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What does Dallas offer the Creative Class?

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By Kevin Walker

Everytime I see a new building being built in or around downtown Dallas, my analytical mind often wonders what is it that will drive full occupancy of this new structure. Will it be hauntingly empty spaces like those in Victory Park or will they be like the bustling retail area of Uptown? Also I ask will the new Arts District be another grand display of wealth and power for the elite, or will it be a gigantic creative spark that will draw people, artists, and musicians of all walks of life to be a part of the area’s growth.

Southside on Lamar - Photo by Dave Hensley (Flickr)

One thing I am convinced of is this: there has to be an organic draw for young people to want to flock to downtown and to be a part of something that is fun, happening and hip.  That is exactly what is transpiring at the Southside Lofts on Lamar and the nearby Cedars area east of downtown.

Something good is brewing. Take a deeper look and you will notice that many of the businesses that are thriving are what Dr. Richard Florida has penned as “Creative Class Businesses” in his book Rise of the Creative Class. Digital agencies, fashion designers, craft makers, artisans, small film and video production houses are all concentrated in the Cedars area.

Dr. Florida argues that cities that will thrive in the 21st century will be those cities who have high concentrations of young people, racially diverse populatons, educational centers, creative industries and high tech knowledge based workers. Think New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco (which includes Silicon Valley) The only Texas city that is considered a Creative Class city by Dr. Florida is Austin. As it stands now, Dallas does not fit the bill.

There are not enough institutions of higher learning concentrated in Dallas’ urban core. We have low numbers of young city dwellers, extreme racial polarization, high concentrations of poverty and an economy that is rooted too heavily in finance, commercial real estate, and oil and gas.

There is hope however, and it is evident in the budding creative class businesses of the Southside Lofts, the Cedars area, and Deep Ellum. What is needed to make it a bigger magnet of more creative class workers and young urbanites is more attention paid to and active civic promotion of the creative class areas and businesses.

Pearl Street Pocket Park in DUMBO - By The Squirrels as part of the Commons:Wikis Take Manhattan project

Other cities have actively fostered, from a business and civic level, the creation and promotion of creative class centers. Digital DUMBO in Brooklyn (part of New York’s Digital District) is an example as well as the 3rd Ward development also in Brooklyn. The city government and city business patrons have actively fostered growth and development of these centers.

It is my belief that if Dallas city leaders and business people proactively address the higher education deficiencies, racial polarization, and most of all promote a variety of mini creative districts in the urban core of the city then Dallas will be one of the most desirable cities for young creative class workers to live in. Consequently making downtown Dallas a jewel of commercial real estate, and retail.

Kevin Walker is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of CultureLab, a creative class agency focused on trends research, consumer lifestyle intelligence and brand storytelling. CultureLab’s clients include InTouch Credit Union, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, ONDCP, and Draft FCB NY. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @KIllerKW.

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  • http://www.tiffanis-beautyparlor.com Tiffani

    Excellent points here! Even the things that attract young, urban creative people to Dallas in the first place is the same thing that makes them want to leave — capitalism at its very best! Initially Dallas attracts young people because of it’s thriving economy and high-paying jobs in the above mentioned industries; however, once they have settled into the life and made enough money to be comfortable it becomes a question of what’s next and is this rat race life what i really want? When those worker bees begin to search for creative outlets, they seldom find it here, so they pack up and move to a place where they can have the job, and satisfy their creative existence while planning an escape from corporate America. In many of those creative cities it’s much easier to escape from corporate and parlay your career into something more creatively satisfying and fullfilling, but to escape it in Dallas, you need the underground railroad! Not easy to jump out when you are so far in and see no light at the end!

  • http://twitter.com/msjeannettea Jeannette

    Great article…as a NYC native, now living in Dallas I find that this city doesn’t celebrate individualism and diversity. It’s pretty unfortunate.

  • Peter Gud.

    Interesting article, Kevin. Thank you.

    I disagree with Jeannette on the point that Dallas doesn’t celebrate individualism and diversity. Midtown Manhattan enjoys an unequaled energy, but at the end of the day most people return to their comparatively homogeneous neighborhoods and suburbs like boxers to the corners of the ring. The scale of “The City” does, of course, generate an infinite variety of characters and personalities, but what practical value does that offer when they hidden behind frowns and attitude?

    Texas in general and Dallas in particular are based on an almost religious dedication to the notion of individualism. Pardon the over-used Western vocabulary, but we have been attracting and producing mavericks for a long time.

    Traditionally, the most valid New York criticism of Dallas was that the pizza was terrible. We have fixed that in the last few years . . . I wish I could say the same for Tex-Mex up north!

    Oh, and I express this opinion as a transplanted New Yorker myself.

  • craig

    A lot of transplanted adult New Yorkers have this viewpoint and it can’t be more off base. There are tremendous issues with regards to individualism and racial polarization that this city has had since my grandparents lamented that Oak Cliff was being attached to Dallas to up its statistics and make it palatable to tourists despite being a polarized, boring, and non-cultural mecca. As a New Yorker who came here at age 12, who had visited for years before that, and moved back to NYC so that diversity and respect of thought could be an asset rather than something frowned upon, I know Dallas and know it well. It is a long way away from respectability. But it is trying, as my parents can attest to. If people that move here live anywhere outside of Oak Cliff, then they don’t have a clue to what Dallas is about. Going south of downtown for something other than the State Fair or driving through to go to Houston or Austin will help. But there is vast unused real estate, poverty, and a general consensus from the masses north of downtown that it is unsafe, unreliable, and unwarranted to go there. Yet Dallas considers itself a major city because of the 600,000 people that contribute to its population stats. Individualism applies in Dallas to people on the north side in real estate or oil. If it’s liberal arts, forget it. Deep Ellum had one of the biggest race riots in Dallas history. I was there. That ain’t progress. If you’re looking for a fake smile in a confederate city, go to North Dallas, you won’t have a problem finding it. If you want a real person unafraid to give you his or her opinion, who may or may not be smiling at the time, go north. Attitude has never been a problem for this city, and its one of the reasons it attracts people worldwide. Nobody likes a fake. There isn’t anyone in any city in the world that doesn’t go home after work and maybe Happy Hour. There are 1.3 million people living in Manhattan and those in the ‘suburbs’ of the city are usually at best 45 minutes away. The difference is what time you go home versus what time I do haha…

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