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.
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.
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.