The idea for a coworking space in Denton came about after several years of community discussions, collaborative partnerships with community tech leaders, entrepreneurs, and our two universities. What I realized early in my tenure on council was that Denton had all the ingredients to make our community a hot bed for tech-related entrepreneurial activity. We have here one of the most vibrant, hip, tolerant, and creative cities in the nation – the kind of city that young professionals and families are seeking. Yet we don’t yet have a local economy built to employ them. Our best and brightest are leaving for cities with greater opportunities. And as I noted in 2013, while many outsiders see this potential in Denton, our city and business leaders have yet to develop a cohesive, coherent roadmap to bring our local economy into the 21st century.
Stoke can and should play a role in that – but only if it is a part of a broader plan to highlight, foster, and accelerate entrepreneurial, startup, and tech-related economic development. Stoke, if done right, can be the center of gravity for this.
Just think about it geographically: walkable and equidistant from two major universities, at the northern terminus of the largest public train system in the country connecting us to the DFW region, in the middle of the most promising music scene in the nation, and on the doorstep of our most culturally diverse neighborhoods – Southeast Denton, it has the potential to not only help revitalize our local economy, but also a new area of town. Think Innovation District here.
What follows is a roadmap for how we can get things moving in the right direction. I put together a similar list of proposals here back in 2013, which incidentally had the development of a coworking space as one of its priorities, but let’s update that a bit:
Gathering all the Players
Citizens came up with this idea in the first place. Our city is full of talented, ambitious people with varied experience ready to help Denton achieve its goals of becoming a tech-centered startup hub. And that crowd has grown since we started talking about it. There is no shortage of local experts who we should sit down with to help us map out goals and metrics for both Stoke and our city’s tech economic development goals.
Let’s host a “State of Denton Tech” gathering with an aim of connecting the dots, brainstorming, and developing long and short term goals. Tech Mill should be there. Local startup founders should be there. Big and small existing tech business leaders should be there. Let’s do that this Spring.
Last year’s Leadership Denton team recommended the creation of a Denton Tech Council to help guide economic development efforts in this arena. Let’s get that going and playing a part in this.
Every city serious about fostering its tech and startup scene finds robust paths of participation for its university partners. We need TWU and UNT at the table and participating in a big way.
Gather all the Metrics
Thinking like a startup thinks, Stoke should start measuring everything – even if it doesn’t yet know whether those metrics will be useful. As a community that is a very young player in this game, we need to learn from the data, make assessments often, and iterate accordingly:
Rethink the Leasing Policy
Stoke should be a place for people at every stage of tech business and startup development: from someone with a crazy idea to a consolidated team starting to develop their concept to a coder looking for a desk for her freelance work.
The open co-working space should be open to all regardless of their type of work and at a price point that is inclusive. This is precisely where you need a collision of ideas, personalities, and expertise. Programmers need designers. New ideas need legal advice. A teacher with a new idea to transform education needs to find a kindred spirit with tech abilities. A high school or college student might just want to hang with the “cool kids” in order to find a break or learn something new. Lower the price point until the place packs out. Build momentum and let the cost of desks adjust accordingly. I want a kid from South East Denton with a dream to be able to afford to hang out there. I want the immigrant single mom from the adjacent neighborhood with a business idea to afford it. Make this an easy entry point and let the magic happen.
The office space is where we can get very strategic. This shouldn’t be a place for businesses or offices that could very well exist anywhere else in the city. These should be reserved for early stage startups that are putting their nose to the grind. They need to be in a place of innovation with easy access to people, ideas, resources, and caffeine. If it’s done right, the office spaces should see a high turnover. Either the idea failed or it grew itself out of that space. Leases should be created that allow easy entry to early stage concepts that demonstrate promise and potential.
