The Fort Worth Business Press event Business for Breakfast June 13 focused on the topic: Architecture – Design Innovation.
This is a lightly edited full transcript of that discussion. Some sections of the comments inaudible on the tape and were excluded.
Jason Meyer of Cooksey Communications served as moderator of the panel discussion.
The breakfast event was sponsored by Pinnacle Bank and JTaylor.
Jason Meyer: Good morning. I’m excited to be here today. It’s such an exciting topic. I think we can all relate to the impact that architecture and design have on the city and what it’s done for Fort Worth throughout the years. This is an exciting group that we have with us today. I’ll start my introducing our panelists.
David Stanford with Hahnfeld Hoffer Stanford. David is no stranger to the architecture community here in Fort Worth. He’s been the principal at Hahnfeld for decades now and involved in works and projects at PCU, projects with big school districts in the area and also the Will Rogers recently, the big project that we are working on right now. He has also been involved in the religious projects, churches, synagogues, those types of projects.
Karen Alschuler, with Perkins + Will. Karen works in the San Francisco office of Perkins + Will. She’s a planner by trade on very marquis projects throughout the U.S. Specifically some related to waterfronts, Pittsburgh. She’s got a great perspective from outside Fort Worth about design trends and planning trends that are happening throughout the country. And we are pleased to have her today. Karen, thanks for making the trip.
Mike Bennett from Bennett Benner Partners. Michael is no stranger to Fort Worth’s architectural community. He has worked on projects including the new boutique hotel that’s going in on South side. Frost tower that was recently built and has a lot of projects over the years, and many others.
And then Leesa Vardeman with VLK Architects. Leesa has a specialty in K-12 and Education. We all know how important value is to our neighborhood communities and bringing back the schools and high school informing our neighborhoods.
Jason Meyer: With that, we will get started. It’s a pleasure to have all of you here today. It’s no secret that Fort Worth is growing. We are one of the fastest growing cities in the nation in more than a decade and there are no signs of that growth slowing. In fact, according to a recent U.S. census bureau study from 2016 and 2017, Fort Worth gained almost 19,000 people. That was the fourth largest increase in the nation for cities with more than 50,000 residents. We’re now the 15th largest city in the United States and we are expected to be No. 14 very soon. This growth brings tremendous opportunities, specifically for our architecture and design community. They have an arduous task to keep up with the growth and keep a sense of place for our community. There are serious challenges that come along with our growth … to keep up with demand for new personal business and community spaces and, like I said, about creating a sense of place that’s so important for future growth process. We typically see city staff working with developers to create plans to accommodate rapid growth and I think this would be a good question to start with.
David, what role do architects have in the conversation and how do they become more engaged in helping our cities plan for growth in the future?
David Stanford: Some of the stuff that we do is we spend a lot of time on the organization, like the downtown design review board to review different projects and make sure they are consistent with what the city wants, and the neighborhood wants. We also get to work on other projects like the Berry Street initiative or zoning or stuff like that to work with the community anything you can to make sure everything works out good.
For me personally, I’ve had a chance to work on the Dickies Arena project for the last – Gosh. I may have been a kid when we started on the project – but at least the last eight years or so, and to watch how the Mr. Bass and the facilities and city have all worked together to create what’s going to be a really incredible facility when it gets finished.
So, I mean I think there’s a lot of chances to really get a lot of architects involved in things and help out the city to try and make a better community.
Jason Meyer: Karen, thanks for being here. Maybe you can bring some of the national perspective to this. What cities have been most successful that you’ve seen nationally at matching dynamic growth while still providing a sense of place? What kind of successful things can Fort Worth implement that you’ve seen in other places?
Karen Alschuler: That’s a good question. I can only touch on little bits of it. … I was thinking, just sort of scanning North America and the places that we’ve worked there may be four cities I would mention for different reasons that we could pick up from lessons and interesting things they have going on.
One would be Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I think it’s a city with a proud urbanism. That downtown right where the three rivers come together is almost like a great piece of Chicago, intense and lively. But as it’s grown and brought in new populations, new technology – a lot of the things you aim to add in Fort Worth – it’s been a combination, with all respect, of bright minds and big problems. It’s a city that really cares about the existing population and who’s there and opening up opportunity to the existing city and bringing in the new corporations.
Toronto is another amazing city that has opened its arms to international growth and said, “Come to Toronto. You’re going to live an intense, dense, urban life with lots of services.” It’s grown so tremendously as we’ve worked there and that was one of the goals of the chamber that you recently reported. I think you mentioned international connections for Fort Worth.
In San Francisco, where I live, we are always struggling with something, but we’ve been pretty successful with having technology employees and companies come. What’s really interesting lessons for our era right now is that it’s about people. Getting the best and brightest to work. … We have the Silicon Valley companies. Pretty much all of the major and even the startup ones are examples because they are hiring people that want to live in the San Francisco type of lifestyle.
And finally, I’d say Seattle. I’d say the most amazing thing about Seattle – what needs to be done in a lot of other places – is to come with the commitment to infrastructure, to build the systems and the mobility network that you need to support tremendous growth that they’ve had. And that has been very impressive, beautifully done, and brought a sense of place in every location where those new facilities start.
So, my lessons for this area. … We did some research, taking our research in group and urban design and looking at Fort Worth in relation to places we considered to be vital and lively. And just remember the number 20,000, when you hear about Magnolia, the Cultural District or Downtown.
Jason Meyer: We are starting to see a greater desire for community members to have a say in the process of redevelopment. Leesa, this question’s for you. Few buildings have had as much impact in our neighborhoods as schools do. How can you get the community engaged in your projects and what are some of the ways that you can voice the community’s design in your buildings? How do we bring a holistic approach to building?
