Organic Urbanism Allows Cities to Thrive
Douglas Newby, national award-winning realtor, author, urbanists, looks at Organic Urbanism as a way forward for the aesthetics, economics, and health of cities. Cities thrive when people thrive.
Origin of Organic Urbanism
My background brought into focus the concept of Organic Urbanism. Raised in a village of brick-lined and tree-tunneled streets, with triangle parks and neighborhood lawns to play in, I am extremely fond of the idyllic passage of time just riding a bike looking at the architectural nuance of historic homes along the way. While excitement was generated by Fourth of July parades and the energy of neighborhood block parties, backyard softball games, badminton or croquet contests, there was a lack of vibrancy that comes from a diverse urban setting of people from different parts of the world, economic strata, languages and cultures. As a child reading Hardy Boy books, I thought I was really “gypped” because there was never any crime in Hinsdale that I thought I could solve.
Neighborhood Revitalization Is A Significant Component of Organic Urbanism
Moving to Old East Dallas, which the city had proclaimed the worst neighborhood in Dallas, including the most dangerous bar two blocks away, made me rethink wishing for a little crime in the neighborhood. Nevertheless, my studies at SMU in anthropology, psychology, comparative religion, with an additional emphasis in art, led me to Munger Place by the invitations of artists that owned homes there. I considered Munger Place a cultural nirvana of vibrancy. I find it interesting that a grade school neighbor, Sunny Bates, who lived just around the corner from me in Hinsdale and that I later became reacquainted with at TED (she is often considered a co-founder of the modern era of TED), had a similar reaction to our idyllic childhood life. Sunny majored in Middle Eastern studies in college and then bought a house in Harlem that became revitalized much like Old East Dallas.
Nature Embracing Neighborhoods Is An Underlying Goal of Organic Urbanism
I approach my favorite neighborhoods with this deep appreciation for the embrace of nature and aesthetically pleasing fabric of architecture. I still crave the vibrancy of culturally diverse chef-owned restaurants, theaters, museums, artist studios, and cultural events nearby. I continue to have a dual desire for nature and vibrancy.
Organic Urbanism Encourages Diverse Neighborhoods
Over four decades I have seen my Munger Place neighborhood evolve. It has been revitalized and gentrified, but is not bland. It actually has a deeper and fuller contrast. Additional trees have been planted and one-way couplets have been returned to two-way neighborhood streets. Restaurants with Vietnamese, Italian, Laotian, and Mexican roots have been in existence 40 to 50 years that continue, and new restaurants from second generation Americans are being honored as one of the top ten new restaurants in the country. Crime is way down but diverse economic strata is still visible. Rejuvenated neighborhoods added an impetus to the creation of an Arts District downtown. Parks have been expanded and improved, attracting people from across the city.
Organic Urbanism Nourishes Neighborhoods
With love and nourishment, neighborhoods can flourish. As a real estate broker that began my business to help revitalize the neighborhood, it has evolved and is selling some of the most expensive homes in the city. The common denominator of the disparate neighborhood home prices, is the impact the evolution of the neighborhood has on their respective areas. I have a keen interest and understanding of the evolution of these neighborhoods and the importance of good sites and good architecture that delivers value and helps my clients successfully make on of the most important economic decisions of their life when they buy or sell a home.
Organic Urbanism Satisfies the Intellectual and Academic Rigors of Diverse City Stakeholders
When I thought about the tenets of Organic Urbanism, I thought it should satisfy the rigorous requirements of three influential groups of people in my life.
Economists Embrace the Tenets of Organic Urbanism
The first group are economists like the late Gerald Scully, one of my thesis advisers at SMU. Dr. Gerald Scully was a libertarian economist who lived in Junius Heights in the early years of its resurgence. He was the first economist that I worked with who understood that single-family zoning was a property right. He recognized the economic advantages of taking away multifamily zoning privileges to gain an even greater economic property right, the privilege of single-family zoning. He approved my premise that single-family zoning brings economic advantages to all constituencies in a distressed neighborhood as I discussed in my thesis, “Economic Incentives to Reverse Migration in an Inner-City Neighborhood.” He also sent me many economic articles over a range of subjects and introduced me to economist John Goodman of the Goodman Institute, who has also had a profound impact on my thinking of public policy issues.
Organic Urbanism Appeals to Ph.D’s in the Humanities Who Have A Cultural Approach Urbanism
The second group that has influenced me is best represented by Dr. Gail Thomas, the founder of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and the greatest force in changing the Trinity River that had been made into a channel flanked by toll roads to become a meandering river through hardwood forests, embracing and encouraging neighborhoods on both sides of the river. For over three decades, Dr. Gail Thomas held major conferences, symposiums, and small salons discussing the city. Gail understood, taught, and promoted the idea that there was a soul in places, neighborhoods, and the city. Gail led the way in thinking of how to heal damaged parts of the city, explore untapped resources in the city, and create new opportunities in the city. I have always thought places have energy and Gail Thomas, through her lectures, writing and guest speakers like Jane Jacobs, reinforced this belief.