Program the Hell out of the Place
A key to Stoke’s value to the community is as a platform for ideas, creativity, and innovation, spanning many passions and industries. The best ideas for business, culture, the arts, the city, and our nation should find their genesis there. Like an iPhone is to the independent community of app developers, Stoke should develop a path for anyone with a great idea to try their hand at programming. Many will fail, but some will be the Twitter of our city. Find out what works, what is needed, what is helpful, and start curating programming in that direction.
This is also where Stoke can create a gateway for anyone in the city. Who do we want at the table? Let’s give them a night and a platform. Involve Denton ISD, our universities, the Chamber of Commerce, our business leaders, our artistic community – shoulder tap when necessary.
Put it in Context
Stoke is the result of a much larger conversation about how we prepare our city to be a player in the 21st century economy. As such, its goals and metrics don’t stand alone. The city, in partnership with the players I mentioned above, the Economic Development Partnership Board, and the Chamber of Commerce should update our economic development strategies to include high tech and developing a startup culture as a part of our mix.
We have a tendency to focus primarily on the economic indicators of property and sales tax and measure our success accordingly. These two comprise the bulk of the revenue into the corporate entity that is the city. As such, “economic development” becomes synonymous with the growth of the city’s revenue stream. While necessary, they are not sufficient for a healthy local economy and tend to distract from other economic realities affecting our citizens. For example, much cheerleading surrounds our quick recovery from the recent national recession, as seen by these two indicators. Meanwhile, our median household income is a mere $42,000, an estimated 40-50% of our city’s kids attending Denton ISD are on free and reduced lunch, and our best and brightest are forced to take low-skilled jobs in town, commute South, or leave our city altogether in order to find substantial employment opportunities.
We can and must do better. Stoke is a step in the right direction.
There are many reasons to love the Denton Black Film Festival and appreciate how this event brings value to our community. But I’d like to point to just one that is noticeable to anyone hanging out around downtown the last few days: this festival has brought a notable and welcome change to the demographic make-up of downtown.
Let’s be honest. While Denton is incredibly diverse, our downtown is, by and large, pretty white and middle class. What we boast as our city’s “crown jewel” ought to reflect the community at-large. This is all the more crucial when we recognize that some of our highest concentrations of Hispanic and African-American citizens reside in walking distance to downtown in Southeast Denton.
I’m not writing this post to make anyone feel guilty or to place blame on anyone for this situation. But in a day where bringing our community together and finding ways to make all our neighbors feel valued and welcomed in our city has never been more important, pointing out a wonderful example of a downtown event that is doing it right seems instructive.
What else can we be doing to intentionally create events or build into existing events that serve as bridge makers in our community the way the Denton Black Film Festival has? How might we intentionally draw on various sectors of our community when choosing acts for Twilight Tunes or other downtown events and festivals? And even better, what can we do to continue to make downtown an attractive place for all families even when specific festivals and events aren’t taking place?
I don’t have all the answers, but I love seeing the beautiful results of efforts this weekend. It seems a worthy cause for our community to struggle with moving forward.
This is a post from Emily Roden, the smarter and more attractive Roden, about her brief few days with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State…
Nine years ago, I showed up to the Denton County Courthouse for jury duty and got myself picked for the job. A young girl had accused her mom’s boyfriend of sexual assault and the case was being brought to trial. If you’ve ever served on a jury trial before, you understand the almost immediate, yet very temporary bond that ties 12 strangers together who are randomly chosen from each of their private lives in order to fulfill a very solemn public purpose.
One of our first tasks was to choose our jury foreman. Perhaps it was his business suit, his impressive stature, or his charisma, but almost everyone in that jury room suggested that this middle-aged man with greying hair was likely the most fit for the task.
“Thanks, but I decline. I’m not interested in the spot light,” he told us. I didn’t think anything of it.
I had just bought my first BlackBerry and used my breaks to catch up on all the emails I was missing from my week at the courthouse. I recall leaving the jury room on a break with this man and remarking how busy I was and how much work I had to do. He smiled as he sat and read the paper.
