Below is the Talk Presented by Douglas Newby to the Beverly Drive Book Club
It is a real treat for me to be here with you today.
Thank you, Susan Bednar Long, Karen Edwards, Ruth Ruhl and the Beverly Drive Book Club for inviting me. I can’t think of any place better than the Beverly Drive Book Club to discuss aesthetics, neighborhoods and books.
Over the years, many newspaper and magazine writers have asked me to comment on Beverly Drive in Dallas, when they are writing about homes, Highland Park, Dallas, or specifically Beverly Drive. Fifteen years ago, Mary Jacobs was writing a story for the Dallas Morning News comparing Beverly Drive in Highland Park, Dallas, to Beverly Hills, California. She quoted me as saying Beverly Drive “conveys architectural majesty and grandeur.” Of course, Beverly Drive continues to do so today. I also mentioned the genius of landscape architect Wilbur Cook, who also designed Beverly Hills, and that his genius is still seen on Beverly Drive in Highland Park. I asked her the same question that I recently asked the Dallas Morning News real estate editor Steve Brown, “What are the four most iconic streets in Dallas?” and both of them quickly included Beverly Drive.
My Earliest Impression of Beverly Drive Came My Freshman Year at SMU
My earliest impression of Beverly Drive came as a freshman at SMU when I realized virtually every freshman interested in homes, someday wanted a home on Beverly Drive. Beverly Drive is the street most associated with Highland Park and the Town of Highland Park is the most associated with the best side of town.
Some might think Beverly Drive is so imbedded in our minds because of the architecturally significant homes set back on wide tree-lined streets.
I, of course, think of Beverly Drive for having the oldest book club in Dallas, which Mary Jacobs mentioned in her article, and for the intellectual prowess of the homeowners who live on Beverly Drive.
Susan Bednar Long, Interior Designer and Beverly Drive Homeowner, Invited Me to Give a Talk on Any Book
When Beverly Drive homeowner and distinguished interior designer Susan Bednar Long invited me to review a book for the Beverly Drive Book Club, I was delighted and immediately said yes. When Sue said I could pick any book – the book that immediately came to my mind was this book, The Poor Side of Town and Why We Need It.
You might be wondering why of all the books in all the world, I would pick this book for the Beverly Drive Book Club.
Why Would a Real Estate Broker Representing Clients on the Most Expensive Homes Select a Book about the Poor Side of Town?
That is a good question – why would a real estate broker representing clients buying and selling the most expensive homes in Highland Park and Dallas think about a book about the Poor Side of Town for those that live on the most magnificent street on the best side of town.
I think the main reason is that this is a really interesting and counterintuitive topic.
Also, I realize the good side of town has the most influence on the poor side of town. In addition, there are many similarities with the poor and best side of town when it comes to preservation, economic opportunities, and shared neighborhood goals.
Who Considers Themselves Social Reformers in Favor of Eliminating the Poor Side of Town and Who Wants to Keep the Poor Side of Town?
The question I have is how many of you consider yourselves Social Reformers that would like to eliminate or disperse the poor side of town? And how many of you consider yourselves Advocates for having a poor side of town? If you find it difficult to identify with those who want to keep the poor side of town, for the sake of this question, let’s think of the poor side of town not just as a concentration of poor people, but just a neighborhood that is deteriorated, dilapidated, and deplorable. Also, that the author, Howard Husock, is not advocating for more poor people or keeping people poor, he is just advocating for keeping the poor side of town. Does this definition of the poor side of town make it any easier for any of you to identify with the advocates for keeping the poor side of town?
While many of you are undecided, it seems we have a majority with a deep sympathy for those living in squalor and want to remove them from the poor side of town. But we also have a few of you who have an empathy for those living in squalor and want the poor side of town to help lift them out of it.
Everyone Agrees that the Homes on the Poor Side of Town are Deplorable and Have Squalor
When the author, Howard Husock, discusses Social Reformers eliminating the bad side of town, and Social Un-reformers advocating for the poor side of town, he mentions that both of these groups basically agree that these neighborhoods are deplorable and have squalor – some exaggerate the squalor and others sugarcoat the squalor, but the differing points of view don’t hinge on a disagreement over the fact that the poor side of town has low income people and deteriorated housing.