Leesa Vardeman: Well, over the last several years we’ve had a really concerted effort in trying to get our clients actively involved in the design process. So, we developed a strategy for VLK launch where we actually bring together a cross section of stakeholders such as the students, teachers, administrators, and community members into the room to initiate our design process.
We have a gaming effort. The whole goal of the gaming effort is to get them talking to each other and to develop a common vocabulary for what they want for their communities because each community has a distinct desire to serve the students in their community.
It’s been very successful, that as a result of that, last year VLK was awarded the top prize in the state of Texas for educational design with the Kye Dell award by Texas Association of School Administrators and School Boards. That was a result of that process in the Bel Aire Community in Houston.
We went in there and they had an elementary school they were tearing down and replacing. We identified the goals of their community and developed a school on the ribbon concept which they wanted to tie the community together.
They felt their schools were so important and we had classrooms that wrapped around a common community space within the school, where the students would actively learn in small groups, large groups, a variety of settings.
So, not only was the school architecturally significant, I believe. It was awarded it because of the actual community effort that we went through in engaging them and identifying their goals. It’s been very successful for us and it’s really changed the way we work with our communities.
Jason Meyer: And that’s really important. That leads to the next topic which is one of the things that’s unique to Fort Worth is all of our historic communities that are currently experiencing growth and in particular Fairmont and South side.
Michael there are new homes and buildings being constructed in these neighborhoods. To keep up with the demand, to keep up with the culture and the [ambience] that’s happening there, how do we keep the same characteristics of those communities intact? And then, as kind of a second part to that question, how do we create that sense of place in the newer communities that are being built in the north and the southwest of the city?
Michael Bennett: It’s important when you’re working in a historic neighborhood to understand the neighborhood and that involves a lot of hard work. There’s not a magic bullet in that it’s a matter of understanding the neighborhood, learning the history of the neighborhood.
We almost become historians when we first start a project in an area like that because you want to delve into what made it that way because that’s important. And if you want to create something that’s in the spirit of that place, it’s important to understand how that place got there.
The other part of that – which is also not something you learn in architecture school – is the need to engage in those neighborhoods even if it is not pleasant, even if there are uncomfortable questions that get asked.
It’s important to ask those at the beginning because if you don’t, you’re going to be asking them and trying to answer them on the floor of the City Council when you’re trying to get your zoning case through. Sometimes that happens anyway, but it’s really important to try to work through issues with those neighborhoods.
We believe, in our firm, that every project we do – and we do a large number of projects in Fort Worth and Tarrant County – each one of those projects needs to contribute to the urban fabric of the city.
Because we look at it like building a wall out of a million bricks that each one of those bricks has to contribute its part to the urban fabric. So we take a much more small-scale view of how you approach that. I think understanding the history and engaging the neighborhood really important things to that.
The other thing I would say to that too is that in new neighborhoods, it makes it very difficult when every house looks the same and they were cranked out by a factory and they all have the same Oakridge gray roof and all that stuff.
It makes it very hard to create a sense of place because those neighborhoods were created with a different goal in mind which was cranking out the most affordable housing unit that can be done.
But that also has the challenge of sprawl and I think we will get to transportation as an issue probably as we go through this, but when you think about how that eats up our landscape, we try to as a firm doing firms that are inside the loop of the city so that we don’t have to build new roads. We don’t have to build new water and sewer lines. We don’t have to build new fire stations. Sorry Leesa, but we may not have to build new schools …
Leesa Vardeman: Oh, we will.
Michael Bennett: We may. We’ll redo the old ones. But that’s important. It’s important that we try to rebuild the city within the donut in these cities. All that infrastructure, including transportation is an important piece of that.
Jason Meyer: A follow up question to that. There’s a lot of medical buildings and things that are being constructed right now. They have a different look and feel oftentimes than what is currently in that the near south side.
What strategies are architects using to help those buildings blend in the neighborhoods that are established so that they become part of the neighborhood rather than existing on their own?
Michael Bennett: I think the near South Side has done a great job. Architects can’t take credit for this but the planners through their zoning. You’ll notice a lot of those doctors’ offices in the near south side are mixed-use buildings. And they’ll have medical use on the ground floor and they’ll have residential above that.
And I think just that requirement to integrate residential, to integrate a mix of uses into those buildings is an important piece that otherwise you end up with a sterile neighborhood that’s occupied from 7 to 5 in the afternoon and after that it’s dead. Bringing in that mix of uses you try to keep it alive 24/7.
Jason Meyer: Karen, have you seen cities that have been through something similar with this kind of growth and how they’ve kept their neighborhoods intact. I think one the things you see in Fort Worth right now is a lot of building that’s happening according to current trends. How does that become applied to a city?
I’ve come up on that question for all four of you to weigh in on, but I think it’s a key issue for Fort Worth right now because so much of our construction and buildings being completed at the moment because of our sizeable growth. What’s the perspective of architects? I’d like to hear from you as to what your perspective is on that and how architects approach that.
Karen Alschuler: Why don’t I start out and then we can get a conversation. It would be great if we did. Just to pick up where Michael left off. I think the places where hospitals are being built are a great resource for the city as a whole or the surrounding district.
One of the places we look at right away in thinking about the future of Fort Worth is to look at what’s happening in the hip area of Magnolia and the growth of the health services beyond.
And to think whether this could be one of the amazing locations and important locations across the country where you put together the mixed- use growth, the neighborhood character, a sense of health more than just intensive care in the hospital, but the city as a whole. And to think about it as a larger district, a healthy district.