From the first day of jury selection, we all noticed another suited man always present in the courtroom. His presence was intriguing due to the ear piece in his ear. While grabbing lunch at Denton County Independent Hamburger on the square the 2nd day of the trial, we noticed this mysterious man dining with our fellow juror who declined the foreman spot. The intrigue grew and it was the talk of the jury – who were these men?
Finally, during a break in the jury room, one juror had the nerve to ask; “Who are you? And what do you do?”
Our fellow jury member was reading the paper again and pointed out an article with Exxon in the headlines.
“I work for them,” he said humbly. “There are a lot of people in this world who hate me for what I do, so they give me and my family guys like that to protect me.”
I immediately felt embarrassed for complaining to him the other day about how much work I had to do. It didn’t take long before a few internet searches revealed that I was serving on this jury with the CEO of Exxon Mobile, Rex Tillerson.
The trial concluded and it was time for the jury to deliberate. The story was heartbreaking and the facts of the case were clear enough to make the majority of the jury convinced of the guilt of this sexual offender of a little girl. But the defense did a good enough job to create a couple of hold-outs. As our deliberations came to a close, it appeared we might have a hung jury.
That’s when Mr. Tillerson began to speak. Humbly, delicately, and without an ounce of condescension toward those who disagreed, he began walking us all through the details of the case. I even recall being moved by his thorough explanation about the nature of doubt and the standards set forth by our justice system. With great patience, this man who strikes multi-billion dollar deals with foreign heads of state brought our scrappy jury together to bring a sexual predator to justice and to deliver justice for a scared and deeply wounded little girl.
A local nonprofit was instrumental in fostering that young girl through this process, providing her counseling and legal help. I was so struck by their mission that I toured their facility the week following the case in order to learn how I could donate and volunteer to their cause.
On a whim, I decided to reach out to Mr. Tillerson to encourage him to do the same. I found an email for him online and sent him a note, touting the role this agency played in our trial and urging him to consider supporting the great work that they do. To my surprise, I received an email back thanking me for my note, my jury service, and ensuring me that he would contact the agency. I later received a call from the director of that nonprofit to let me know that Mr. Tillerson followed-through and gave a generous donation.
I didn’t vote for Trump. This is not an endorsement of Mr. Tillerson for Secretary of State. I’m sure that the coming days and weeks will be filled with speculation and political discussion over this clearly controversial pick for Secretary of State. I certainly appreciate those concerns and the process that ensures significant scrutiny for this important position.
But during a news show tonight, I heard the term “corrupt” applied to this man who I spent five days with back in 2007.
All I know is that this man holds one of the most powerful positions in the world and clearly has the means and ability to side step his jury responsibilities, served as a normal citizen without complaint or pretense. I know that a scared little girl who was finally convinced to come public with her account of abuse was inches away from a decision that would have sided with her abuser, yet this man put his negotiation skills to a very noble use and justice was served. All I know is that this man and his myriad of aides could have ignored an unsolicited email from a girl in her 20s suggesting that he donate to a local cause, but he took the time to respond and opened up his pocket book.
My five days with Rex Tillerson is all I know about this man and his character. And in light of the recent news, I thought this a relevant story to tell.
I do a lecture for university government classes on the importance of local democracy. While attempting to unpack how it is we’ve gotten to a point where all of our focus, energy, and political rearing occurs on the national political stage, I point out the absolute genius of national politicians and political parties to distract and engage us with shiny, flashy objects – issues that are engineered to divide us by appealing to our deepest sense of justice.
And every election cycle we prove to them that we can’t resist it. Both political parties successfully define our opinions, set the table for us of issues we should care about, and dictate our everyday discourse with friends, families, coworkers, and neighbors around the trumped up controversies they create.
The fake controversy of “Sanctuary Cities” is a great example of this.
