Here are 10 ways to make Dallas better

Dear Mayor Johnson:

Congratulations on your election victory and on a challenging election campaign. But I hope you didn’t find it too challenging because now your problems really begin. This weekend’s lightning storm, which dropped trees and shut them down across town, is a good premonition of what you’re in for.

You walked on a platform to bridge divisions and improve civil decency, both laudable goals. But now the rubber of these ideals will hit our deeply scarred streets. Finding your way around in order to get by is not always a formula for success. Many of our civic problems are the result of a frillless attitude. So, let’s keep things polite even when it matters.

With that in mind, I want to offer you a short list of tasks that require your immediate attention. Let’s call it a blueprint for the future of the city.

1. Secure the sidewalks

Crumbling streets and paths should be mended, but we also have to deal with the dire condition of Dallas sidewalks – where they even exist. Our sidewalks are cracked, full of rubble, too small and always beware of the car. You are a civil disgrace. Dallasites want a more walkable city, and the first step – literally the first step – is prioritizing the sidewalk. The city should be for people, not machines.

2. Build special bike paths

You play with your life every time you ride a bike on the streets of Dallas. If the potholes don’t get you, the traffic will accelerate. That is why we need special, protected bike paths. If we had better alternative transit infrastructure, all these bikes and scooters wouldn’t clog the sidewalks. Their presence is more a symptom of a problem than the problem itself.

3. Housing. Casing. Casing.

This whole letter could be dedicated to living. The city needs more housing for the homeless, and it needs more affordable housing, and it needs everything in the whole city. In San Francisco, every major housing development must have a certain amount of affordable housing. That’s the kind of solution we need here. And as we build, we need to protect our neighborhoods from the shifts that come with rapid gentrification.

4. Extend the protection to retention

Dallas needs to understand that conservation is an economic engine for the city, not an attack on property rights. It has long been a thing of the past for the city to extend its Demolition Delay Ordinance beyond the inner city center and to think proactively about expanding historical protection in the city.

5. Build Trinity Park

It took a long time to get here, but the dreaded toll road is finally over, and we now have a legitimate plan for the kind of transformative park between the Trinity dams that Dallasites deserve and have long wanted. Building it will be a challenging process and it is your responsibility to guide and drive that effort.

6. Fair Park, no tariff park

The city has privatized the operation of the Fair Park, which is probably a good thing. But that doesn’t mean giving up on the mistake. That means making sure it really stays public, integrates better with its neighbors, and doesn’t shut them out. It also means tending to the city’s architectural crown jewel, which is in dire need of restoration.

7. Zone reform

We need a task force that can address the institutionalized abuse of Dallas Zoning Codes. In certain areas there are literally hundreds of zone deviations, which in local parlance are referred to as planned developments or PDs. It often seems like anyone with a decent attorney can get their own PD, which means things go up where they don’t belong, often before residents can do something about it.

8. Stop the dawdling on I-345

The elevated junction between I-45 and US Highway 75 that cuts Deep Ellum from downtown has exceeded its useful life and should be falling to be replaced with a street-level arterial system. And while we wait, a little light and color under the underpasses wouldn’t hurt.

9. Introduction of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

Continue the drive to expand DART in the inner city and implement a BRT system like so many other large cities of similar scale have done. BRT is a fast, affordable and flexible alternative to rail and perfect for a sprawling city like Dallas.

10. Restore the Kalita Humphreys Theater

Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark is a neglected wreck, but it doesn’t have to be. The city has a plan to make it a real icon and tourist attraction. That’s the right thing to do. The wrong thing is to give a theater company a treasure deal with powerful friends that went straight to ruin.


You claimed to be a united. Here’s the ultimate challenge: find a solution to the long-standing battle over the death ray in the Nasher Museum Tower. It’s the Arab-Israeli conflict of architecture in Dallas, and if you can resolve it, a Nobel Prize wouldn’t be a great honor.

Mark Lamster is an architecture critic for the Dallas Morning News, a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a professor at the University of Texas at the Arlington School of Architecture.

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