That then makes Fort Worth another attractive place to be. So you bring care and clinics. … We’ve been doing that in ten different cities. We’ve done health districts where you bring the services out to be a part of everyday life. And you’ve linked them to healthy living. The new trails along the river. They help a lot. You need trails everywhere. You need connections. You need ways for people to move other than in cars. In Fort Worth, that’s a missing piece.
Also, to take and find the authentic things that make someplace different. One example, one of my most proud experiences was working in Washington D.C. in the old Navy Yard. To have that history of the old Navy Yard. Half of the Navy Yard was being changed into a development project. It’s called the Yards right now. You want to hold on to enough of that history and keep that character.
Fort Worth is kind of surging right now. If it’s not about the stockyards, what is it? And all you have to do is have dinner with Jason and you get the most amazing stories about the history, the city. There’s plenty to rely on to bring personality. So you go, or you go into a building on West 7th Street and you get met by the intense, lively people but it’s missing the layers that bring everyday life, mix jobs, and living and kind of layer in special things people want to see.
The new populations that are moving into the cities where we work. they want to know the city is pet friendly. They want to know if they are going to be able to get on their bike and be able to get places. They want to know when they come home at night, there’s still going to be light on the street and who knows when they work 18-hour days.
There are a lot of things that add, that may even be small moves but that would start to tie investments in from one neighborhood to the next. There’s a lot of subtle things that don’t have to be big investments. There’s some big ones too that are needed.
Jason Meyer: David do you have some thoughts on that?
David Stanford: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting to me. My parents moved to Fort Worth when I was 6 months old. Other than a brief stint, where I went to school at UT in Austin, and lived down in Houston for three years, I’ve lived in Fort Worth my whole life. My father came here because he worked at Convair at the time, then General Dynamics. He worked 50 years as an engineer out there at that facility. As I watch, the town has just totally changed.
To me, it was much more of a residential area. I’m really kind of intrigued by all the stuff that has been built up and down 7th Street. Back in the old days, Camp Bowie used to be a big area. It’s coming back now, but then Magnolia’s pretty good. To me, the idea of having retail, apartments, stuff like that, it’s kind of an intriguing way of increasing the size. It’s going to be interesting to see what Fort Worth looks like five to 10 years from now as this stuff even develops more.
I love the museum district. We’ve got an absolutely incredible museum district for a town our size but at the same time I could see some hotels or boutique hotels or something like that there that draw other people to come see what we have. There really isn’t anything like that there. I know there’s been plans to do one north of the museums that’s gone through turmoil. But I think there’s a lot of chance there, and it’s going to be interesting to see what Forth Worth looks like in another five to ten years as these places really start to develop up.
What they’ve done downtown has been incredible. Mr. Bass has done has been incredible. I like going out to Clearfork too and being able to do things there and walk around the river or just do the shops in the development is really pretty cool space. So I think there’s a lot of potential. Fort Worth is changing, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next five to 15 years or so.
Jason Meyer: You touched on something with the waterfront part as well. It’s interesting how the waterfront can really transform a space. People like to be near the water. It’s an asset we’ve had in this community for years and years and years that has been underutilized. I’d like to get Lisa and Mike’s perspective.
Leesa Vardeman: I think the development has been very interesting down on West 7th. We have an office down there. I, too, grew up in Fort Worth, so I think about the transition throughout my life. I’m very proud of the things that are happening in Fort Worth, really all over the city.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively and we like to go to places that have variety and texture and have things to do and that we respect the past, but we infill with appropriate architecture that hopefully will last for ages and will be interesting for drawing new folks to our communities.
We all like to shop in places that have stores that are independent store owners, and that might remember your name, and that we can all develop relationships with, so I really am very excited about some of the things that are happening down on 7th street, from that respect.
But we do have a ways to go in trying to make it more walkable and give us more opportunity for activities after hours that draw a wide variety of folks to our areas. And that’s what’s so cool about what’s happening in the Magnolia area, as well.
Jason Meyer: And it’s sort of organically-
Leesa Vardeman: It is. And, you know, the Magnolia area is a great example of smart growth, as far as thinking and branding what they’re doing, and being very considerate about drawing people to their areas through activities, and through the Arts Goggle, and some of the art events, so that people can come down and start to connect with the store owners, and folks that are down there.
And there’s a lot of exciting things happening there, and they’re a great test case for what I think we, as a whole of Fort Worth, need to start looking at as far as branding ourselves and bringing folks for the very same reasons.
David Stanford: I think it’s important that we, as a city, understand that we have to create the future that we want to have, and the thing that worries me about Fort Worth, and keeping neighborhoods authentic, and that sort of thing, is that I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of directing the growth that’s happening to us at the moment, because as we look back, there are lots of cities that have gone through very rapid growth in a short period of time.
Our poster child to the south is Austin, that had a dramatic growth. You can look at the north
Dramatic growth, and what happens too often, and I’m afraid we’re not learning these lessons as a city, is when that growth happens, you let it happen, instead of directing how it happens. The one thing we have, as a city, that we can control, are things like zoning, and things like that, where we can direct the growth that happens.
And I’m worried about us doing that in order to achieve the future that I think we want to have, because I do think some of these neighborhoods are great examples. Downtown’s a great example. But we have to direct that. We can’t just let it happen to us.
And in that vein, in particular, and it also is about attracting people, our transportation network is something that we cannot continue, as a city, to ignore, if we want to direct the future that we want to see happen.
Karen Alschuler: Just to adjust something more on the table for this conversation, you really are missing something, in Fort Worth, at the same time.
