Arts & Culture News

Freakonomics Radio Wants to Know Why the Hell Everyone Is Coming to Dallas. So Do We.

Freakonomics Radio host Stephen Dubner (top left) gets his literal first taste of Dallas at Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse with the restaurant's owner Brent Harman (left) and George W. Bush Institute-S.M.U. Economic Growth Initiative director Cullum Clark. The meeting is for an interview for a special two-part series on what's behind the explosive population growth across DFW.
Freakonomics Radio host Stephen Dubner (top left) gets his literal first taste of Dallas at Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse with the restaurant's owner Brent Harman (left) and George W. Bush Institute-S.M.U. Economic Growth Initiative director Cullum Clark. The meeting is for an interview for a special two-part series on what's behind the explosive population growth across DFW. Ryan Kelley
If you're getting that crowded feeling right now, it's not your imagination. It's economics.

A 2021 article published in the magazine City Journal says Dallas has the fourth highest growth rate of inbound migration. The city's growth rate is also well above the national average with a population surge that's "almost three times faster than the average for the nation's 50 largest metros." 

That includes the cities, counties and neighborhoods surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth. According to the article, more than 87% of Dallas-Fort Worth's growth happened outside Dallas proper in two different areas: "one stretching from the northern suburbs almost to the Oklahoma border and another radiating outwards from downtown Fort Worth."

Ryan Kelley, a producer for the NPR podcast Freakonomics Radio, says the article persuaded him to take his first trip to the Big D. Kelley and host Stephen Dubner's visit resulted in a two-part series on Dallas' unique growth trends. The second part will be released on Thursday.

Kelley says the trip took them to just about every corner of North Texas, from Dallas' bustling downtown to the suburban outskirts. Of course, Kelley isn't the only one who's curious to know what's causing this explosive growth. Anyone who has to pay Dallas' rising rents wants an explanation as well.

"When we started throwing around this idea about doing a podcast on the DFW area, we didn't quite know how to do it at first because it's a different kind of topic to do on a specific place," Kelley says. "I do think what's really cool about these two episodes is we're looking at a place and we get to see how different policy areas and dynamics are intersecting. We talk about what the relationships are between education and housing development in Dallas. We're looking at a wide range of topics."

Kelley and Dubner arrived in Dallas on a particularly rainy night, which can produce a tumultuous first impression. The two were also expected to be picked up by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who made a verbal promise to Dubner before their trip that he'd do so personally. Unfortunately, Johnson had to cancel at the last minute due to "an urgent family matter," according to Dubner.

"My first impression of the city was, to be honest, 'Wow, this is a little chaotic and there's a lot of driving needed to get around,'" Kelley says from his studio in New York. "When the clouds cleared, things felt a little rosier, and I was excited to see downtown Dallas and see the surrounding area."
click to enlarge Freakonomics Radio producer Ryan Kelley called Frisco's The Star facility for the Dallas Cowboys "unlike anything I've seen in New York." - COURTESY FORD CENTER
Freakonomics Radio producer Ryan Kelley called Frisco's The Star facility for the Dallas Cowboys "unlike anything I've seen in New York."
courtesy Ford Center
One of their more impressionable visits happened in (believe it or not) Frisco, something Dubner will explore in more depth in the second part of their series, which focuses on other high-growth areas such as Denton and Collin Counties, Kelley says.

Frisco's growth story is setting records across the country. The data tracker Stacker called Frisco the fastest growing city of the 2010s, citing U.S. census figures showing the city saw almost a 60 percent increase in population from 2010-2018.

"We went up to The Star district [the Dallas Cowboys training facility and surrounding area] in Frisco, Texas," Kelley says. "Ten years ago, that was a corn field, and now it's this mega mall. That was surprising and unlike anything I've seen in New York. The size, scale and ambition of that facility for the Cowboys but also for the city of Frisco was interesting and surprising."

Affordability is a major reason for the city's growth as metropolises like Los Angeles and New York continue to raise the cost of living well above the national average, but it's not the only driving factor.

"I think for people who are considering moving to a new place and certainly moving to a place like Dallas, that we think of cultural hubs with Broadway in New York and the movie industry in Los Angeles," Kelley says. "People want to see those types of facilities and have access to that type of stuff — and we'll get into this more into Part 2 — but corporate thinking of expanding and opening new offices, they know employees want those things and are asking if they have those things. Is this a vibrant and exciting place?"

Of course, Kelley can't predict just how big the expansion will get or what effect it will have on things such as crime, housing and education, but he notes that "too much urban growth in a way isn't good for people and you can think about that in a lot of different ways: environmental, urban sprawl, traffic on highways.

"Those can be reduced through good policy," he says. "I don't think there is a hard and fast cap. Cities implement and grow policies that work for the people who live there." 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.