Most of Us have a Murky Image of the Poor Side of Town
I think it is true that despite all of our volunteer work, philanthropy, and that even some of our best friends are from the poor side of town, most of us have a fairly murky image of the poor side of town and how the residents think about where they live. The further our experience from the poor side of town, the murkier it gets.
Howard Husock Brings a Clearer Picture of the Poor Side of Town by Discussing Social Reformers and Un-Reformers
The author, Howard Husock, brings a clearer picture of the poor side of town in this book. He does this by discussing a few early Social Reformers, starting with the 19th century and moving to the present. He also discusses some of the mid 20th century Social Un-reformers and their impact on the neighborhoods.
Police Reporter Jacob Riis Wrote Sensational Stories of Tenement Housing in 1880s
Social Reformers work to eliminate the poor side of town, because of the inhumane conditions there. This movement really began in the 1880s with New York police reporter Jacob Riis.
Jacob Riis wrote sensational stories in the era of yellow journalism about the subhuman conditions of tenement housing in New York. His book in 1890, How the Other Half Lives, was the foundation of the next 50 years of social reform.
Social Reform Movement Caused Tenement Housing to be Replaced with Parks, Roads, and Government Housing
This Social Reform movement caused poor tenement housing to be replaced with parks, roads, and new government apartment block housing. Enhanced building codes also pushed people out of neighborhoods. A closer look at these tenement neighborhoods showed that despite the deplorable conditions, in 1907, 30% of the homeowners took in lodgers. This resulted in 60% of the residents in New York’s bad side of town living in a house that was owner-occupied. While there was severe overcrowding, these poor neighborhoods served several positive purposes including – the tenants were shown an example of homeownership and the landlord and tenants living together, gave both of them a greater personal and economic incentive to be responsible.
Percentage of Homeownership in NY Tenements was Higher than Percentage of Homeowners of Middle Class New Yorkers
One of the most fascinating things I learned from Howard Husock’s book was that the percentage of immigrants in poor New York tenements that owned a home was higher than the percentage of middle class households in New York that owned a home.
Social Reformers Caused Low-Income Owner-Occupied Homes to be Torn Down
In the early Boston poor neighborhoods, 60% of the homes were owned by the occupants. These deplorable neighborhoods were helping families gain generational wealth and an economic foothold. But these poor neighborhoods in Boston were also replaced by roads, parks and government housing. This wiped out the families from owning and living in owner-occupied homes, and it wiped out neighborhood businesses, churches, community organizations, and neighborhood relationships.
Columbia Professor Edith Wood Calls for Government Housing to Replace Intolerable Housing Conditions
In 1934, Edith Wood, a Columbia faculty member, wrote a paper about the housing problem – “Conditions that could not be tolerated in a civilized society.” Her answer was government housing. In a Chicago poor neighborhood, 32% of the homes torn down for apartments, were owner-occupied. In Cleveland, 49% of the homes torn down were owner-occupied.
Catherine Bower of Vassar and Cornell Architecture School Pushed for Block Apartments
In the same era, Catherine Bower of Vassar and Cornell Architecture School, pushed for block apartments. One of the interesting results of this social reform was that the new modern block housing was more segregated than the deteriorated housing it replaced. Architect Le Corbusier was even invited to Moscow to design these super block apartments with which he intended to replace streets.
Jane Jacobs Became Social Un-reformer Touting Positive Attributes of Organic Poor Neighborhoods
In 1961, Jane Jacobs, a journalist, became the Social Un-reformer. She wrote the book, which many of you are familiar with – The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jane Jacobs valued organic poor neighborhoods with dispersed ownership. She understood physically dilapidated neighborhoods could improve as new residents became better off.
She saw cities as urban ecosystems that should evolve. Buildings that had outgrown the previous businesses could be transformed for new business ventures and uses.
She was in favor of the city providing services to neighborhoods, not government housing and roads. She famously fought New York urban planner Robert Moses’ plans for massive highways to cut through neighborhoods.