If you look at the numbers, we find across the country vital neighborhoods need about 20,000 people living within the square mile of the heart of the place, the center place you’re trying to create.
Downtown, if you take the square value, and you do the calculations for 2016, downtown has a little over 3,000 people living in. That’s a long way from 20,000 people. And you do note, until the bars open and the restaurants open, it gets to be kind of quiet downtown, because the 38,000 people who are working here go off and leave.
Along Magnolia, even combine it with the health district, there’s still only 5,000 people living in that area. And you need more for that long-term growth, and to continue to invest. And West 7th, and the Cultural District, it’s about 3,000 we get.
There’s new development under construction, but you’re far from getting to the point that will be comfortable and sustaining. And I think you really need to invest more in housing and the services and the like, and activities that go with emphasis on each as an authentic place.
David Stanford: I think that’s something that will happen over time, because you know, Fort Worth, it was so easy to spread out and buy your piece of property and put your house on it, or whatever, but I think West 7th Street, and Downtown, these areas start to redevelop. … I think there’s a lot of potential, as far as people moving back in instead of living 25 miles away, out in a suburb out there. So I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in that.
Jason Meyer: And that’s a good parlay into the next question, and Michael, I’ll start with you on this. Our downtown’s been nationally recognized. It’s a very walkable downtown.
Unfortunately, through attrition, and really, it’s happened over two decades, so it hasn’t really happened overnight, we’ve lost a good portion of our corporate base that was based downtown.
And I think what would be interesting is your thoughts on how the architectural community can help and assist with maximizing the walkability. What kind of things can be done to make it, from an aesthetics standpoint, continue being more desirable to corporations who are looking for a place to land?
Michael Bennett: I wish architects had all the answers to that. We think we do, but we don’t, and going back to something I said earlier, I think each one of us has to contribute our piece to the whole thing, and so we all have to make our streetscape walkable. We all have to make the connections to other projects around us work and be walkable.
But I think the big challenge that we have is people, at the moment. Somebody said that earlier, but I think the reason that we don’t have more of the corporations is the people, because it doesn’t work in the other direction.
It’s like with retail, they follow the housetops. They don’t decide they’re going to build a new store somewhere and hope that people move in. And that’s a little bit the same with corporations. And I think we are losing the people war, at the moment.
And I think that involves a whole number of things that attract the kind of people that corporations want to hire. And it’s, again, not going to be a magic bullet.
It’s something that we have to work at in policies, with things like education. We have to have good schools. We have to have affordable housing. We have to have enough of all those things to attract the kind of people that you want to have. You can build the most beautiful building, but if you don’t have the right workers to attract the corporations to move in there, then that’s what’s going to happen to you.
Jason Meyer: That would be a really good question for David, because you’ve done so much work in higher education, and we all know that worker’s development is the first thing, in addition to transportation, that big companies look at. They need to know they’re going to be able to hire people coming into the workforce.
David, what kind of thoughts do you have on what we can do with our universities, and from an architectural standpoint, and also just from your knowledge of having worked around higher education for so long? And then I’ll pass that over to Leesa because I know you’ve been working on the K through 12 part of that.
It’s a pathway thing, and making sure you have your recruiting, getting the right people to our colleges, the best and the brightest, which then provides a pipeline for companies to pull for employees.
David Stanford: I don’t know. We’ve had a chance to work at TCU for several years now, and it [went] from, kind of like Fort Worth, a nice sleepy community university of about 7,500, it’s pushing 11,000 now. And what it does is, to me, the redevelopment they’ve done there, just as an example. Is really not just the campus, but it’s also the neighborhoods.
They spent a lot of money on Berry Street. I know we did an addition on Paschal High School. TCU paid to put the landscaping down Berry Street to continue that Berry Street initiative, because it’s important to them. It’s important to the community, too. A lot of the buildings around there, they’re using those for other facilities.
But, to me, I think the facilities TCU has built, and the new things there, when they get the business school finished and stuff like that, it’s going to bring a lot more people here for higher education than what you have right now.
We don’t have a state university in Fort Worth itself. There’s obviously UTA, but I think as this goes on, and it starts to create the new buildings that they’re building, the new music facilities, it’s going to create chances for other people in the community to really start to use that. I think it’s just a positive change, just what’s happened.
Jason Meyer: And there’s new career fields coming out that don’t require your typical college education that employers are pulling from. And I know, Leesa, you all worked in how technical education, and other pathways, are being created.
Leesa Vardeman: Right. There is a lot of exciting things happening in education now, for students, and we’re giving them opportunities. And we just completed a career and technology facility for Arlington ISD, which is a fabulous facility that provides their students, throughout their entire district, the opportunity to explore and achieve certification in fields as well as early college credits for a variety of academies that will retain those students in their local communities, connect them with business, provide them internships or hands-on opportunities to actually explore what they want to do for the rest of their life.
These school districts are investing in holding those students, and connecting them with businesses, so that we can ensure that we’re not losing those students to go somewhere else.
The education has gotten very personalized, so students can identify very early in their school career where they want to go, and then they can explore and achieve a lot of direct experience very quickly. From career and technology to STEAM, we’ve got a lot of folks that are … In our new Allen facility, that has designed opportunities for kids to get technology experience, and for them to have hands-on experience there, that businesses are creating internships. It’s very exciting.
Jason Meyer: Can you also lead the discussion on what are the best type of learning environments for students, because there’s a ton of research, and providing the facilities, we want to foster building the best and the brightest through our schools. And I think that’s important. And I wanted to ask Karen this question, because I think it’s important for us.
