To Avoid Imminent Decline, Uptown Must Be Protected From Itself.

Were you among the people who attended Vanilla Ice’s performance at McKinney Avenue Tavern earlier this month? The show, which also included a DJ performance from Salt-N-Pepa’s Spinderella, had an impressive turnout.

One problem: A lot of the people listening in, uh, weren’t actually at the show.

The Dallas Police Department was hammered that night with calls from neighbors about the noise, and some irate residents even voiced concerns directly to City Councilman Philip Kingston. The concert wrapped up by 10 p.m. — but it still generated almost 40 complaints, and a citation for the bar.

But, hey, that’s what happens when you move into an entertainment district, right?

Tony Page, spokesperson for the Uptown Neighborhood Association (“TUNA”), isn’t so sure about that.

“People who live [in Uptown] are attracted to Dallas and attracted to a vibrant area,” he says, challenging the idea that people who move to a section of the city that thrives based on its entertainment options have no clue what they’re getting into. “We just need reasonable regulation.”

I’ll try to avoid hyperbole here — it’s not like nights in Uptown look like something out of The Purge, and it’s not as if you can reasonably expect a thriving entertainment district to appear calm — but there are some signs that the Uptown scene is getting out of hand.

Kingston outlined some concerns during a recent appearance on the podcast It’s Just Banter. In short: If an area starts to lose its sway over its original customer base (because, say, there’s no longer room for the growth that keeps it fresh), he says bars will often lower drink prices to prop up flagging business, and their crowds will then get denser (and rowdier). As overcrowding and the push to sell more drinks cause issues to pile up, the value of an entertainment district can plunge.

Page is also worried that this is what’s happening to Uptown. He sees certain practices at certain bars that are not exactly conducive to quality living. The loud music, the large crowds and the free-flowing booze is so prevalent at many of these Uptown establishments, he says, that the revelry often spills out into the streets as well. That raucousness has also led to an uptick in 911 calls.

People are getting drunk, passing out and getting in fights, and this combination of a bad reputation and criminal mischief could have a chilling effect on the whole vibe of the neighborhood. If the remaining crowds — attracted by the cheaper drinks that are intended to lure in more customers — create too hostile an atmosphere, business could ultimately dry up.

You may prefer to party in different parts of Dallas and feel like this isn’t your problem, but a high-rent district that can’t sustain itself can be a serious drain on municipal income.

Dallas has seen problems afflict its concentrated entertainment areas before: Deep Ellum almost deteriorated in the early 2000s, and the Lower Greenville area suffered a similar faltering in the late 2000s. Lower Greenville was eventually rejuvenated with an infusion of public investment and rezoning, and its decline was shorter-lived than Deep Ellum’s, sure. But its down period very closely resembles what’s currently taking place in Uptown.

“We waited way too long with Deep Ellum,” Kingston says. “It was in shambles before we started trying to return it to health. Lower Greenville, we caught earlier. We want to catch [the Uptown area] now.”

While a team-up between Uptown residents and the city could help to address the immediate issues that are starting to plague the McKinney Avenue area specifically and help everyone develop a better grasp of how to deal with problems like those facing Uptown going forward, Kingston is frank about some of the problems facing this section of Dallas.

“It almost always starts with a neglect of infrastructure and maintenance,” he says, referring both to Uptown and the previous areas that underwent declines. “McKinney Avenue was not constructed to handle the pedestrians we expected it to have. That is a failure of the city. When the city doesn’t invest [in an area], the private landlords who have to use that infrastructure don’t have an incentive to upgrade.”

Kingston also posits that some of Uptown’s problems are symptoms of a larger problem for Dallas, including a tendency to encourage (or at least allow) the clustering of certain business types, and certain types of clientele, in isolated areas.

“Dallas is used to segregating uses,” Kingston says. “Honestly, there is some element of that that is driven by a desire to segregate. Diversity of uses, diversity of clientele are incredibly healthy — an area that is more diverse in terms of use, income, ethnicity can be the most attractive, most fair, most self-regulating. You should feel weird if you walk into a joint in Dallas that doesn’t have some degree of integration.”

Learning to appreciate integration could help keep Dallas out of trouble. Our school district, for instance, has recently been singled out for being egregiously segregated. The city was also the subject of a lawsuit about how it attempts to clump low-income housing into one area.

Diversification can also be a key player in avoiding neighborhood stagnation. Kingston and Page both cite the Bishop Arts District as an area that is buoyed by its commingling of different business types and diverse crowds. Meanwhile, a homogenous scene — a homogeneity of business type, social class or race — will live or die based on how well it can sustain a narrow niche.

(It’s also worth mentioning that it’s incredibly fucking embarrassing for our city to have any issues that include the word “segregation” in 2016, so let’s hope any changes in Uptown — and, more generally, to the city — exhibit an inclusive spirit.)

Page speculates that the worrisome elements that have infiltrated Uptown started seeping in after the renovations in Lower Greenville revived that area. But his association neighborhood is confident that Uptown can return to its former health — especially if there’s support from the city to help accomplish this.

But what happens after that? Might this mark a shift in how Dallas manages its economic and entertainment developments? Could we see a determination to deftly accommodate the needs of both businesses and residences, and a better appreciation for fostering greater diversity within the city?

Maybe. But if the city’s interest wanes once Uptown starts to turn around, we might just be retelling this story about some other Dallas neighborhood in a few years, detailing how another neighborhood started to decline once the problems in Uptown were “solved.”

Cover photo by Kathy Tran.
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