Homeowners Who Choose To Live In A City Are Most Sensitive to Organic Urbanism
The third group that has influenced my thinking are my clients that I have worked with. I am maybe the most fortunate real estate broker in the country, because my clients have selected me because we have a shared passion for good architecture, the best neighborhoods, great sites, and for the city of Dallas. My clients understand the importance of architecture, the merits of a site or a neighborhood, and a home beyond its MLS specifics. I have represented my clients as they have purchased and sold many of the most architecturally significant homes in Dallas. Even more important and impactful, they have shared with me what they loved about their homes and what made them happy living in their homes for many years. The awards that their homes received might have been fun for them, and the academic applause for their home’s architecture satisfying, but the accolades is not what made them happy living in their home every day. My different clients kept repeating the same themes and mentioning the same characteristics of their home that made them happy. The themes were the same whether they lived in the largest estate home, a small historic cottage, or a modern townhome. Organic Urbanism recognizes what homeowners desire in a home, a site, a neighborhood, and a home that makes them happy.
Organic Urbanism Allows An Individual, A Neighborhood, and A City To Flourish
The themes of Organic Urbanism allow an individual to flourish, which allows a neighborhood to flourish, which allows a city to flourish. Organic Urbanism provides a rational economic platform and principles to reach its goals. It also embraces the concept of neighborhood and citizens having a collective soul that resonates or reverberates across the city. Organic Urbanism allows a city to be nurtured, not rigidly manipulated.
New Urbanism Is A Threat to Cities
Dallas has always been vulnerable to New Urbanism trying to copy the older industrial models of cities from the Midwest like Chicago or the East Coast like New York. Fortunately, Dallas has always had an underlying sense of independence, individuality, and personal expression that has allowed Dallas to resist some of the rigid calls for density and new development. Dallas has succumbed to New Urbanism in some ways but has avoided it in other ways. Just as one doesn’t need to outrun a tiger, only the person next to them, Dallas doesn’t need to outrun the tiger, just do better than the other failing cities across the country.
Organic Urbanism Is the Solution
An Organic Urbanism approach would actually let Dallas outrun the tiger. Organic Urbanism will allow Dallas to tap into its existing resources of people, places, structures, and energy and organically flourish.
Organic Urbanism Nurtures a City
Organic Urbanism is a positive way forward for cities in peril. Organic Urbanism recognizes that people enjoy vibrancy but seek sunlight and low-density neighborhoods. Technology loosened the shackles of the industrial cities’ conventional time and space, and the pandemic is breaking the shackles. Organic Urbanism fully embraces nature and technology and their importance for a city to flourish. This is much different than the traditional New Urbanism that promotes industrial age techniques to streamline an industrial city, and then add a dollop of nature. Organic Urbanism recognizes that technology increasingly allows people to respond to their own daily rhythms including where they live and work.
Traditional Top-Down Central Planning of New Urbanism Adheres to Industrial Principles
Traditional New Urbanism’s top-down central planning for a 21st century city is still adhering to industrial principles which are currently killing cities—whistle-signaling fixed factory-like work shifts; fixed-rail trains getting people to work in concentrated fixed locations; dense housing zones and subsidized apartments on fixed rail lines; centralized education by zip codes; homeownership allowed for the rich and homeownership impeded for everyone else.
Organic Urbanism Allows a City to Evolve Like an Urban Garden
Organic Urbanism allows a city to evolve like an urban garden. There is a natural ebb and flow in cities. As housing ages, it becomes more affordable for different demographics. Lower-income homebuyers can now afford these homes, and higher-income homeowners can now afford to renovate these homes. Neither of these demographic groups should have to compete with government-subsidized developers to buy a home that the developers would tear down. If there are government subsidies for a neighborhood development, it should go to the neighborhood—new streets, curbs, sidewalks, streetlights, parkway trees, and better internet connectivity for the benefit of the entire neighborhood. The developers should not have their land acquisitions subsidized so they can build more apartments.
New Urbanists Want to Physically Integrate and Economically Segregate
Traditional New Urbanists want to physically integrate neighborhoods but maintain segregated economic strata of wealth by subsidizing low-income apartments. Organic Urbanism wants to integrate the economic strata of wealth with more homeownership.