Everybody wants tech in their community. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in, everybody wants tech. You come from the tech hub of the nation, and obviously, in visiting with you, I know you’ve been in the San Francisco Bay area for a number of years, and probably remember times when tech wasn’t as big as it is now.
So a couple of questions related to that. First is, you know, the area’s done a great job of maintaining its tech prominence, and also fostering the relationships with higher education to maintain that pipeline. Some of the finest universities in the world have obviously cultivated the very young.
But, in addition to that, you’ve also worked in Pittsburgh, which is a town that is now having an emerging tech node that’s everybody’s talking about. I think Fort Worth, and Dallas, and everybody’s looking for ways to do something similar. We have a world-class airport. We’ve got the population base. We do have major universities in our area. What are some strategies that we can do to attract tech to north Texas, and how did Pittsburgh pull that off?
Karen Alschuler: Well, it does relate to the educational institutions, because Pitt and Carnegie Mellon in particular have had a focus on … pieces of tech. So, robotics has been the really strong piece that’s happened at Carnegie Mellon. Very interesting, what has grown from that.
And that’s brought people. It’s about people. If you have bright people who are there, and living, and staying because they like to live in the smaller city where they can really feel a part of a community. I think Fort Worth has that potential as well.
But it’s interesting, in the Bay area, as I said, just to pick up on the theme about people. It’s all about the firms, now, coming to where there are resources of minds, from the local education, people who are moving there, et cetera. So if you start to grow that way, there’s ways of getting business to come.
But one way that you might think about, in Fort Worth, is to expand on the existing education base, with some new ideas. For example, we designed a facility that got built in Singapore which is a lab and technology focused facility, where multiple universities can come and share resources, and make a connection. Here it would be with the Dallas Fort Worth area. And do specialized research, of some sort.
And what might happen here, because the hospitals are a very strong part of this community, we can see Mission Bay, it’s a 350-acre redevelopment area that’s almost finished now around the University of California’s research facilities.
The idea is to have enough space to build on startup space, for thinking about technology related to health care, which is about providing the services, or the materials, and machinery, and other things that are needed, as well as attracting the best doctors, the best health care people, because they can also have a business that’s nearby, or be involved in a research facility.
So, at Mission Bay, there’s 2 1/2 million square feet of hospital, but there’s 5 million square feet of surrounding lab space where many of the best providers, professionals, are also being able to grow those businesses.
So you make a network that works, and it keeps starting to grow around a strength that you already have. And I can imagine, I read in the paper that people are worried about all the people moving to Fort Worth and then commuting to Dallas, just leaving and not working here.
If you’re going to have people doing that, they start to see what’s so great about Fort Worth, which I think is a wonderful place to live. And you get enough of a concentration, you build that housing to create vibrant places. Those employees aren’t going to feel the need to go to Dallas. They’re going to be wanting to work for new companies that come in.
So I think there’s a kind of net. I see little pieces happening. It’s not quite all put together yet. But I think health care is a strong piece, and quality of life, very very important as well. And I think I can see that.
Jason Meyer: Yeah, one of the things, I’m working with the Lions, we’ve recently done some incubator programs there. And it yielded the booster fields. I don’t know if you guys have seen the purple trucks that go around and fill up folks’ cars with gasoline, but it’d be great to see a focus on incubators here downtown.
And I don’t know what’s in the works. If you know of any, Michael, or the rest of the panel, but that sort of focus on opportunities for young people to work, and work in an incubator type environment. …
It seems like Fort Worth is lacking who’s the next Charles Tandy who’s growing up in Fort Worth right now, and who are those people who are going to emerge to form the next generation of companies, rather than also focusing on trying to bring companies here. Who are the next generation of innovators here? And cultivating an environment for them that makes them want to stay and do business here.
Karen Alschuler: Just a little add, though, the zoning code that’s most popular in San Francisco right now, and we’re trying to hold onto, is called PDR. Production, development, and repair. It used to be warehouses, and people where they fixed cars, or whatever, but now it is the richest vein in the city, where you can have small businesses, they can be art-related, they can be artisans, they can be tech people who are starting up small businesses.
And it’s a zoning code in which you can do whatever you want. What we’re doing also, instead of having those in far-flung places where warehouses are, is building that into the lower floors of some of the development that we’re doing. You can have retail everywhere, but you can have people actually starting up businesses, and find a way, with those kinds of uses, can have that freedom and authenticity. So it’s a little vein that’s running from the city.
Jason Meyer: Michael, I’ll go back to you on this. I’d like to hear from everybody on the panel here, but can we talk a little about water, and the things that are happening in Fort Worth? Our recent bond election paved the way for the continual progress of Panther Island, and the Trinity River vision.
How can that transform Fort Worth’s sense of place, its future, and what could a waterfront mean for us? And then Karen, we’ll get your perspective on how water grants have transformed others across the country.
Michael Bennett: I will say, Karen, our waterfront is not going to be San Francisco. I mean, we have a river, but we don’t have a bay.
But I think, Jason, that whether there was water there or not, that’s a development that can double the size of downtown. And I think that we are unique among large cities in the U.S. that have the opportunity like that, that can happen really in the center of the city.
And it’s, by design, it’s more focused on residential development, with some mixed-use development quarters, but I think having that many people have the opportunity to live that close to our downtown can be a great thing that can spur some of the other things that we’ve been talking about in order to then spur business to happen, because you will have the people living here. They are going to get sick of driving to Dallas.
I had a next-door neighbor that, until a few years ago, drove to Dallas every day. And I said to him, “You know that’s an hour one way there, and an hour one way back every day. That’s 10 hours a week. That’s 40 hours a month. That’s a work week a month you spend in your car.”
