Q&A: PegasusAblon's Michael Ablon On Placemaking In Dallas
PegasusAblon principal Michael Ablon, who recently announced he is running for mayor of Dallas, is happy to talk about why he wants to hold that office. But what he really likes to talk about is placemaking.
As Dallas grows toward being the third-largest U.S. metro, perhaps as soon as 2030, Ablon says the city needs to focus on what makes each of its neighborhoods healthy — seeing that the basic needs of residents are met — and beyond that, what makes each neighborhood its own place. Being a city of interconnected yet distinct places is key to Dallas' evolution into a world-class metro.
Naturally, Ablon cites his work in the Design District, which has fostered growth by attracting local businesses, as a good example of Dallas placemaking. But he stresses that the nature of placemaking is holistic, not formulaic. Beyond the basics of public safety and infrastructure, each neighborhood will have different needs and growth patterns.
Bisnow spoke with the mayorial hopeful about how neighborhoods done right are so important.
Bisnow: How did you become a developer?
Michael Ablon: I trained as an engineer and as an architect, and I studied finance. That's how I became a developer, by way of three other professions.
A developer is like being an orchestra conductor. You have to have a clear vision and the ability to find talented people and bring them together to work in concert. Your job isn't to play one instrument, it's to bring talented people together to play their instruments in harmony.
Bisnow: Why your interest in neighborhoods?
Ablon: Whether I've been working on an entire neighborhood like the Dallas Design District, or single buildings, my focus has always been on neighborhoods. Our whole thrust has been less about individual buildings than placemaking. Buildings come in the context of neighborhoods. A city is a fabric of neighborhoods knitted together with infrastructure. The diversity of the neighborhoods, the individuality of each one, is what makes them special, and the city as well. All together, neighborhoods give a city its distinctive character.
You can't have a city without them. When you talk about going to Manhattan, for instance, you talk about going to Soho or Tribeca or any of its neighborhoods, or when you talk about Chicago you talk about its neighborhoods.
Dallas is a much younger city than either of those, so we're really just maturing in terms of neighborhoods, and how they fit together to give a city its character. But neighborhoods are about more than character. All of a city's neighborhoods need to be healthy for the city to be truly healthy.
Bisnow: What goes into placemaking in a particular neighborhood?
Ablon: Business first and living second, in some cases, or living first and business second, or maybe a focus on retail. Each neighborhood has a different ethos, a different heart. Some of the fundamentals are the same, however. To be healthy, a neighborhood must be safe and must have transportation, among other things. But beyond those — the nuance of a neighborhood — no two are like.
Bisnow: Why are you running for office?
Ablon: Neighborhoods. Like any big city, Dallas has challenges. If you can work on the basics in each neighborhood, the city as a whole will benefit. The basics include safety and housing and education. The mayor can help focus on these issues, and if addressed properly, that will lead to businesses and job growth. Neighborhoods are the foundation of growth.
That is because people will want to live in healthy and interesting neighborhoods. People move to Dallas for quality of life, and the city's diversity, the differences in the urban texture, is a big part of that. Diversity of neighborhoods is essential to the quality of life of any city.
Diverse neighborhoods attracts talented people, because increasingly that's what people are looking for — interesting urban fabric — and talents attracts jobs. That in turn sustains the neighborhoods.
Dallas faces some of the [same] challenges as any large city: housing that's affordable, education that's accessible, infrastructure that's in good shape. Dallas is more fortunate than a lot of other places, because the city is a great business engine, and that can help drive the solutions.
Bisnow: What should the city do about affordable housing?
Ablon: Providing affordable housing is a collective effort involving many more players than the city in a process that will be complicated and difficult. Affordable housing won't come in isolation from other improvements that need to be made, such as road and sidewalk improvements, or providing better transportation services so residents can more easily get to work and healthcare, or making sure public school children get school assistance.
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