Jane Jacobs’ Writing Resonates with Me and What I have Seen in the Older Neighborhoods of Dallas
Jane Jacobs’ writing resonates with me and what I have seen in Dallas’ older neighborhoods. In 1907, Munger Place was even more expensive and prestigious than Highland Park. Even a frame house on Junius cost $10,500. Seventy years later, what do you think this house sold for in 1977? It was only two miles from the Dallas Art Museum and during this 70 year period downtown Dallas was booming. It sold for $7,500 – 30% less than it did in 1907.
The City Identified Munger Place as the Worst Neighborhood in Dallas
The city identified Munger Place in the 1970s as the worst neighborhood in Dallas. Yet, Munger Place gave opportunities to artists and urban pioneers. Now, several Beverly Drive homeowners own art by these early Munger Place homeowners and renters like nationally collected artists James Surls, David Bates, Dan Rizzie, David McManaway and others. The homes in the Munger Place Historic District now sell for well over 100 times as much as they did in the 1970s. For that matter, some of the work of James Surls and David Bates have sold for 100 times as much as they sold their work for when they lived in Munger Place.
Immigrant Families from Vietnam and Cambodia Found Opportunity in Deplorable Old East Dallas Neighborhoods
Further, we saw immigrant families from Vietnam and Cambodia squeeze into overcrowded houses in Old East Dallas in the 1970s. They opened restaurants and other businesses and eventually moved to better homes in Richardson. Their children, who grew up doing homework in their restaurant, are now doctors and lawyers.
Jane Jacobs’ influential voice was not enough to stop the Social Reformers. In the last five years, we see Dallas dominated by Social Reformers in Dallas city government and by the business establishment. A widely accepted goal from the Dallas Housing Plan was to build 30,000 affordable homes—most of these apartments.
Mayor Rawlings Called for Slum Renthouses to be Torn Down if not Brought Up to Minimum Housing Standards
The Dallas Real Estate Council, representing commercial real estate interests, have said new affordable apartments should be in neighborhoods where people want to live – North Dallas, where there are more jobs, better schools, and a Starbucks close by. Mayor Rawlings, an incredibly smart and thoughtful person, gathered support to bulldoze renthouses if the slum landlords did not bring them up to minimum housing standards.
That sounds good, but minimum housing standards would mean $100,000 would be needed to be spent on these small renthouses renting for $500 a month. Most of the families had been living in these homes for ten years. After taxes and insurance, the renthouse owners were only making maybe $100 a month.
Current Day Vestiges of Yellow Journalism
Reminiscent of the era of yellow journalism – the Dallas Morning News articles and editorials showed pictures of dilapidated homes. They interviewed renters that cited the horrible conditions, explaining they could not even let their children take off their shoes inside the home because the carpets were so dirty. Sounds horrible, but when should a landlord be responsible for cleaning someone’s carpets?
I wrote to the Dallas Morning News at the time and suggested they were getting ahead of themselves when they called for these homes to be torn down if the landlord would not fix them up. I mentioned that I thought the landlords had a better chance to be part of the solution than they were part of the problem.
Sure enough, I was right.
“Slum Landlords” Allowed Their Tenants to Buy Their Homes with a Contract or Deed – Rent for Mortgage Payments
The slum landlords offered the tenants the opportunity to buy these homes with no down payment, with a contract for deed where rent could be applied to the purchase. In effect the landlords were providing a mortgage so the tenants could become homeowners. The payments were half of what they would have been paying in a new subsidized apartment. More importantly, these new homeowners were creating generational wealth for their families.
Social Reformers Love Developers Getting Subsidies to Build Mixed Income Apartments – Neighborhood Residents of Color Despise This Practice
Social Reformers love and laud developers that build low and mixed income apartment buildings subsidized by government money. However, black architect and retired city planner, Darryl Baker, and residents of Southern Dallas are currently suing the city for dumping low-income tax credit apartments into Southern Dallas rather than encouraging single-family homes to be built and the infrastructure in their older neighborhoods improved. They say they already have a surplus of affordable homes and don’t need any more apartments.
How Do We Judge the Health or Success of a City?
This book, The Poor Side of Town, did not ask this question, but prompts this question: How do we judge the health or success of a city?
What are some of your ideas on how you judge the success of a city?
One Beverly Drive homeowner quickly suggested that we should judge the success of a city by its percentage of homeowners.
I agree that homeownership is the most important marker for the success of a city. Here are some of the other ways that some judge the success of a city.