I moderated a candidate debate for the three Republican candidates vying to replace Myra Crownover for the TX State Representative seat for District 64 during last Spring’s primary season. During the course of that campaign, all three candidates put out mailers declaring that they would put an end to sanctuary cities in Texas. Having received angry emails from angry constituents over Denton being on some list as a sanctuary city, I looked forward to engaging them on this topic.
My question was simple: “What is a sanctuary city and is Denton one of them?”
Despite this being a major “issue” in state and federal politics and despite this being a major campaign platform for these three candidates, not one of these candidates had any idea what they were talking about on this topic. Two of the candidates admitted as such and revealed that they, in fact, had no working definition of what a sanctuary city was. Without that, they had no idea whether Denton – or any other city, for that matter – was a sanctuary city. The third candidate at least attempted a definition, albeit an absurd one: “every city in the US in now a sanctuary city now that President Obama is in office!”
Complete nonsense. This controversy was nothing more than a slogan that could fit on a bumper sticker. There were no problems, nothing demanding any real policies, just a way to piss off a bunch of voters into getting angry enough to get to the polls and vote.
And nothing has changed on this front between then and a few weeks ago. There still exists no legal definition of a sanctuary city, no formal declarations coming from cities, no agreement on what policies anyone is even pointing to that would put a city in or out of this camp – just more nonsense.
Other than the self-understanding that politicians are generally a dumb breed, I can’t for the life of me understand why some mayors and cities and going overboard making public declarations that they are Sanctuary Cities and intend to keep it that way. They are appropriating a completely made-up designation – a designation made up, to be sure, to criticize them – and proudly applying it to themselves and the cities which they represent.
This has, in turn, led to a movement of citizens (who are concerned for the plight of immigrants in their community) demanding that their city become a Sanctuary City!
I can understand why a politician or political party would want to make up a controversy, make up a name for it, apply it to their political opponents, and whip up citizens into a frenzy on the basis of all of this in order to win votes. What I can’t understand is why those who are the target of this nonsense are so willing to accept the terms of the debate without much reflection and willingly describe themselves in the very made-up slogans that were meant to criticize them and stir up fear in their community.
Fellow city leaders: try a different approach. Call out this nonsense, don’t join it. This sort of bumper sticker discourse is making us all dumber.
My Twitter and Facebook feeds are lit up with praise for Brandon Dixon and the cast of Hamilton for boldly standing up to the Vice President-Elect after the performance that he attended. This after Mr. Pence arrived to the performance to boos and jeers from those in the audience.
— Hamilton (@HamiltonMusical) November 19, 2016
All of this amounts to perfectly acceptable forms of first amendment expressions of political beliefs.
But when we think about what democracy is, how it works, and what values and behaviors we should encourage in order for democracy to flourish, we just might be praising the wrong people here.
It certainly is no display of political bravery to stick it to Mike Pence in a Manhattan Theater surrounded by a cast and audience who, for the most part, shares your political leanings.
But what about Mr. Pence? He took time to go enjoy and learn from a great work of art. He willingly put himself in a situation where he knew many in the cast and audience disagreed with him. He walked in to a crowd of boos and made the decision to stay nonetheless. And with dignity and class, he stopped, stayed, and listened while he received admonition from the cast, to the cheers of all those around him.
Surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us and receiving praise by that crowd for sticking up our middle finger at those we disagree with is all well and good, but it is neither a display of courage nor a productive form of democracy.
On the other hand, placing ourselves into a crowd of those who disagree with us, listening, and taking the lickings that inevitably result with poise and class, is something we could all do more often.
The virtue of democracy is that, when practiced, it moderates our passions. We learn to take our self-interests, ideologies, and desires and allow them the uncomfortable confrontation with our neighbor’s self-interests, ideologies, and desires. It is precisely in this confrontation that democracy has its most humanizing effect: we learn from one another and ultimately seek compromise and shared values.
If we are really concerned with the effects of a Trump/Pence administration, we’d do well to welcome them into circles of those who disagree with them more often. And we’d do well to do the same ourselves.
