City and Regional Planning

Designs for Green and Walkable Cities

Development Opportunities for Fort Worth

Studio 2011

American cities and regions are full of opportunities to create infill neighborhoods in easily accessible locations, where there are supporting utilities already in place, but where older commercial and industrial uses are failing. There are also opportunities to restore the landscape in such places, which can enhance their value and make them more competitive with green-field locations. Another group of opportunities: creating new walkable centers with a mix of workplaces, shopping, and residences in both existing and developing urban areas, instead of endless housing tracts and underused commercial corridors. If such places could reach their development potential, central cities would have stronger economies, roads and transit could be more efficient, and over-all urban growth could be much more sustainable. The reasons these opportunities generally go unrealized is that they are places which present some form of complication; an investor can't just acquire a property and build according to the code. Sometimes the code itself is the problem, sometimes it is an undesirable adjacent use, sometimes public investment is needed, often the complication is an infrastructure issue, or parts of key locations belong to a government agency, or the site is in multiple ownerships that would require cooperation among investors. The real-estate market constantly supplies developers with sites that don't need so much up-front work, so these more complicated situations are often not considered.

To test the potential of opportunities that conventional development passes by, this studio turned to Fernando Costa, the Deputy City Manager - and former Planning Director - of the City of Fort Worth, who arranged for the studio to receive an inventory of some 60 such locations, identified by Jocelyn Murphy, Zoning and Land Use Manager, and Eric Fladager, Comprehensive Planning Manager, of the Fort Worth Planning and Development Department. The studio chose ten sites that the City of Fort Worth thought had the highest priority for our study. Some were places where development was already planned in some form but there seemed to be better alternatives; others were locations where various obstacles made desirable development difficult. The studio began by looking at the underlying environmental conditions in each location, such as topography and hydrology, as well as the urban contexts created by existing land-use and transportation patterns, using the GIS and other information provided to the studio by the City. 

The studio made an important research assumption: to work as much as possible within the current practices of the real-estate industry, particularly by looking at case studies of built examples that seemed appropriate for our situations. Uwe Brandes, Vice President for Special Initiatives at the Urban Land Institute, talked with the studio about current trends in development and gave them access to ULI's on-line case-studies library. Co-teacher, Michael Saltzman is a founder and principal of Newwork LLC, a real estate development, planning, architectural and marketing company with a focus on urban regeneration, town centers and mixed-use development. He helped the studio identify the real-estate potential of each of the sites, showed the studio how to keep development within plausible assumptions about eventual implementation, and to demonstrate that desirable places have economic value. The intent is to create proposals applicable, with appropriate modifications, to all locations dealing with similar issues. The proposals do not cover every situation, but they are representative of the opportunities to create greener and more walkable cities in all metropolitan areas.