Is Dallas a Creative City?

Dallas sure likes things BIG. Not only do we have the longest light rail system in the nation, the largest urban hardwood forest, but also the largest urban arts district. According to an article published earlier this year on Citylab, within the Dallas Arts District, is the densest concentration of great design in the world.

In an area that is smaller than a square mile, six Pritzker Prize winners (the highest award in Architecture) have designed buildings in the Arts District. Almost every Saturday, you can see contemporary sculpture in a building designed by an Italian architect, eat lunch at an award winning Deck Park designed by a firm from California, and see a performance in an opera house designed by an Englishman.

Capps, City Lab: For the Best U.S. Architecture Per Square Mile, Head to Dallas, Feb. 2 2015  Photo: Marc Barnes/City Lab

Capps, City Lab: For the Best U.S. Architecture Per Square Mile, Head to Dallas, Feb. 2 2015  Photo: Marc Barnes/City Lab

Does this high design-density make Dallas a Creative City?

I love these places. We all love these places. The Dallas Arts District is incredibly valuable to a creative community, and a thriving city needs cultural institutions to broaden our views, and present us with moments of delight, and Dallas has certainly worked hard to bring us these institutions

But the Arts District is a place for inspiration, not creation. It’s a detriment to our future that we regularly import architects from New York, or London to design the Dallas built environment.

A recent report from the Center for an Urban Future, ranked the cities where creative jobs are thriving in the US. To no one’s surprise, Austin and Portland are at the top. But don’t worry; Dallas made the list, too…with a 17% decline in creative jobs!

 

Center For an Urban Future: Creative New York, 2015

Center For an Urban Future: Creative New York, 2015

Every May, new graduates in creative industries are looking for jobs, and are willing to move almost anywhere for the potential of doing good work in a growing creative community. So, why the hell would the most talented, ambitious, and entrepreneurial graduates move to Dallas, when the firms in Los Angeles, and Zurich are designing all of our buildings and urban spaces?

Right now Dallas reaps the benefit of one moment of creative talent that is culminated in a single building. But the individuals who make those buildings spend everyday of their lives to the benefit of their own city. Their talent and passion adds to the creative potential in their hometowns.  We need more of these folks here in Dallas.

A creative community wants one thing above all else: To Create.

Creative people want to produce great work, but this requires great clients and great firms. It is a chicken and the egg scenario. There are not enough thriving mid-sized creative firms designing larger projects, but without impressive design firms and large-scale projects, why would talented creative people move to Dallas? There is no lack of clients in Dallas, but they need to take a leap of faith on our community.

This is not meant to undermine the incredible work of our local community. Firms are working their asses off to do good work in Dallas, and without them we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But if even one building in the Arts District had been set aside for a local firm it could have started a sea change.

Dallas is big enough that it’s on the global stage, but it’s dismissed as a creative city because, so far, Dallas has only shown its ability to be a consumer of good design. Creative production and creative consumption operate in different ways, but there can and should be synergies between the two. Theorists like Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford would argue these are critical to the mechanics of what makes a good and healthy city because the city is a social organizer; it brings people and ideas together, and spurs artistic and cultural creativity. The city has a lopsided creative environment with an abundance of creative consumption, and anemic creative production. We need a balance.

Dallas needs an environment that supports local design firms, and looks for ways to develop up-and-coming talent. There should be more opportunities to do beautiful work locally, and have it recognized by our neighbors, as well as by a global audience.

Regardless of the scale, from simple installations to large-scale architecture, it’s time to take ownership of our city’s big design., and show the world our creative potential.

Gray Garmon grew up in Dallas, has a Master of Architecture, and is a professor of Design and Innovation at SMU. He likes to wonder about the creative process, and on the weekends, he nurses a fj62 Landcruiser back to health. He and his wife live in Lakewood.

Gray Garmon grew up in Dallas, has a Master of Architecture, and is a professor of Design and Innovation at SMU. He likes to wonder about the creative process, and on the weekends, he nurses a fj62 Landcruiser back to health. He and his wife live in Lakewood.

Gray Garmon

Gray is a design trained in architecture, and Professor of Design and Innovaiton at Southern Methodist University. He is also one of founders of Design Future Dallas.