Dallas Morning News
To understand the oddity that Dallas can be, we need look no further than Preston Center — that time-warp that anchors, in every sense, one of the city’s greatest areas of potential.
Dallas has a well-earned reputation for ripping down whatever stands in the way of what’s next, with a habit of substituting plaques for the meaningful places of our past.
But at Preston Center we are faced with a backward circumstance where so much energy and effort has gone into the permanent sustenance of ... a parking garage.
And not just any parking garage, but a parking garage that, in itself, symbolizes a suburban past that the corner of Northwest Highway and Preston Road should have left behind long ago.
Instead, because of a strange arrangement between the city and myriad stakeholders/investors/owners who control Preston Center, we have had stagnation that has stymied the potential to transform not just Preston Center but the larger Northwest Highway corridor into a truly urban part of Dallas, with all of the benefits that suggests: increased residential density, walkability, true transportation options and a boost to the tax base that could benefit all of us.
The issue is germane today because there are, at long last, signals that some compromise is brewing between the city — which owns the parking garage and is required to provide parking for the center — and the aforementioned stakeholders who have wielded veto power over anything other than just another parking garage.
City Hall has pushed, sensibly, against an effort to simply park another parking garage where the current version — aging and misdesigned — sits now. Instead, a proposal to use city funds to bury a new garage and place a useful public park atop it was floated to a less-than-enthusiastic cadre of stakeholders at Preston Center.
Unfortunately, that appears unlikely to be what the public will get. Instead, a hybrid plan that would see some sort of public space capped atop an above-ground garage appears to be gaining traction.
Should that come to pass, it would mark a missed opportunity to truly move forward with Preston Center. But it may be the only way to move any direction at all, so with grudging consideration, we would gingerly support a plan that provided a true public space. Design is critical, insofar as it incorporates this land as a usable public space that will enhance the Northwest Highway corridor and be a building block for a more urban future.
Which brings us to a couple of other concerns, one specific, one general.
The specific concern was raised in a recent column on these pages by Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The NCTCOG was tasked with studying Preston Center and offering ways forward. Sensible ideas emerged that Morris has rightly promoted — including adding a Texas U-Turn on the Dallas North Tollway at Northwest Highway, better timing traffic lights to prevent backups and installing desperately needed pedestrian infrastructure.
But Morris also posited the following question: “Why not review Dallas North Tollway ramps that have been missing for generations to determine the appropriate balance of travel to and from the tollway on city thoroughfare streets?”
Inside the vagary here is the suggestion that Dallas should accept additional toll road ramps at Walnut Hill Road, just north of Northwest Highway and Preston.
This is exactly the opposite message that Dallas residents have been trying to send Morris for years. Dallas does not want its future to look like its past — with expanded highways pumping more traffic onto arterial streets. The sound rejection of the Trinity River toll road should have been lesson enough to Morris, the NTTA and anyone else who thinks the city should pave its way to the future with on/off ramps.
Which brings us to the bigger problem that Preston Center represents — the persistent opposition to change in an area where the market is calling for it. A master plan for the area completed two years ago with the input of a committee of residents reads more like a recipe for continued paralysis than a genuine vision for moving forward. Its concludes that traffic must be addressed before redevelopment can commence.
That’s the wrong way to approach this area.
The intersection of Northwest Highway and Preston Road is an opportunity for Dallas to embrace the sort of urban and urbane future that is probably inevitable anyway, but that is stymied and thwarted by a handful of opponents who would have us wait until circumstances are perfect to move forward. That’s great for those who prefer things just as they are — even when it is increasingly evident that things as they are aren’t working as they should.
The area’s future is in increased residential and commercial density that will increase values and create a neighborhood where above-ground parking garages are a poor value for the land they occupy and where people can get where they are going without a car.
The sooner that Preston Center’s stakeholders, as well as landowners up and down Northwest Highway, recognize that, the sooner Dallas will be able to build toward a better future.
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