The Dallas Morning News, you may have noticed but probably didn't, is in the middle of a mammoth, months-long effort to pick the best neighborhoods. First came the safest neighborhoods, then the best schools, then those best suited for empty nesters. It's all leading up to the June 16 reveal, when the paper will anoint the area's Best Neighborhood.
The News has gone to great lengths to point out that this is not another throwaway Most-Important-Cats-of-2012 list. They've combed through reams of police reports, property records, school ratings and Census figures and crunched the data to come up with a completely, 100-percent objective method for ranking what might at first glance seem unrankable.[jump]
What's funny is how uncannily well the results hew to the stereotype of the News as the paper of Far North Dallas and the northern suburbs. The safest neighborhood is in Frisco. So is the one with the best schools. Southlake takes the crown for empty nesters.
That trend seemed destined to end with Sunday's installment, which promised a definitive ranking of the best areas for "urban sophisticates." That phrase seems to preclude anything north of LBJ. How could the News possibly twist that to favor the suburbs?
Irving might not come to mind as a hotbed of dense urban living, but this portion of Valley Ranch and two stretches of North Dallas took the top three spots among the best places for urban dwellers as part of a yearlong data analysis by The Dallas Morning News.
Of nearly 1,200 census tracts in the Dallas region, 64 qualified as 'urban,' defined as housing at least 10,000 people per square mile. Some areas that might seem shoo-ins -- for instance, retail- and apartment-rich Knox-Henderson -- failed to finish high because of low-performing schools.
The top-rated areas are marked mostly by cornrow-like swaths of apartments, with shopping, restaurants and walking paths either easily accessed on foot or a short drive away.
You have to feel bad for Marc Ramirez, the writer assigned with the job of explaining how the News could possibly consider Valley Ranch a model of dense urban living. He tries his hardest. There's an independent coffee shop! Sidewalks! Apartments with cool urban names like The Highlands of Valley Ranch, The Enclave at Valley Ranch, The Oaks of Valley Ranch!
Alas, it's an impossible task to explain how Valley Ranch wound up at No. 3 on the list, or how clusters of apartments around the Galleria and off the Tollway in the sliver of Dallas that juts into Collin County come in at No. 1 and 2, respectively. The list doesn't get inside the loop until Uptown and Oak Lawn show up at No. 5 and 6. Absent from the list are Downtown, the Cedars, the Design District, North Oak Cliff or any other places that are remotely urban.
It's worth glancing at the News' methodology. The paper explains that it conducted a survey to figure out how North Texans define urban sophistication, then weighted various data based on the results. So public safety accounts for an outsize 47 percent of a neighborhood's urban sophistication score, while commute and walkability make up a combined 7.7 percent.
Jacquielynn Floyd chimes in this morning with a column defending her paper's methodology, saying the data break through "rigid, outdated stereotypes" about urbanism perpetuated by "sanctimonious hipsters who use 'suburban' as an insult that describes selfish, conformist commuters who drive everywhere in super-sized SUVs, spend their leisure time at the mall, vote like the people next door and think 'art' is a Thomas Kinkade print."
Fair point. Sanctimonious hipsters -- hey, we know a few of those! -- are irritating. But so is claiming that your publication has officially proven that Valley Ranch is urban because it has apartments and sidewalks.