A fortnight ago, a delegation of Australian urban development professionals descended on an unusually warm Dallas, Texas to attend the Urban Land Institute’s annual Fall Summit for 2016.
The four-day conference, held from October 24 – 27, assembled experts from around the world who discussed everything from emerging trends in technology, global connectivity and the impact of mass migration to the revival of rust-belt cities such as Columbus, Ohio, the value of creative place-making and creating climate-change resilient development.
And of course, along with another 5,800 delegates from around the Americas, Asia and Europe, the Australian delegates were lucky enough to experience some renowned Texan hospitality and tour some of the leading property developments the region has to offer
The Dallas/Fort Worth Region – A Perfect Setting
Affectionately known by Dallasites as the ‘Metroplex’, the Dallas/Fort Worth area is one of the United States’ fastest growing metropolitan regions, welcoming nearly one million more people every decade for the past 50 years.
With a population of nearly 7 million at current, the Dallas/Fort Worth area is already the fourth-largest metro area in the county.
The region has a unique balance of a small government, low prices, a pro-business mindset and a temperament climate that attracts major global institutions as well as large numbers of entrepreneurs.
Additionally, world-class architecture featuring the likes of Snohetta at the Perot Museum, Santiago Calatrava at the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, and REX OMA/Rem Koolhaas at the Wyly Theatre, the largest arts district in the country and a rejuvenated downtown precinct and make for a fantastically vibrant urban setting.
No wonder, the city was the perfect setting for this year’s Summit.
Santiago Calatrava's new Dallas Bridge[/caption]
A World-Class Line-Up
From leading property developers, REITS, agents and financiers to global CEOs, demographers, local entrepreneurs and city mayors, the programme was jammed-packed with a world-class line-up of nearly 240 presenters.
Some highlights included:
And to cap it all off the delegation was lucky enough to experience a closing address from former president of the United States the Honourable George W Bush, moderated by Chairman of the ULI Americas, Patricia R. Healy.
Some stand-out presentations included that of Parag Khanna’s discussion on how leveraging global connectivity could transform our world.
In the face of war, the largest mass migration of people since WWII, rising hostility and xenophobia, Khanna reminded us of the need for global cites to welcome diversity and embrace global connectivity.
“In an age of planetary urbanisation, successful global societies will seek digital connectivity as much as geopolitical connectivity,” Mr Khanna said. “The more connections the world has the more resilient it will be.” Connectivity, not geographic boundaries will be the key to the world’s growth into the future.
Conversely, Jonathan Rose, presented his views in the context of his recently published book, The Well-Tempered City.
Rose spoke of how modern cities should be integrating economic, social, and environmental priorities so that more people can thrive and prosper. A well-tempered city sees opportunity as equally distributed as possible.
Cities should seek inspiration from the DNA of some of the first cities of the world such as Uruk and Jericho, said Rose.
“We can look to improve our cities so that societies live in closer harmony with nature whilst creating economic models that lead to a higher quality of life for all.”
On the other hand, the story of the revival of downtown Dallas, outlined throughout the conference via on-ground tours as well as numerous presentations, has many applications for Australian cities.
After the collapse of the oil market in the 1980’s downtown Dallas became a ghost town, full of vacant buildings, crime and vagrancy. Since then however, downtown Dallas experienced a renaissance of its own kind, thanks in part to the mile-long DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) Downtown Mall that stretches along Pacific Avenue.
The Mall exemplifies the power a well-planned transport corridor can have in spurring economic development and has enhanced the area’s vitality, beauty and safety creating a central destination for work, culture, shopping and recreational activities.
Formerly vacant or partially leased office buildings are now thriving with technology, education, finance, architecture, and design firms and in response to an increasing demand for an urban walkable lifestyle, residents are now flocking back to the city.
A number of infill developments are currently in planning, including the redevelopment the 108-year-old Dallas High School, vacant since the 1990s, set to be redeveloped into a vibrant retail, office, and hotel space and The Drever, a 50-storey tower that was previously the First National Bank, set to be adapted into a residential mixed-use project with over 300 apartments and a luxury hotel.
Delegates also heard from the directors of major urban renewal and adaptive re-use projects such as 400Westrich in Columbus and Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati that have revived formally dangerous, degenerate parts of Ohio into vibrant mixed-use precincts.
On a global scale, AECOM presented on the River of Life project revving riverfront Kuala Lumpur and UrbanGrowth NSW was representing Australia with an insightful presentation on the Bays Precinct.`A key-take out was the need to re-develop regeneration projects with a long-term vision in mind, whilst creating genuinely authentic places that engage the community and creative stakeholders.
To that end, presentations from the organisers of initiatives such as Popuphood that catalysed the creative re-use of underutilised space in Oakland, California and community organisations such as Slowroll - once a small grassroots movement but now a global phenomenon - that reconnected Detroit’s community to its crumbling cityscape through the power of simple group bicycle rides - reinforced the ongoing importance of leveraging community groundswell in the regeneration of cities.
Sarah Filley, director of Popuphood commented that cities will lose out it if they fail to incubate mobile businesses.
“Globally competitive cities need to aggregate entrepreneurs together” Ms Filley said.
Indeed, not only involving entrepreneurs in new developments but also providing a regulation framework that is conducive to supporting them, was a theme that was continually referenced by numerous presenters.
Local Dallas example, Trinity Groves, does just that, providing a unique hospitality, retail and arts incubation space located in close proximity to the city, that allows start-up restaurants and food offerings a chance to test out the commerciality of their ideas and concepts.
Stay tuned for Part Two. Courtesy of Andrew Coward.