Fort Worth’s vibrant 35-block Sundance Square, 40 years in the making, has transformed the area from a 9-to-5 CBD to arguably the country’s most livable downtown. (Though you are still allowed to do work there 9-to-5.) Dallas, meanwhile, is also going pedestrian-friendly. Herewith, some rules:
1) Go 24/7
Sundance developer Ed Bass (right, with CEO Johnny Campbell and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price) sought this lively work/live/play environment, a sharp contrast to the few restaurants or reasons to spend time downtown other than for work in the post-World War II era. (Did people in the 50's do anything other than work?) Today, it’s an entertainment district with two new Class-A office towers (both more than 90% leased) and a third opening this summer. Among the newest street-level restaurants: Del Frisco’s Grille and Taco Diner.
2) Mix Up Those Uses
The Bass family snapped up property around the CBD and started redevelopment efforts in the late ‘70s. Over the years, residences, movie theaters, and more than 80 restaurants and bars have opened. The arrival of Bass Performance Hall carried mixed-use momentum across dozens of blocks.
3) Let Your People Walk
A model for urban design, Sundance Square replaced two surface lots in November with a dramatic one-acre plaza, providing an open-air 24/7 venue in the heart of downtown that's earned international acclaim. Livability.com named the city the best downtown for 2014. Project for Public Spaces chief Fred Kent incorporated design like curb extensions, which allow the plaza to interact with the rest of downtown—and pedestrians.
4) Never Too Late to Start
Dallas is home to the largest urban arts district in the US and when you toss in the relatively new Klyde Warren Park, it's starting to put the pieces together to create a walkability, says Downtown Dallas Inc CEO John Crawford. About 70% of the world’s population lives in cities, he says. People are going back to the urban core to replace long commutes, traffic jams, and bad evening drive deejays.
5) Bring the Masses
John says the urban core needs 10,000 to 12,000 residents to attract services and activities. More people will lead to the development of more destinations downtown, which will, in turn, attract more people. The Farmer’s Market will be a magnet not only for downtowner, but also for anyone who wants to grab some homegrown strawberries or onions.
6) ...and the Government
Planned massive redevelopment (many as public/private partnerships) are the rest of the story, he says in his best Paul Harvey voice. The City can make services and retail at street level mandatory for access to public funding for new projects. The Joule hotel (with residences, retail, and restaurant component) is a shining star and major step in redeveloping Downtown. Also following suit in opening up to the street level are Thanksgiving Tower, Mid-Elm Lofts, and 1600 Pacific (hotel and residential), among others, John says.
7) ...and Travelers
Big D’s urban core must appeal to visitors. It’s one of seven major convention cities in the US with 1M SF of meeting space, John says, which is an enormous hidden asset. The convention center is expanding, and the Omni Convention Center Hotel is adding four restaurants, and almost 400 below-grade parking spaces. (Watch for Part 2 of our look at walkability next week and check out our National edition on walkability here.)