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Mia Ovcina
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Mia Ovcina

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ArchiChat: Youthification

Dallas is a dynamic and evolving city, whose recent growth has been strongly impacted by youthification. We asked two leaders of our profession to explore what they feel the term has meant for our city, and where it might lead architects in the future.

Ron Stelmarski, AIA is the design director for Perkins+Will’s Texas practice, while Bang Dang is a founding partner of Far+Bang and a visiting lecturer at the UTA College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs. Here is their dialogue:

08:00_RonStelmarski I would define youthification as a shift in values.

08:01_BangDang In terms of planning/geography, it is the still very early trend of urban areas in cities being more populated by the younger generation. That is very general, but I think Ron is right, in its more complex form, it has to do with values. It also has to do with economics.

RS 08:02 The major values I see are CONNECTIONS. Proximity is important. A healthy lifestyle is a major component as well. Easy access to hike/bike trails, public transportation... Economics has a major impact and I've heard differing opinions about how it is playing out. For example, in many cities young people are flocking to the urban core.

BD 08:03 The young comprise quite a bit more of the market/consumption and have a bigger influence on how services/products are tailored. … The interesting thing about youthification is that it is still quite relatively new.

How long will this migration pattern last and will it sustain itself past the next recession?

RS 08:05 I agree the term is new, but is the phenomenon completely new or just making a comeback?

BD 08:06 The other interesting definition of youthification is the idea or desire to make things appear young, which I think also has its relationship to architecture and planning.

RS 08:07 That is interesting. How does something look young?

BD 08:08 Sort of like the architectural facelift, but in larger terms.

RS 08:08 We have two very different "young" districts in Dallas—West Village and Deep Ellum. I consider these both to be "youthified." Is that correct? The interesting part is how different each is. … The authentic nature of DE [Deep Ellum] is very appealing in a way that is different from West Village.

BD 08:10 The question of whether the young will stay or move on is especially interesting in Dallas because the school system is so poorly run.

RS 08:10 Bingo! That's a primary issue—real or perceived—with all of the major corporations moving to town. They all claim poor schools as a reason to stay outside of the CBD [Central Business District].

BD 08:12 Sometimes one feels in Dallas, it starts with the infrastructure of transportation (public), walkable (or not) streets, and public schools.

RS 08:12 What I like about that point, Bang, is that the next generation… the “youthers” … may be brave enough to tackle this issue. … We design for K-12 students, higher education students, and workplaces for the graduates ... the seeds are being planted very early on.

BD 08:13 Or we may continue to just have “pockets” of semi-urban places but the “connection” you brought up will not get developed.

RS 08:13 The youthified areas act as a sort of glue for the city. Is that a density issue? Seems we just need more people in the city.

BD 08:14 It would be a great study to analyze the “spaces” between these pockets. Who owns them? What developers are looking at them? What does the city plans for them?

RS 08:14 I like that the areas of the city where the young are clustering behave more like university campuses. … If we accept mobility as a given, then you can live/work anywhere. In that case, just like moving from class to class or to the fitness center or student center, the city has to adapt to this mobility ... and hopefully it's not just coffee shops … Co-working spaces are gaining a lot of momentum.

BD 08:17 That is another good point, Ron. More folks working from home AND more entrepreneurs.

RS 08:17 But there is still a distinction between good spaces and less good spaces ... which is where DESIGN comes in!

BD 08:18 The younger workforce is shifting the idea of what it means to work and what a day at the office means.

RS 08:18 I believe so—largely because I would question the definition of "work.” … There continues to be a wave of adjustments to the city fabric. I've lived in Dallas for five years and have seen major additions to the downtown area that allow more connectivity.

BD 08:21 I still think downtown, in terms of creating density for residence, is still far behind and it seems to take so long to get going. It appears they start to get going at the tail end of an economic expansion.

RS 08:21 Absolutely, youthification has played a major role. … Many of the people I work with (new hires) and the people we design for are living downtown. It's not even a question for them—it's the standard. … What is interesting about youthification is that they seem to move in before the infrastructure does. … With gentrification it seems like a few steps are taken: temporary events begin to take place; "galleries" and other arts move in; residents come; then restaurants ... then amenities.

BD 08:24 The one thing we have talked around, but not directly, is the love of the automobile in this city. … That “drives” a lot of decision, unfortunately.

RS 08:24 Can that love of auto go away when the city meets the needs/values of the younger residents ... or will it always be there?

BD 08:25 So what is the consequence of all this on our work and our field?

RS 08:25 There has to be a convenient option. We need to work early in the process to create places people crave to be in.

BD 08:27 We also need to create good spaces and places that are flexible and adaptable because different waves of young folks who move in and out may have different dreams and desires.