One of my favorite relatives took to Facebook recently to post this New York Times analysis of “The Two America’s of 2016,” displaying the stark divide between big city America and small town America in their opposed political sentiments as evidenced by the voting trends in this past presidential election. In his post, he made this claim:
What a surprise that all culturally relevant cities (where there is great economic, religious, and racial diversity) voted against Trump.”
That led me to reflect on big cities, small towns, and the history of cultural relevance…
I recall spending some time in San Francisco a couple years ago and pondering the difference between small town and big city mentality. It occurred to me that they are both alike in one crucial sense: their inhabitants have it all figured out.
They understand the world, have a pretty dogmatic opinion of how things are or should be, and there are generally no longer any open questions about reality. All wondering is gone. And whether that comes from a dogmatic conviction to the religion of one’s youth or from the dogmatic conviction that the values of The New Yorker are unassailable, both have it pretty damn well figured out. They are both insulated in a world where everyone shares their opinions and values and can’t for the life of them figure out why in the hell anyone would think any differently.
The really culturally relevant cities throughout the history of Western civilization have been those who experienced a drastic and profound collision of competing world views – Rome when confronting Christendom and its ancient past, Middle Age Europe upon the discovery and confrontation with Ancient Philosophy, Early Modern Europe upon the radical threats and new ideas that early modern science brought to the late middle aged world, and on and on. It was precisely the conflict between faith and reason, religion and science, ancient and new that brought about the most productivity in the arts, literature, music, philosophy, science, inventions, new political systems, and everything we’ve come to understand as “culturally relevant.”
It’s in this space of conflict where new questions arise – all sides are challenged to awake from their dogmatism and the world suddenly becomes big once again.
The world is very small in today’s small towns, I agree. I also submit that the world is very small for most people in today’s big cities. They both have it figured out.
The cities that were split 50-50 on an election like this, where religion is as vibrant as academic thought, where the guy from the small town is forced to engage with the gal from the big city and both are made uncomfortable – those are the cities to watch. And I suggest that those will be the culturally relevant cities of the future.
Denton voted just about 50-50, by the way.
The revitalization of Downtown Denton didn’t happen by accident. Connecting Denton to the greater DFW area with a commuter rail that terminates in Downtown Denton didn’t happen by accident. Overturning city codes that outlawed downtown residences and encouraging a bustling Downtown Denton neighborhood with thousands of residents didn’t happen by accident. Seeing private investors spend millions of dollars to revitalize historic buildings in Downtown Denton that they don’t own didn’t happen by accident. A year ago, Denton didn’t allow breweries in the downtown area – the change didn’t happen by accident. Three years ago, Denton didn’t allow food trucks downtown – the new ordinance didn’t happen by accident. The current trend of high tech jobs converging on Downtown Denton didn’t happen by accident. Creating Downtown Denton into one of the most vibrant, walkable urban centers in Texas didn’t just happen.
All of this came about with vision.
Of all the investments the city has committed in the downtown area over the last two decades, perhaps the cheapest has been the commitment to invest $100,000 a year in local mixed beverage taxes for capital improvement projects aimed at making Downtown Denton more attractive, more walkable, and our historic buildings more preserved.
Considering that in just one month – August of this year – the downtown establishments single handedly contributed over 87% of this annual investment, there are certainly no good fiscal arguments to discontinue this program. Assuming those numbers track throughout the year, that means that the Downtown Reinvestment Grant draws annually from a mere 10% of the mixed beverage taxes contributed solely by downtown businesses.
But on this Tuesday’s agenda is another discussion aimed at “expanding” this program to other areas of the city. Now to be sure, I have for years been an advocate of thinking beyond the square and finding new areas of our city with the potential to be other great cultural centers of vibrancy in our town. Finding new areas to invest in based on the successful model of Downtown Denton is a great idea.