Is the population increasing or decreasing in the city?
Is the gross domestic product per capita going up or down in the city?
(Chicago GDP has gone up; Dallas GDP has gone down.)
Is the middle class growing or shrinking in the city?
(Cities like Chicago have a growing rich and poor population, and a decrease in overall population as the middle class disappears.)
Besides the percentage of homeowners in the city, the increase or decrease of the middle class in the city is a good indicator of its health and success. Renovated homes in low-income neighborhoods is a good way to provide good housing for the middle class.
Former Senator Phil Gramm Wrote Wall Street Journal Op-ed – 60% of Americans Take Home Same Income
Former Senator Phil Gramm wrote a very interesting op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal. He showed that 60% of Americans take home about the same amount of annual income.
The bottom 20% Quintile averages about $20,000 of income, but with wealth transfer payments take home $48,000.
The next 20% Quintile makes $48,000.
The third 20% Quintile averages $65,000 income, and after taxes takes home $48,000.
Without Owning a Home, for 60% of Americans Making $48,000, it is Hard to Accumulate Wealth
Without owning a home, for 60% of Americans making $48,000, it is very difficult to accumulate wealth. Middle class homeowners are important. They are the most invested in public schools, crime prevention, neighborhood interaction and day-to-day life in the city. Highland Park has even benefitted from the middle class. Highland Park has always been nice, but it became even more desirable when the M streets and parts of Oak Lawn went from low-income housing to middle class housing.
Goal of Mass Transportation Encourages Density to Replace Poor Side of Town
City planners and city bureaucrats go to college and are taught that the big northeastern and European cities are the Holy Grail of urban policy. Density and mass transportation are revered.
Rust Belt cities like Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis, are hemorrhaging population and yet planners are still promoting density and mass transportation there. Mass transportation is as outdated as fixed telephone booths. As cars are more linked to technology, fixed rail becomes more and more obsolete and expensive per passenger mile.
The Poor Side of Town and Best Side of Town Have Many Similarities
Other observations I made when reading this book are the similarities between the best side and poor side of town.
Poor and Best Side of Town Desire Single-Family Homes
People on both sides of town desire single-family homes with nature, safety, good schools and good shops.
Value of Older Homes is Overlooked
The value of older homes is overlooked in the best and poor side of town. Older homes provide a $1 million dollar head start in Highland Park and a $100,000 head start in the poor neighborhoods. In both neighborhoods older homes cost half as much as new homes.
Older homes allow young families to buy a home in Highland Park and raise their families, rather than only being able to move to Highland Park once they reach the peak of their assets or earning power. An older home on the poor side of town also costs less than the rent of a government subsidized apartment.
Older Homes are Best Investment on Both Sides of Town
Older homes are a better investment on both sides of town. This is because land goes up in value and structures go down in value. More of the value of an older home is in the land.
Older Homes Provide More Trees and Greenspace and Create Healthier Environments
Older homes on both the good and poor side of town provide more trees and greenspace than where new large homes and apartment complexes are built. (West Nile is less prevalent in Southern Dallas because the homes are smaller and allow stronger breezes that prevent bottle cap small mosquitoes that thrive in denser North Dallas and Highland Park neighborhoods.)
Apartment Construction Costs More per Square Foot than Single-Family Homes
Regarding affordable homes, apartment construction per square foot costs more than the construction cost per square foot of a new single-family home. And land for the poor side of town is almost free. Fifteen acres in Southern Dallas next to the $300,000 homes in the Grady Niblo neighborhood costs the same as one acre of land in Greenway Parks next to $300,000 homes on the Bird streets.
Dispersing Low Income People Diminishes Best Side of Town and Eliminates Opportunities to Create Wealth
One of the strategies of getting rid of the poor side of town is to disperse low-income people to wealthy neighborhoods. This diminishes the best side of town, pushing more people to the suburbs and it prevents low-income people a chance to buy a home and create generational wealth.
Highland Park and Beverly Drive Should Be Aspirational Example for All Neighborhoods
Highland Park is what people want. No ADUs, no apartments, no STRs. Good parks, good infrastructure, safe neighborhoods, and good retail. Beverly Drive should be the aspirational example for all the nations’ neighborhoods.