To define what qualities will make a great city manager for Dallas, I first ask: What makes a great city?
Planners and sociologists use terms like permanency, density, social and cultural heterogeneity, creativity, innovation, cross-industry and global as criteria to measure a city’s growth and success.
Dallas is measuring up — which makes it even more critical that our next city manager be particularly right for the Dallas of right now and the Dallas of the next 10 years, potentially one of the most transformative decades in our history.
The last decade has foreshadowed what’s next. At the same time that we’ve successfully completed many landmark projects, our in-town neighborhoods have been brought to life by a new base of urban dwellers, creating wonderful indigenous growth in areas like the Bishop Arts District, West Dallas, East Dallas and Downtown.
Our city is changing because we are changing. The demographic composition of our growth over the last decade indicates we are becoming more diverse and a younger population. According to census data, Dallas’ Hispanic population is growing closer to the 50 percent mark each year. Nearly 65 percent of Dallas residents are between the ages of 18 and 65, with a median age of 30.
So it is imperative that our next city manager not only understand — but embrace — the growing complexities of the citizens of Dallas and have the prowess to use this to our advantage. That means cultivating new economies and nurturing the richness of a multicultural city.
The next city manager must support the type of urban development that is the future of Dallas. And perhaps more important send a message throughout City Hall that the traditional ways of city planning, administration and operations are no longer relevant.
Policies and practices should balance spatial growth with promoting population density; create efficient transportation systems while enhancing walkability; and cultivate the amenities that improve quality of life inherent in areas like education, recreation, arts and culture. Economic development will follow.
Dallas’ next city manager must understand the monumental transformation upon us. The next decade means moving forward with great tenacity to advance the Trinity River project, Valley View redevelopment and a citywide trail network. It means creating innovative public-private partnerships like that planned to revitalize the Dallas Farmers Market. And it means fostering a burgeoning startup economy, the success of which is evidenced by projects like the Dallas Entrepreneur’s Center and Trinity Groves. It means nurturing the arts in all areas of the city, and leveraging the 30 years invested in the Dallas Arts District.
There is no more critical time than now to ensure continued implementation of Downtown Dallas 360, Forward Dallas and the Dallas Bike and the Complete Streets plans.
And the next 10 years should look to building a diverse economy, from recruiting a broad base of corporate relocations to ensuring success of industrial, manufacturing and distribution projects like the Inland Port.
Throughout Dallas’ history, we have learned that neither the public nor the private sectors can go it alone. The magnitude of projects on the horizon requires leadership, innovation, transparency and a willingness to push the boundaries at City Hall by not accepting what is but instead looking forward to what can be. Challenge staff with the freedom to move beyond boundaries. Respect and preserve this city’s rich history, while introducing new programs and ideas that will move us forward on a global scale.
To determine the right fit for our next city manager, let’s look at the person it will take to make Dallas a great city.