Simply diluting the current investment in Downtown Denton, however, in order to invest in other areas without any specific vision on what precisely we are hoping to accomplish in those areas is not good policy. For one thing, the entire thrust of the Downtown Reinvestment Grant is to improve the downtown streetscape, encourage historic preservation and character, and incentivize projects that enhance the walkable character of the greater downtown area. If we divert funds to other areas of town, what vision are we trying to fulfill? What criteria will we use to judge the appropriateness of the request and project? What advisory body will advise us on the goals of that area so as help us make sound financial investments?
There appears to be an interest in taking money from downtown and investing it in other areas of town without any thought or vision as to what we are trying to accomplish.
Here are my suggestions:
First, let’s not take away a good thing. Something that has been a simple, low-cost tool in a limited tool box to help bring about the obvious revitalization of Downtown Denton shouldn’t be cast aside. Instead, we ought to be considering upping that financial commitment.
Let’s consider revisiting the goals of the Downtown Reinvestment Grant to better align them and the criteria for the grant to current circumstances. While the immediate square area and the East Hickory area have taken off, there are still many off-street areas that have yet to realize significant investment in the same way. What are the barriers to redevelopment and investment in these areas? How do we get the areas South and North of the square to pop in the same way? Are their certain types of business that we would be better off incentivizing over others in order to keep a healthy mix of businesses downtown? How can we continue the obvious momentum happening around the Downtown Transit Center and encourage underutilized industrial property to flip? Let’s have a robust discussion on these matters with the Downtown Task Force, Main Street Association, and Economic Development Partnership Board to explore further.
Let’s continue the very healthy conversation of finding another area (or two or three) for investment. But let’s separate that conversation from the Downtown Reinvestment Grant. As was mentioned earlier, that grant is connected to a clear vision and clear goals for the specific circumstances of our downtown area. It is fostered and administered by the Downtown Task Force, a volunteer city advisory board created to do just that. Both the vision and mechanics involved in pursuing investment in another area require an entirely different conversation.
Downtown Denton is the jewel crown of our city. It deserves our continued focus and investment.
The Denton City Council voted to move forward with the Renewable Denton Plan – a plan that puts Denton on the trajectory to power our city by 70% renewables by 2019.
No doubt, the secret, invite-only, block-if-they-disagree local Facebook groups are having a field day with the latest release of emails and documents and the supporting narrative by a city council member alleging corruption and collusion by city staff members, our third party consultant (that was chosen unanimously by the city council), and would be companies bidding for an opportunity to put into place the Renewable Denton Plan.
In fact, such allegations were part of the playbook from the very beginning. The call for a third party review of RDP – for most asking for it – was simply another way to stall a decision on the project in hopes of delaying it enough to build more support to kill the project. I pointed that out way back in January:
“There also continues to be calls from some people to stall the project until the city spends additional dollars seeking a third party consultant, “to objectively verify whether or not DME’s recommendation is the best way forward.” In most (not all) cases, calls for a third party consultant come from the same people who have stated explicitly on several occasions that they will oppose any efforts that involve the investment in gas generation in Denton. In other words, for these folks, their interest in a third party consultant does not stem from a desire for genuine objectivity – they have a stated interest in mind: shut down the Renewable Denton Plan if it involves the investment in gas generation. That’s fine if that is your perspective. But let’s not confuse things by calling for consultants when there are already possible results from such a consultant’s report that you reject before you ever read it.”
Just a few weeks later, Council Member Dalton Gregory made this prediction:
“I’m convinced, if we have a consultant that says anything to the extent that they think that the Renewable Denton Plan is a good plan, that we are going to have cries that it was a biased consultant, it was a flawed work, the consultant was not independent enough, and the consultant didn’t have enough renewable expertise…. If it came back with anything that confirms what DME did, that the same response would be, ‘it’s flawed, it’s biased – you need to hire another consultant!’ So how many consultants would we need to hire before we were satisfied?”