And he had all kinds of BS, like yeah, but a cell phone, and I can do all this stuff, but it was BS, you know.
People are going to get fed up with that. And I think if they can walk from Panther Island to Downtown, or if they can take a trolley to do that, or that’s a tough bike ride up the Main Street viaducts, so I doubt they’ll do that. But there are going to be ways for people to do that. And I think that is a transformative waterfront project for us that can make a big difference.
It’ll take a long time, as we’ve seen. Because that’s been happening now for, what, 10 or 12 years, but it’s a big project that’ll take a long time to happen.
Leesa Vardeman: And that’s what I would say, you know, having lived here for so long, that you are coming and analyzing it at the moment, but the reality is, we have been changing dramatically over the last few years. We’ve made a lot of great strides.
Right now, the most frustrating thing, obviously, is road reconstruction, and I think that once we get that cleaned up, it’s going to make Fort Worth a lot more attractive for people to stay here in the core, as well as travel here, because we’ve been fighting that for such a long time, and we are so near its completion.
It will start to change the way development occurs along those corridors, as well, but with the future of that development downtown, we’re all restless and excited about what that’s going to offer us, and transform that area of our town. So we’re super excited about that. Can’t wait for that to happen.
Jason Meyer: And Dave, let me ask you this, because you were just talking about … timing. You’ve worked in the Cultural District for a long time, and it is a jewel for the whole entire area, not just Fort Worth. How do we maximize the things that are going on there to enter in this whole conversation about the sense of place for the region, and connecting it to the other parts of our city?
I know it becomes a transportation issue, as well. We have these four or five corners of the city that are a little challenging to get from each part, if you’re visiting, for sure. But if you’re living in one portion of it, it’s not walkable to each of the other four or five.
What can we do? Where’s the best we can do from transportation, and also from the aesthetics? Keep the identity of each place, but how to build one big community?
David Stanford: Well, that’s the thing. Mostly what we’ve been doing has been on Will Rogers, dealing with the equestrian industry, and things like that. But, to me, like you said, the museum district is incredible. And Will Rogers across the street is incredible.
But, to me, you’re like a block or two too far west from the 7th Street corridor. How do you get there? That’s why I keep wanting to see some kind of a hotel, or boutique hotel, or other things there. And you’ve got UNT’s Health Sciences Center there, too. You’ve got a lot of big entities in that area, but how do you get people to actually come there, and work in that area?
Whenever the new arena gets finished, maybe it’ll impact some of the stuff going up and down Montgomery. But I wish there was more activities that went on between the museums and Will Rogers than there currently are. I know we went to the opening at the Modern on Saturday night, and yeah, there were several hundred people there at the Modern for this opening of the new exhibit. I just wish that stuff like that could spread out into the community around it, too. … Have some kind of art fair or something there.
To me, it’s just like I said. It’s like that area’s really great, but no one really lives right next to it. You have to go a few blocks down the street to live there. So, I think that’s something to do.
And public transportation is important, too. Having lived in Fort Worth my whole life, I’ve been driving a car everywhere. You got to be able to park your car somewhere. That’s one of the bigger downsides. You pull in there and you have to drive up and down streets all over the place trying to find the last parking spot. So, I think that’s something critical too. I think there’s so much potential there, it’s just we’ve got to really think about how to do it.
Jason Meyer: Yeah, and Karen, going back to the river, and the waterfront piece of this, obviously we don’t have San Francisco Bay.
Karen Alschuler: I think, whether it’s a river front, or a lake front, or a bay or harbor, there’s something just exciting about being on the edge of the city, and being able to get the aspect, the open view of the water itself, to see the power of the water. And yesterday, walking along the Trinity River, it was very calm, but you know there’s that history of floods and other things.
Water is a powerful force, and you get that. But, you also look back at the city and get a sense of its character and quality. And that’s just something to be very exciting about that. I would say that during the course of my decades of career, I’ve worked pretty much 50 percent on waterfronts. And there’s some critical factors you have to think about and I think you could apply it here as well.
Once you’ve got a waterfront, you have to connect that back into the city. So again, we’re talking about connections and not just cars. Finding some other ways to connect back in. You have to be sure it’s truly public, and with the new trails that are starting now, along the river and then moving safer once the new river connection is made, you’re doing that. It has to stay public at the whole run, because we all should own that edge along the river.
We want to connect it to nature and understand the forces that are there. We want to bring it to a human scale, so people are comfortable in the area. And then, as I said, you know, understand the aspect. You want to respect the water. Water’s a powerful thing.
And San Francisco, as an example of the latest project we’re doing, called Mission Rock, we’re basing it at 66 inches because that is the predicted end-of-century sea level rise in that location. There’s a lot of things to understand in terms about respecting the water.
And I think that kind of thing is very important here.
We’ve invited a working waterfront, so that things happening. I’ve already heard, several times, about a taco place that’s opened up. We saw it yesterday on the river. But things that where there’s commerce, and people are working and using the walk and the river itself.
I think that if the Trinity River, I’ve seen a lot more could be done. … I think you want to shake it up. Find ways of connecting, bringing life to the river, and crossing more often. If you’re on a path and you want to actually use it as a connection to the city, you have to rise up and go over a big bridge, that’s a highway bridge so you can get to the other side.
Maybe there are ways of creating the most amazing bike connections that actually cross the river. … Ways of touching the river, using the river in some way, so that you can get down onto the river. And using every moment to make these connections.
I think this is the first meeting that I’ve been to in a couple years where didn’t talk about autonomous cars. But it’s not only about autonomous cars. It’s about thinking about public transportation in a different way, having a car-type transportation, but not having to park that car.
