Dallas City Hall Is Working on a Plan to Reverse the Population Flight to the Suburbs

Dallas City Hall Is Working on a Plan to Reverse the Population Flight to the Suburbs
Mark Graham

Dallas has, for the most part, missed out on the North Texas population explosion that has taken place over the past dozen years or so. While the region as a whole grew by 22 percent between 2000 and 2012, and exurbs like Frisco and McKinney more than doubled in size, Dallas' population increased by an anemic 4.1 percent. We're the hole in the doughnut.

The suburbs have plenty of built-in advantages over the city (cheaper homes, less crime, better schools, etc.), so their victory in the population race was probably inevitable, but was Dallas really predestined to be crushed so thoroughly?

Councilman Scott Griggs thinks not, and he blames poor planning on the part of City Hall.

See also: Boomtown Rats: Why is Dallas Being Left out of Region's Growth? Ask Our Leaders.

Griggs made his critique this morning during city staff's presentation of their strategic plan for spurring economic development in Dallas between 2015 and 2017. The plan lays out plenty of goals -- growing the tax base faster than suburbs, improving transportation options, improving streets -- but none of them were directly tied to bringing more residents to Dallas.

That presents a problem, Griggs said. To grow the population, "we have to have a plan in place." If there has been a strategy over the past decade, it's to rely on the strength of Richardson and Duncanville ISDs, which have spurred pockets of growth on the northern and southern fringes of Dallas, and ride the wave of urbanites looking for dense, close-to-downtown living. The vast majority of the city, meanwhile, is ignored.

If the pattern continues, Griggs warns that Dallas' population, and its tax revenues, will remain stagnant. The city will have to raise already-high taxes to maintain aging infrastructure, making city living less attractive. "If we don't grow our population we're going to get in this downward spiral."

No one on the City Council's Economic Development Committee really disagreed with that notion, although there were different theories on why Dallas has stagnated. Tennell Atkins blamed poor housing stock in much of the southern sector for driving the upwardly mobile out of the city. Rick Callahan blamed a lack of disposable income (i.e. too many people living on Social Security and entitlement payments) for creating economic dead zones.

There's was also something of a chicken-and-egg debate, with Atkins theorizing that a focus on economic development will spur population growth rather than the other way around.

The city's economic development staff said they would revise the strategic plan and peg their goals to population growth, which should solve everything, except DISD, over which they have no control. But who wants a decent school district anyway? (Note: It's only fair to point out that DISD has made significant strides in graduation rates, AP scores, SAT participation, and bridging the minority achievement gap in recent years.)

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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