RS 08:27 Yep. … We need a process of design that understands and integrates the users ... But that should be nothing new.

BD 08:28 For example, what will a person between 24-34 want in a dwelling in 2050? … How to create a community that perhaps could be a prototype for cores outside of the city to emulate. Could there be a similar idea for young families? We do quite a bit of work for developers and they are definitely pushing for smaller units. Smaller units by far sell much faster. And smaller units with intelligent design and flexible spaces definitely sell faster.

RS 08:31 Agree with the “resi” comment: smaller units ... becoming more like hotels because the young are becoming more like "travelers" and less like "residents." … Back to other market types, we are seeing schools, businesses, even hospitals ask for spaces that will incite creativity and innovation. And as trendy as those words might be, the essence of creating spaces that can support and inspire invention is hugely interesting to me. … The major shift in client attitude has come in trying to capture the magic of Google ... whatever that might be.

BD 08:33 What do you see is the magic of Google? I am very curious.

RS 08:33 I'm not sure there is magic, but what I do see is that Google offers a lifestyle. For better or worse—the results are not in—there is a blurring of work-live-leisure. I think it is a good PARTIAL definition of youthification.

BD 08:35 Interesting, so did Wright, Corb, and Mies, but in different ways? I think that is key. How does architecture create a better place for work, play, and rest?

RS 08:35 I'm not sure of the cultural infrastructure Google offers. Cedric Price style...

BD 08:35 For Google, maybe a lifestyle where everything is within reach, almost instantly? Access to everything.

RS 08:36 Yes, but physical access as well as virtual—which is why the young cluster.

BD 08:37 That is what I meant actually. So one could work, shop, eat, sleep, play, etc. all in a cluster.

RS 08:38 Yes. Google behaves like a small city ... or a university campus. Nothing new, just getting back to mentally and physically healthy habits. Toyota is an interesting question: That is a more campus-based idea, but not necessarily youthified. Alternatively, the Richards Group is fundamentally about youth ... and I wonder if the fact that one is in downtown and one is not is indicative of this demographic base.

BD 08:41 I also wonder as the cost of living near the center continues to increase, will that put a dent in this youthification trend?

RS 08:42 Like Moos shows in his diagrams, many of the youth districts in Canada occur along rail lines.

BD 08:44 DART is quite key to all this continuing.

RS 08:44 Dallas actually has a chance to be more unique. There is room for people to move into downtown, unlike cities like NY or SF that are cost-prohibitive. … The youth need a sustainable strategy that defends against the economics.

BD 08:46 This whole conversation also brings into a general question of who are the urban planners of our city. Developers, city officials, architects, civil engineers, etc.? Who really gets things moving? Who sets the bar?

RS 08:46 Right. Usually architects work within a fixed set of (site and economic) parameters. Yet, the youth don't look at what, why, how—they just do it.

BD 08:47 What group of people are the master planners in that case?

RS 08:47 It appears that wheel is still spinning. Not a unified front, which could be good, but also causes paralysis ... Bang, do you suggest architects get more involved with urban planning and public policy?

BD 08:49 Absolutely, Ron. Dallas is very unique in this case. I think NYC and SF also have a lot of new money. Dallas is still mostly old money. And I am not interested in whether this is good or bad. I am more interested in how this affects the supply and demand side of this youthification trend.

RS 08:50 Agreed.

BD 08:50 But carefully and intelligently and not act like we know everything. But we should definitely be in the mix.

RS 08:50 Yes, and still design beautiful places. Not about aesthetics, but about experiences. Too easy for the qualities of space to be at the bottom of the list.

BD 08:52 Does youthification have the same adverse effects as gentrification?

RS 08:53 Right. Which is why design will always matter; design/quality still gives "competitive advantage." I'd say it's only adverse if it was exclusive ... Are they letting older generations in?

BD 08:54 Or pushing the old out? … It is a tricky road, I think.

RS 08:55 It's always tricky, but that's the beauty of a city.

BD 08:58 Philosophically for me, the growth of a city is always both organic and planned. It is never one or the other. What we can do as designers is make sure we offer our services and participate in the discourse. We also must make ourselves seen again as an important component of the team, as part of the table of strategists.

RS 08:58 I think the value of youthification is that it is a start-point, not an end-point (like gentrification). It is fundamentally about engagement and participation. I see it as unlocking the opportunities of the city, of placemaking. It brings vitality and invention to the city core and that's what helps make cities great places to be.

BD 08:59 It is both an engagement of the present, such as youthification, but also an acknowledgement of history. Can we learn from this AND the past?

RS 09:01 Yes, learn from the past and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls. The great thing about Dallas is that it can be anything it wants to be ... not NY or Chicago or LA.


Mia Ovcina, AIA is an architect with DSGN Associates.

Illustrations by Jeremy Hughes.