David Stanford: But you have to understand, we really love our cars. We don’t want autonomous cars. (laughing) We want to drive those damn things everywhere.
Jason Meyer: I can tell you that one of the first autonomous vehicle programs in America is happening in North Texas. And it’s actually being sponsored by Silicon Valley. …
Karen Alschuler: I mean, we have [to be] focused on autonomous cars and what the future means in design and patterns of cities. And that’s not the only answer. We need to have better bike connections, all kinds of roads. And stand out; be willing to take some chances, be willing to be really out there. Try something in a particular neighborhood and see if it works. And other times you can do things that are lower risk.
And then the rivers can be a key part.
Jason Meyer: We’re seeing a lot of innovation in transit in the region, and we’re starting to hear a lot about ride sharing programs. … And they’re not the bus that has one route. … It’s subsidized ride sharing programs and it’ll be interesting to see how that evolves, because that might answer a lot of what you were talking about; that very short distance between your cultural history from downtown.
We’re getting close to the end of our program, but I want to go back to a really positive event. Fort Worth is growing, and it’s growing for a reason. We’ve witnessed the quality of life here is outstanding.
There’s opportunities here in North Texas, there’s opportunities here in Fort Worth. We’re building the F-35, which is one of the biggest programs ever in the history of defense contracting, and it’s had a huge benefit here. There’s been residual businesses. Charles Schwab is sending some of their employees from San Francisco to the Alliance corridor. And we have a lot of amazing things happening in Fort Worth right now.
So I want to ask each of you that are Fort Worth based here, what excites you most about the city?
David Stanford: To me, what excites me about Fort Worth is this is flat a great place to live. I mean I’ve traveled all over the world. My son lives in Dallas and I go over there; it’s a nightmare dealing with Dallas you know. (laughing) It’s got some cool stuff, but Fort Worth is really a great place to live, and it’s a place where I think people like other people around that are here.
And to me, I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the next 10, 15 years, how Fort Worth develops and gets more businesses in here and helps support all this stuff and develops the Trinity project and stuff like that. I think there’s a lot of stuff with really great potential, but to me, Fort Worth is a great place to live. It’s centrally located in the country. So, it’s easy to go visit ’em, but you always come back to Fort Worth and you’re home.
Leesa Vardeman: I think there’s a lot of exciting things happening that are really going to transform Fort Worth. The Will Rogers complex to me is a very exciting project, because it’s really going to anchor a lot of development down in that area. Connect when they are rerouting the roads, that you can open up the park and make it more accessible to folks, as well as hopefully David bring in some hotels and the ability for folks to walk in that neighborhood.
So I’m excited about that, because I love the cultural district. I think it’s one of the most unique areas in the nation that draws all of our visitors. And we really need to strengthen that area locally so that folks can walk and enjoy what they’re doing and have access to restaurants and amenities so that they can stay down there, too.
Michael Bennett: The people that work with me can tell you that I get excited in a positive way, and I get excited in a negative way sometimes. And so when I excited, one of the things that I get excited about- maybe not in a totally positive way- about Fort Worth, ’cause I think Leesa and David, what you said is correct. We have a lot to build on.
But I get excited when I see the number of people that are moving here. If you look at Tarrant County, since I moved here back in 2003, we’ve been adding about 30,000 people a year on average.
And if you assume 20,000 of those people drive, and if you assume a car takes a certain amount of space, and as an architect and a planner, I think about cars and the amount of space they take. That’s what causes traffic. And so if you take those 20,000 drivers and you look at them in terms of area, that’s 92 acres of cars that we’re adding to our streets every single year in Tarrant County. And if you line those up, those cars would go from here to the north side of Waco; every single year.
And so, while transportation projects that build roads are great, there’s no way in hell we can build that many roads. And so, I get excited about the need to do things like that, which will become an important part of how we plan our city, because today, the guys that plan the roads are really the most powerful planners that we have in our city. And so we need to take that over.
We need to direct that future and decide that we want it to be more walkable, we want it to be more like a European city. You know, we all travel to Europe and we think that’s great, but we come back here and we have zoning codes, and we have transportation patterns that are exactly counter to that which we said we really enjoyed living in and being in.
And so, I get excited about that. We need to do something there. We need to take care of that. And I would encourage all of you to get involved and help us do that.
Jason Meyer: And Karen, coming from the Bay Area. What surprises you most about Fort Worth.
Karen Alschuler: Well, there are lots of wonderful things. I mean just in 24 hours of being here and meeting people, I can see why you’re in love with this place to be. I think that there’s a lot of work to be done. And I think the most surprising thing is what I might call, “the missing billion”. That’s the missing billion dollars that you should already have invested and begin to benefit from the terms of creating a mobility system that is not dependent all on cars.
I mean, I saw a new highway. Designers, architects, and planners had spent a lot of time making beautiful railings and filling in the areas below the highway and trying to make it attractive. Reorder that, redirect it. Take that expertise and that money and that time. Texas is famous for building highways and being able to get that done and have themselves a problem that is actually at a human scale, and that brings that life and connections down to the street.
And you need to start raising those funds right now. But at the same time, you can start doing new things. And I think on a small scale, one thing you might think about here in Fort Worth, is to think of your streets as land banking. You have a lot of streets, a lot of pavement.
But in neighborhoods, you can take some of those streets and transform them. Make those the common ground. Connect them; not let every street go through to serve the cars but find ways which you can create community and locate a school, or another public facility. You’ve got a lot of pavement. Maybe you start to think of it as a resource. Something they could reallocate for human beings.
