Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Living with a bridge over your head. . .

My friend, Patrick Kennedy started the debate over a year ago.  His "crazy idea" to tear down the-badly-in-need-of-repair I-345 bridge to re-route traffic through Downtown Dallas gained legs and continues to spark a lively community argument. 

Patrick has lots of allies.  And, I find the idea one worth more conversation for sure.

The move promises to bring more economic development to the center city.  I'd like it much better, to the point of excitement, if I had confidence that the planners and deal makers would include low-income folks in the planning, especially as it relates to the development of much-needed housing stock for low-income and no-income residents. 

DMagazine this month has a word from its publisher, Wick Allison.  Wick is all for the tear down ( "Breaking the Concrete Noose,"  DMagazine, January 2015, page 13).  I respect his perspective.  His arguments are convincing, especially as they relate to economic development and expansion Downtown. 

There is a lot of wasted space beneath those interstate bridges.  Routing folks through and, in very different case of I-30, around the city makes all sorts of sense from economic and quality of life considerations.

That said, the chances of something this creative happening seems remote to me. 

That sad assessment of what's possible in reality sent me off in pursuit of a real dream development! 

This happens to me all the time. 

Tell me no or go away or forget it, and what do I do?  I press harder and toward even more extreme "solutions." 

Sorry, it's just me.

So, about all that wasted space beneath the bridges near Downtown.  How is it used today? 

Well, it appears fair game for graffiti artists, blowing trash tossed out carelessly from speeding traffic and, yes, people who set up encampments because they have no place to call home. 

Homeless people live under our overpass highway bridges all over this city.  Walk under any of these bridges where you find dry ground.  You'll find squatters who prefer their freedom of choice and habit to night shelters. 

Here's my crazy, big "what if?"

What if we developed these under-spaces with housing units for some of our poorest neighbors? 

Think about that for just a moment--give me 30-45 seconds at least!

Combine the work of a creative architect and a land planner to develop a housing concept for these under-freeway dwellings. 

Sign on area non-profits who specialize in high touch concierge services/counsel for prospective residents.  Work with local business owners to help locate some of these folks in jobs Downtown and elsewhere, thanks to DART. 

The effect would not bring more homeless persons Downtown.  If anything, close-in housing would attract chronically homeless, vagrant types to become residents. 

What do you have when you add an apartment to the life experience of a homeless person?  A person with a home, and therefore one less homeless person on our streets. 

Housing under our streets, not on them! 

Any designers, architects and land planners want to take a stab at "underpass housing" sketches for me?  I'll publish them here and on all my social media if you'll just send them my way! 

Dreaming of a better city.


1 comment:

Roger Cook said...

If I understand this right, you want to tear down the freeway structures on the east side of downtown and replace them with surface streets?

If that's the case, let me share the experience we had here in Kansas City with Bruce R. Watkins Drive, aka US-71. There are two freeway sections of this highway, with the section between 51st St. and 63rd St. (1.5 miles) being surface streets. See,-94.5516668,15z for a map.

It turned out to be a debacle for both residents of the neighborhood and commuters. The right-of-way was purchased with the intent of creating a freeway several decades ago. The thinking was to create neighborhood unity by having the surface streets, but the large arterial streets that were put in to handle the traffic still effectively divide the neighborhood. And for commuters, putting stoplights on a 55 mph freeway creates a traffic nightmare twice a day, every day.

This was also done in a high-crime area, and every year there are cases of carjackings or shootings as cars are stopped there. This just makes the commuters resent the structure more.

Political leaders, such as Emmanuel Cleaver, who was the mayor when the highway was built, now believe that it was a mistake to put in the surface streets.

Will Dallas' experience be the same if such a project is undertaken? Not exactly the same, but I think it would be similar. The roads to handle the amount of traffic would still divide neighborhoods. The traffic backups during rush hours (and even not during peak times) would be atrocious. I don't know what the crime rates in the area are, but it certainly makes targeting commuters easier as they wait at stoplights.

Cutting freeway systems would substitute different problems for the ones that are already present. I don't know what a perfect solution would look like until our Lord returns, but I'm glad you're out there thinking about it, Larry. I know we don't always agree, but you are my brother.