen; We have a deep yearning for a place at the heart of city to just be there and experience the life of the City; Places where we can go to share ideas. We need places where these exchanges can happen; A city nourishes love,  rediscovering what it means to be human.

I’m running with Gail’s “Dallas the City of Imagination.” In Dallas, if you can dream it you just might be able to do it. I’ve heard others make similar comments – in Dallas you’re one of a few, rather than one in a thousand as in NYC. It’s a CAN-DO business environment. (Maybe that’s the Texan cowboy in us?)

Robert Wilonsky then introduced two local Mayors, Betsy Price of Fort Worth and Laura Maczka of Richardson. They had very similar advice about what’s worked to engage their resident and business communities.

Above all, Mayor Price stressed the importance of “true listening” as an art of hearing both the good and bad and making sense of it all to save tome, energy, and money. Fort Worth has engaged young leaders in its Steer Ft Worth program. Hundreds of residents under 30 showed up to their first happy hour at Joe T Garcia’s. No one had ever bothered to ask them to be involved. And when staff held the first all-Spanish twitter town hall, they gained 43,000 followers!

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Robert Wilonsky, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, and Richardson Mayor Laura Maczka

The other big take-away is their plea for us to give our elected officials the tools they need to be brave. Send them info on best practices and help them understand the argument for what makes good planning, design, and neighborhoods.

Both Fort Worth and Richardson, are focused on becoming modern cities, with great amenities, while keeping the small-town feel of a great place. Amenities are a large component of neighborhood attractiveness – not just for young hipsters living car-free in the city. Even families in the suburbs want trails, parks, transit diversity, retail and social vortexes within walking distance.

Millennial Nation

In all, 63 million Millennials are working through society “like a pig in a python” as put by Todd Zimmerman of Zimmerman/Volk Associates. The next bulge in the market extends from 2003-2036, a demand for family housing as we marry and have children. The question though is whether we’ll be buying detached housing or want to remain in walkable urban environments without owning two cars. That will probably be determined by the quality of schools and availability of workforce-affordable homes. Even in the close-in suburbs of Dallas it’s hard to find a decent house for under $300,000 — a bit out-of-reach for a young school teacher and a city employee.

You’ve probably heard, Millennials are mostly single, highly social, early or unsettled in their careers, sensitive to greenwashing and oh-so green themselves, 17 percent of Millennials are foreign-born, and they’re not very into: NASCAR, golf, driving cars, hunting, or fishing (well, maybe those last two vary in Texas.)

Four different opinion polls between 2003 and 2013 each found that between 55-60 percent of Americans want to live in compact, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. In 2014, 62 percent of Millennials want that lifestyle. Demand far outweighs supply.

With walkable neighborhoods come clashes about street design. Smart Growth America has mapped pedestrian fatalities between 2003 and 2012 for their Dangerous by Design 2014 interactive analysis.


The analysis makes a strong statement that when we design streets for maximum speeds only, we’re neglecting the safety of the pedestrian. When does human life become a top priority? Even more, what about quality of life?

A person’s percent chance of fatality if hit by a car increases dramatically with the speed of the car.


Four DFW Neighborhoods

How do all these ideas play-out in DFW? To demonstrate, CNU brought three planning teams of professionals to join local professionals for a close analysis of sites in Burleson, Garland, and Fort Worth.


Sites were chosen by the strength of their local political leadership, where plans are most likely to be implemented. The projects are a reflection of CNU’s desire to make a lasting impression on each city they visit for the annual congress. In Dallas, the program inspired the Local Host Committee to also begin an ongoing Local Legacy Partnership project in South Dallas with Frazier Revitalization Inc and Partners in Progress.

You can see the results of the Legacy Charettes at a reception in the Adolphus Lobby today 5pm-6pm, open to the public.

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Creative Gateway into Crowdus Parkfrom Elm St in Deep Ellum

If you haven’t yet stopped by the temporary Crowdus Park in Deep Ellum (video linked here), you’re in for a surprise. Architecture and design firms Collision and TBG created an oasis with the help of an army of volunteers. It’ll be up through Saturday with musicians playing throughout the evening and a movie showing today at sunset. WFAA covered last night’s events. The Crowdus Park Facebook page has all the details.

Mike Lydon, Tony & Julie of the Street Plans Collaborative after their workshop building these benches from pallets.

Mike Lydon, Tony Garcia & Julie Flynn of the Street Plans Collaborative after their workshop building these benches from pallets.