And one of the wonderful ideas is we work in some cold weather places, where they create something we call the “warm cut.” Where if you have a sunny street, those streets get closed in winter very often. Kids play in them, they become the playgrounds. Working in hot weather places, we’ve been introducing this idea of cool streets; the places that have the shade. And you pick the right atmosphere of the places- these are little things you could do that people would come to visit. Become an arts district, become a link between one place and another.
There’s a lot of fun you could have doing this work, especially if you put the thinking of your local architects and designers on there. Look at what’s happening around the world.
Jason Meyer: Front porches. People don’t see each other. They sit in their back yards and they do whatever they do in their back yard. And we build these houses in these nodes that are away from whatever.
And I’ve done some Airbnbs in recent years that had front porches, and where there’s a lot of front porches, there’s a lot of people connecting and talking to each other. And that happens in higher density communities that are developing, and mixed-use projects. I think people want a sense of community.
Karen Alschuler: Build common ground and connect it.
Jason Meyer: Any questions?
Question: I’d love to hear from each of the members of the panel. What do you think is the most critical thing that has to happen for Downtown Fort Worth to make it a more compelling place to live, in addition to being a compelling place to work, and a destination?
Michael Bennett: Well I’ll start since there’s a pause. I think there just needs to be more residential development for people to be able to live in. Serving on the Downtown Fort Worth board, what you see – and we get a statistical update every three months I think it is – but the occupancy rate of the apartments and the condos downtown is always above 90 percent and it’s usually like 97, 98 percent. There’s just not enough product for people to live in downtown. I think the market is there, I think the demand is there. It’s just not enough stuff for people to rent or to buy.
Leesa Vardeman: I would think too that you need to have the services available to them so that they can walk and stay in the downtown area to get their groceries and dry cleaning and all the things that are associated with that because we’re not quite there yet.
David Stanford: I’d agree with what everybody else has said, too. I think also we need to get some more businesses downtown to fill in the gaps of people who have left recently, and other businesses. But I think there’s other potential. I think the grocery store element, that’s another thing too that would make it a little bit more easy to live downtown. I think what you’ll see is the grocery store will follow the people. I think Karen, your 20,000 number is a very good one.
Karen Alschuler: Start with 20,000. I think there should be 40,000 living downtown but start with 20,000. There are 60,000 living downtown San Francisco’s center part. Start with 20,000, figure out where those go as soon as possible. You need 7,000 people living there just to really support a good grocery store, and once they come, then they’ve done a gutsy thing.
You’ve got only 3,000 people living here. But you do have many people working here during the day but go for the 20,000. Figure out where those [people] go, enable that, build it in mixed-use buildings with life and activity on the ground floor, pay a lot of attention to the first two floors of all of the buildings so there’s life and activities and things happening day and night. And see if you meet some of those metrics because you’ve got the jobs downtown. You’ve got that one piece.
Question: I didn’t hear any comments toward making a connection or work against making connections in the south part of town. The hospitals are there, but then you have the smaller buildings. So there’s that issue of one scale being next to the other. … And this is great, but the issue of scale.
Michael Bennett: I think it’s an important issue and it’s a great question. And I think it can happen in a couple of ways, and there’s a scale to a space. You know there’s a scale of what buildings feel good to define a space. There’s a scale to when you walk next to something, what feels good. Even a very tall building can feel more comfortable to walk next to if you think about the scale of that building at the ground level. But I do think you have to think about it in every case. …
Question: I mean specifically in regard to the fabric. … The hospital district is kind of this component within a bigger area, so it’s components that have to scale, that are adjacent. So again, part of it is the fabric and the individual components. …
Karen Alschuler: It’s a challenging issue, and hospitals often need to build connected, large buildings to do their efficient services that they need to do. But the paying better attention to the ground floors, and maybe first and second floors of buildings, and all kinds of buildings, can make a pattern of light and activity that can connect.
I once read this article called “The Land Use Sandwich.” Now, stopping thinking about individual uses, but really accepting that in cities and particularly in downtowns. You get multiple uses that line up. It just makes those areas more interesting.
I think you have to not be afraid of a little density and height. There are some lovely hill areas within the city, but not a lot of topography, and you could add some topography of buildings to signal out or identify places or neighborhoods in the district, and then provide the services that make really worth living at those higher densities.
And then do urban design thinking in every one of these districts. If we want to tie what’s happening in hospitals with the life and activity of Magnolia, you have to think about keeping human scale while we’re connecting pieces. And then letting the density at the hospitals happen. …
Michael Bennett: The other answer to your question may be related to kind of walking distance, that there’s sort of a pleasant distance of about a 10-minute walk. And when you think of the scale of the urban design fabric as a series of these 10-minute walks, if you’re walking for 40 minutes, that means you maybe have three or four events that you experience during the course of that walk.
But that’s what’s sort of been determined to be a pleasant human scale; if you’re walking 10 minutes to the train station, if you’re walking 10 minutes to a restaurant. So I think that sort of scale and thinking about how you group activities into district, so that you do have those kinds of things happening.
If it’s a mainly residential district, it might be a green space that’s a 10-minute walk away. It might be that great bar that you like going to. But there’s also that issue of scale, which to Karen’s point, gets difficult with a hospital, because they want to have these big footprints and have all that kind of stuff.
Leesa Vardeman: I was in the medical district yesterday and I parked in the wrong place, so I had to walk from one building to the other. And one of the things I would say is variety of space was, it was interesting. And then I came across a green space that was unexpected, so just this variety and texture that can combine to unite those neighborhoods is really important as we plan them.
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