The Explosive Northern Growth of Metro Dallas
This article was written by Scott Beyer and appeared in Forbes Magazine.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is the second fastest-growing metro in the nation. According to Census figures, from July of 2014 to July of 2015, it added 144,704 people, trailing only Houston. This is nothing new, as Dallas has, along with Texas’ other Big 4 metros, consistently been among the nation’s 10 fastest-growing major metros for years. But these figures are still just numbers on a page. What does the growth look like in real life? Recently, I spent a day driving through the metroplex’s northern portion, finding it to be endless and explosive.
To be clear, Dallas’ raw population growth is evident in every direction, including even in its underwhelming downtown area. But the city’s wealth and people have historically concentrated in the north, and this dynamic isn’t changing. Some of the north-side growth has occurred within city limits, as neighborhoods like Uptown and Lower Greenville enjoy denser development. But it exists even more demonstrably in the northern suburbs. According to 2013 Census population estimates, two of the nation’s 15 fastest-growing cities of 50,000 or more are the northern Dallas suburbs of Frisco and McKinney. Other examples to the north include Plano, Denton, Garland, Carrollton, Richardson, and Allen, all of which have grown by at least 20,000 people since 2000, and many of them by far more.
The visible signs of this growth become evident when driving north from downtown along U.S. Route 75. There are “edge cities”–a term used to describe small peripheral clusters of glassy skyscrapers–sprouting up in several neighborhoods and suburbs, including in Richardson, where this concentration has surpassed the city’s traditional downtown area. Primary north-side arterial routes, including along both the highways, and key local roads, feature strip malls for mile after mile, as far as the eye can see, including indoor shopping, auto dealerships, chain restaurants, and the like. But this hasn’t prevented some of the historic downtowns, such as in Plano and Denton, from turning back into viable night-and-day commercial centers.
Then there’s the residential growth: according to recent Forbes data, Dallas was #2 among America’s major metros in new housing starts in 2015, trailing only New York City. The metroplex currently contains about 10% of the apartment units under construction nationwide. Much of the residential growth from yesteryear was classic suburbia–single-family homes surrounded by yards. But in a symbol of America’s changing approach to suburban development, many of northern Dallas’ newer projects are dense, multi-family and mixed-use, reflecting both changing consumer demands, and the need to maximize property values in a competitive market. These projects are taking the form of upscale mega-complexes, many of them gated, that feature their own gyms, pools, recreation areas, and nearby shopping. Like the area’s strip malls, these pop up along random land plots seemingly into infinity. Some are still half-built, such as the one along the city border of Richardson and Plano, where buildings full of already-occupied condos sit across the street from a Whole Foods still under construction. Other multi-family developments have taken the next step into becoming full-blown, town-center-style communities.
Take, for example, the Shops at Legacy, a development in Plano built by Fehmi Karahan. I would never even have found the area, which takes up a small spec on the map, if not for a local who invited me north one Friday night, insisting that it would be a good time. I drove to just beyond the Dallas city border, past fragmented clusters of office parks and random cul-de-sacs, before arriving to a community that looked remote from the outside, but was perfectly vibrant from the inside. To my amazement, the development’s main street was still packed at midnight, with enough foot traffic to support a mutli-block string of bars. There was also a Marriott and dozens of restaurants and stores, which is supported by a residential population of a few thousand, and a daytime population of tens of thousands, all centered on a large public lake. Consider that there are several vast developments like the Shops at Legacy throughout Dallas’ northern suburbs alone, and you realize just how enormous, at 6,426,214 people, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex has become.
Why, specifically, is such growth occurring on the north-side? As with the rest of Dallas, a lot of it is corporate relocation, as companies seek out the area because of limited taxes and a good business climate.