See Mr. Gregory’s comments in their entirety below:
To have political disagreements on controversial issues is expected – and healthy. Argue your case. Make a better pitch for your perspective. Involve yourself in rigorous debate. These are the glorious foundations of democracy!
But when you find yourself divulging into the depths of discourse by disparaging honest, hard-working, and first-class city employees in order to win the day, perhaps your case is thin.
The latest “news” was predicted long ago.
As I finish out my final year as the Denton City Council representative for District 1, I wanted to begin featuring some of the many leaders, movers, and shakers who work daily to create Denton into the city we all love.
You may not know it, but Denton has two Senior Centers and the one housed in the American Legion building in the middle of Southeast Denton is the direct result of the efforts of Betty Kimble, a remarkable woman who now serves as the center’s Director.
Betty is one of many women who quite literally transformed the landscape of Denton in the 1960s and 1970s through her involvement in the Denton Christian Women’s Inter-Racial Fellowship. Black and white mothers across the city came together to integrate the public schools, fight for paved roads in Southeast Denton, work toward greater voter access, and build relationships between families of different backgrounds. Check out more about Betty and these efforts in her Oral History in the UNT Digital Library.
Betty works daily to provide seniors in her community with fellowship, learning opportunities, and warm meals at the American Legion Senior Center. But she is always thinking about the next generation. “I always set aside some cookies or donuts for neighborhood kids who stop by every day after they get off the bus from school,” Betty told me recently.
Healing the racial divides of the city, integrating public schools, paving roads “on the other side of the tracks,” serving seniors and kids each and every day – it’s hard to think of a better example of someone creating a better city.
Is Denton experiencing gentrification? Citing rising property values, changes in the downtown business make-up, new development in our urban core, and several anecdotes about people not being able to buy a house or afford rents, many in town are taking to social media to claim that we are. Even our local newspaper is chiming in, forwarding the narrative that downtown is in trouble and the Denton Creative Class is being forced out.
Let’s bring some data to the discussion.
But first, let’s define the question. According to a dictionary, gentrification is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”
This definition shows why the phenomena is generally found in certain areas of our nation’s urban centers, usually following a renewed interest in downtown areas that have been neglected for decades thanks to the growth of suburban America post-World War II. You don’t refer to a city, as a whole, undergoing gentrification, rather you point to a particular neighborhood that experiences significant change over time.
There’s also significant back-and-forth among urban planners and urban researchers as to the problems gentrification brings and whether managed gentrification can be good for underserved areas.
It is important to understand what gentrification is not (according to all definitions):
- a general rise in property values that track across a city and track with trends state and nation-wide
- a housing market that makes it difficult for most homebuyers to purchase a home anywhere in a given city due to supply and demand
- the closing of a particular business
- the opening of a particular business
- Walmart coming into town
- Chain businesses setting up (in fact, many point to the emergence of distinctively local, trendy, and unique/boutique businesses as a sign of gentrification)
For the purposes of this analysis, let’s look at how property values, rent, income, and ethnic make-up track over time in Denton by zip code. If Denton was experiencing gentrification in one or more of its neighborhoods, we would expect to see this played out in one or more of these categories. And you’d see it happening in neighborhoods connected to our downtown core.
Daniel Hartley, research economist at the Cleveland Federal Reserve, defines the metrics of gentrification as follows: a neighborhood (census tract) that has “moved from the bottom half of the distribution of home prices in the metropolitan area to the top half” between a given set of years. As we look at the data, let’s look for neighborhoods in Denton that follow a trend similar to this.
Here’s a zip code map of Denton. Pay attention to 76201 – that’s where downtown, our two universities, and their surrounding neighborhoods reside. There have been massive changes and investment in this area over the last ten years with renewed interest in our downtown, so if gentrification is happening in Denton, this is where you would expect to find it:
The following chart shows the trend of property values in Denton since 2007 and compares those trend lines with the average values in the US, in Texas, and for purposes of comparison, a city to the North of us (Sanger), and a city to the South of us (Lewisville).
