John Crawford: What we need in Dallas’ next City Manager

John F. Crawford
President & CEO
Downtown Dallas, Inc.

It is imperative that we make the right choice about who to hire as the next city manager. This is a critical time for our entire city, most certainly including Downtown Dallas, and without the right leader; we will not be able to continue the momentum we’ve worked so hard to achieve over the past decade. We need a leader willing to challenge the current way of doing things and to work closely with those making change. The Dallas Morning News has recently finished a series of viewpoints about what is important in the search for the next city manager. Below is my entry – to review all entries submitted for this important series, visit www.dallasnews.com/viewpoints

To define what qualities will make a great city manager for Dallas, I first ask: What makes a great city? Planners and sociologists often use terms like permanency, density, social and cultural heterogeneity, creativity, innovation, cosmopolitan, cross-industry and global as criteria by which to measure a city’s growth and success. And Dallas is measuring up – a fact making it even more critical that our next city manager is particularly right for the Dallas of right now, and the Dallas of the next ten years, potentially one of the most transformative decades in our history – as we become a great city.

The last decade has foreshadowed what’s next.  The completion of landmark projects like the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Klyde Warren Park, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas City Performance Hall and Perot Museum of Nature and Science brought years of vision to fruition.  Our intown 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.  Dallas’ art, music and cultural scenes are thriving, and when coupled with the stability of the North Texas economy, investment and corporate relocations are ripe.

Our city is changing because we are changing.   The demographic composition of our growth over the last decade indicates the diversity, the ‘social heterogeneity’, with which we are maturing.  According to census data, Dallas’ Hispanic population is growing closer to the 50% mark each year, nearly 40% of Dallasites claim Spanish as their primary language and more than one-quarter of the population is foreign-born.  Dallas is 50% female.  Nearly 65% of Dallas residents are between the ages of 18-65, with a median age of 30.  Therefore, 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 – to cultivate new economies that will emerge and nurture the richness of a multicultural city. 

Such shifts in our demographic makeup are a significant factor in creating the demand for Dallas to become an authentically urban city.  2010 census data shows the highest growth areas were in intown neighborhoods, particularly in and around Downtown.  Downtown Dallas, Inc.’s own statistics show 200 residents living in the Central Business District in 1996, whereas today more than 40,000 live throughout Downtown.  City of Dallas Office of Economic Development data provides additional urban growth indicators:  49.5% of our population from 2007-2011 lived in multi-family housing and the mean travel time to work was 25 minutes, a correlation with urban housing types and inner-city commutes.   And these trends are reinforced by what is happening across the country. According to CEOs for Cities, young adults with a four year degree are 105% more likely to live in close-in neighborhoods, approximately three miles from a central business district, than are other Americans. 85% of Millennials say they prefer urban living and 63% of college-educated 25-34-year-olds say they choose where they want to live first, then they look for a job.

The next city manager must respond to such demand by not only supporting the type of urban development that is the future of Dallas, but also by sending a message throughout City Hall that the traditional ways of city planning, administration and operations is 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, art 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 city-wide trail network.  It means creating innovative public-private partnerships like that planned to revitalize the Dallas Farmers Market, and fostering a burgeoning start-up 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, the Dallas Bike and the Complete Streets plans. And the next ten 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, and instead looking forward to what could – 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.

 

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