Organic Urbanism Celebrates Nature
A trademark of industrial cities is concentrated wealth. Density allows a concentration of power and control. Organic Urbanism naturally allows people to spread out across a city gravitating to naturally beautiful areas even if their current neighborhoods are deteriorated. Organic Urbanism wants to provide the freedom of physical movement, with less lanes of traffic and super highways, and economic movement by empowering people of all incomes many of the same benefits that traditional New Urbanists reserve for the wealthy—good doctors, good schools, good food, good jobs, and single-family homes. Organic Urbanism understands that tele-medicine allows someone of any income to have the same quality doctor at a cheaper rate than an office visit, and the doctors’ offices are often closer to a wealthy population than a low-income population.
Autonomous Vehicles, Uber, Air-Taxis Eliminate Two-Hour, Three-Transit Stop Commutes
Autonomous vehicles, Uber and air-taxis will eliminate the time needed for three transit changes and two long walks to get to a good job. School choice including charter schools, ISD academies, magnet schools, tuition scholarships, and home-schooling networks allow families to live anywhere in the city. Schools other than traditional ISD schools attract people of all incomes to lower-income areas to be close to these innovative schools, which organically integrate the neighborhood.
Organic Urbanism Promotes Community Involvement in Neighborhoods
Organic Urbanism is opposed to the unholy alliance of police and teacher unions with urban politicians that give legislative protections for bad police conduct and inept teaching. In addition, Organic Urbanism is in favor of empowering communities of color by encouraging Rent-a-Cop grants to be made to neighborhood homeowners so they can hire off-duty police officers and police cars for periodic four-hour shifts in their neighborhoods.
Single Family Zoning And Homes Create Wealth For Minorities
Traditional New Urbanists think single-family homes and single-family zoning is morally bad. Organic Urbanism thinks single-family homes create wealth and empowerment for lower-income groups.
Organic Urbanism Will Allow A City To Flourish
The city that traditional New Urbanism has touted for over 50 years is over. Organic Urbanism is for allowing people, homeowners, neighborhoods, and the city to organically flourish.
Organic Urbanism is a cure for New Urbanism.-Douglas Newby
Organic Urbanism Articles, Insights and Proposals
New Urbanism is like a virus. For 50 year it keeps coming back in mutated forms. It needs a cure. First, the only thing new in New Urbanism is the new construction that tears down the organic city. A form of New Urbanism has been around for 50 years. Like I said, it is a...
The pandemic has us focusing more on the criteria for choosing a city, a neighborhood and a home. It comes down to aesthetics, economics and future happiness — the foundation of organic urbanism. Aesthetics drive the economics of a neighborhood and a home. The health of a city and neighborhood contributes to the happiness and...
In 1990, when Dallas was going through its great economic depression, it actually had a chance to have more than just backyards and trees. It had a chance to have a version of New York’s Central Park. Southland Corporation had assembled 200 acres one small lot at a time. After the devastating economic downturn, this...
Shelter in place has us focused on the characteristics of a home that makes us happy. What makes us happy in a home has not changed, but since we are spending more time in a home than ever, we are focused on what makes us happy in a home. Neighborhoods become more important during shelter...
The recent challenges from the coronavirus force us to shelter at home and think of our home in whole new ways. Traditionally, when a buyer looks for a house to purchase, they are usually thinking about practical and financial criteria, like the square footage cost of the investment, how much house can they afford, are...
We have all been taught that owning a home is the American dream. We know that the purchase of a home is one of life’s most significant decisions and one’s most significant design decision. (Well, maybe you have just heard that from me.) We all know America and its culture are founded on the pursuit...
As cities increasingly become enclaves for the rich and reservations for the poor, the debate rages on how to create inclusive urban growth to make cities less economically segregated and more vibrant. In Dallas, the Trinity River gives a geographic definition to the high income and low-income neighborhoods, dividing the historically prosperous northern half of...
What Ron Wommack and his client realized was this rather dowdy spur of houses on very high ground adjacent to an abandoned railroad track would soon be a site overlooking the Santa Fe Trail, a running, walking, bicycling trail from White Rock Lake to Fair Park. What was a lesser street now became a very...
The Dallas city manager and housing director are proposing a devastating blanket zoning change: allowing ADUs (additional dwelling units), better known as granny flats, actually backyard rental houses, in single-family zoned neighborhoods. This change would allow a 44-foot wide by 30-foot tall rental house to be built on the back of a standard 50‑foot wide...
Density is the Holy Grail of New Urbanism, from creating new zoning for granny flats, rooming houses, townhouses, duplexes, fourplexes and backyard two-story rental houses in established neighborhoods to encouraging dense mixed use development on undeveloped or redeveloped land. The advantage of urban density and the idyllic effect of density has been the battle cry...
I fondly remember preservation/property rights mayor Robert Folsom, who died on January 24 at age 89. Mayor Folsom was also the strongest proponent of the neighborhood’s preservation request for single-family zoning and to become a historic district.