Denton is the yellow line. This shows that the rise in property values that we are experiencing in Denton are all part of a trend nationally and Texas specifically. Notice the parallel trend lines of Texas, Denton, Sanger, and Lewisville. The slope of property values in Denton is not anomalous and therefore not indicative of something particularly problematic for our city.
This is also made clear by the median home sales price per square foot. Consider the following chart comparing Denton to the rest of the country:
But what do the trend lines look like within Denton? Do we see significant property value changes in certain neighborhoods in Denton signaling gentrification? Do we see what Hartley says to look for – a particular neighborhood going from the bottom of the pack toward the top rapidly? Below are the property value trend lines by zip code in Denton since 1996:
This chart demonstrates a remarkable stability across Denton’s neighborhoods. While some neighborhoods are more expensive, property values are rising at a consistent rate across the city. The revitalization around the downtown square, train station, and universities (all within 76201 – the bottom line) has not impacted the property values of the surrounding single family neighborhoods in a way that is different from the property value increases across the city. In fact, 76201 continues to be the cheapest place to by a home across the entire city. A fact I find remarkable.
Compare this with a case of actual gentrification in Austin – the ascent of 78702 in East Austin. Look for the dotted line representing that zip code. Notice how it is rapidly ascending from the bottom of the pack toward the middle. That sort of trend-bucking change is a great indicator of gentrification:
IS THE RENT TOO DAMN HIGH?
Not everyone can or desires to purchase their own home, so rents across our city are another important indicator that might point to gentrification. Let’s first consider how Denton compares nationally, in the state, and with the same cities we used above in the area of single family home rental cost per month:
Here you see that Denton is above the state and national average, but that it has been that way for a while and the trends lines are roughly parallel to the national, state, and averages found in other cities.
Let’s see how single family home rental rates track across zip codes within Denton since 2010:
Once again, as we saw with home values, the trend lines are consistent across the city and 76201 – where our downtown neighborhoods reside – continues to be the cheapest place to rent a home in the entire city.
And here’s a chart showing the trend lines for multi-family rental units across zip codes in Denton:
While 76201 is not the cheapest place to rent an apartment in Denton (it’s the second cheapest), it also isn’t trending abnormally as compared with other parts of town. And this is particularly remarkable given several hundred high end units that have gone in around the square in recent years.
CHANGING ETHNIC DEMOGRAPHICS?
Something else to pay attention to as it relates to gentrification is the changing percentages of ethnicity within key neighborhoods. According to the census, neighborhoods in 76201 continue to become more diverse between 2000 and 2014:
Gentrification typically occurs when something triggers a surge of higher income residents into a particular area. Denton, generally speaking, does not have the type of jobs or income characteristics to force rapid gentrification anywhere in the city. Denton’s median household income consistently lags behind the state. And as you see from the below chart, 76201 is well behind that:
|Median household Income in 76201||30,231||23,328||23,252|
|Median household Income in Denton||35,422||NA||43,976|
|Median household Income in Texas||NA||NA||51,704|
A look at every metric associated with gentrification, Denton – and in particular our downtown neighborhoods – show absolutely no sign of such a trend. In fact, when I came on council in 2011 – just after the approval of the Downtown Implementation Plan and at the dawn of the downtown apartment boom – I remarked often how the plan left the downtown single family neighborhoods out of the equation. I argued then (and continue to argue) that the first couple of rings of single family homes around downtown have the most potential to realize a renaissance. But not a renaissance associated with the displacement of poor families and minorities, rather a renaissance of families moving back to neighborhoods that have historically been seen as places for real estate investors to have rental homes for college students. The conversion of downtown neighborhoods from college rentals to owner-occupied homes would be a welcome change.
So much more could be said on this topic and the unique impact of having two growing universities within our downtown core and how that impacts these neighborhoods and what sort of college apartment policy we should have to guide this… But I’ll stop here.