Where would I go?
If you’re looking for a steamy exposé on what can go wrong when a bunch of creative strangers start an organization, I’ll have to disappoint you here. But you might pry it out of me over a drink offline.
Instead I want to share the Big Gotchas that derailed us, in hopes that the knowledge can help someone else. I’m sure much of it will sound familiar to other organizers and leaders.
My apologies: this article was accidentally scheduled for publication before it was completed. It is now updated.Okay, enough griping about Cowtown’s obstacles in attaining some degree of technological leadership– what are some resources currently available to improve the situation? Today I’ll go over some that are key, focusing on communities rather than places. Not all listed are exclusively oriented around technology, but it is at least included in their scope.
I’ve mentioned these organizations in previous articles, but it’s worth gathering them together and highlighting.
Folks are laid back here.
Stereotypical cowboy talk includes words like “mosey“, a colloquial verb describing walking much like glacial describes progress. Like their trail-dusting forebears, Fort Worthians are usually in no hurry. Whatever it is, it’ll wait.
This is at once endearing and maddening. Sometimes it can’t wait, and that’s especially true with technology.
Last year it was thrilling enough that we even had this sort of event in Fort Worth; everyone in tech in DFW knows Addison, Irving, Frisco, Plano, Richardson and North Dallas are where you go for software and related events. It’s a circle of cities that has held tightly to this honor for years, and facilitated a self-fulfilling situation. Developers go because that’s where the events are, and the events are held there because developers go. Breaking into that cycle, even for a single occasion, was special in and of itself.
We decided to take a traditional brainstorming approach, throwing ideas on the board and carefully guiding them toward a refined, useful set of actionable items. TECH Fort Worth is the right facility for it! But first, I shared a presentation on the subject. I’m sure I violated some unspoken rule by launching a Prezi from a PowerPoint deck, but at least it worked!
I wrote a DFW-specific piece on civic coding in the area a while back and more recently followed up with a more general article on preparing cities for civic coding events. Now I want to double-back to DFW in particular again and drill down into one aspect of the first article.
First, a lamentation familiar to just about every resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex: traffic. As this area has exploded, practical transportation options have lagged. Sure, new highway segments like 161 have popped up here and there, relieving some congestion, but massive construction such as that on 114 and North Loop 820 shows that our ability to get from point A to B is woefully inadequate.
This point was especially driven home today as I received responses to an invitation for a social mixer at the TECH Fort Worth business incubator. In this regard, Fort Worth is well behind other areas, such as Plano and North Dallas. One of my goals has been to support increased tech event and meetup opportunities west of Highway 360. But anyone living in and around Dallas quickly experiences the pain that we Westies have been enduring for years: it can be near impossible to attend cross-town events, especially in the early evening.
The ultimate answer in my opinion is a drastically reduced emphasis on automobile-oriented solutions and more rail. A LOT more rail. That can be a hard sell in Texas, but we’re getting better at entertaining the notion. We just still have a long way to go.
When I visit other countries and even some other states in the US, I see city centers have developed around rail hubs. Government services, shopping, entertainment and other amenities tend to naturally sprout around these stations. Even without nearby rail, the city center concept has been gaining great popularity in the US in recent years. It’s easy to see why: the alternative, malls, proved in many cases to be an unsustainable premise. There are many reasons why and that’s out of the scope of this article. But one aspect of failure was how indoor malls isolated people from their environment.
In outdoor city centers, you tend to see far fewer cars and much, much more foot and bicycle traffic… especially if they are fed by public transport. The oppressive atmosphere of cavernous malls is gone. Along with these features, you see higher degrees of social engagement.
Which gets me back to the social coding premise. While trying to launch a DFW-wide civic hackathon, I focused centrally in the hope of helping to create that civic center experience where it doesn’t quite yet exist. But we DO have a strong candidate in DFW: the CentrePort business park. I was just unable to convince anyone that the time was right to start adding another layer of usefulness to the campus. And perhaps the time is not right, just yet. Still, it would be a shame to completely ignore the potential.
CentrePort is the home to many high-contributing companies, such as American Airlines. It’s also an important logistics hub to others like Whirlpool, Johnson & Johnson, et al. Combine that with convenient hotels such as Marriott, plenty of eateries, proximity to DFW Airport, a rail/bus stop and accessible highway connections, and you have the starting point for a truly dynamic civic gateway. And a great future site for events like hackathons. We just need a few more additions, starting perhaps with a true intermodal center at the CentrePort DART/TRE station.
So my plea to DFW municipal leaders is simple: let’s take a long look at other civic centers, and get to work enhancing CentrePort in similar fashion. Yes, Dallas has a nice DART gateway near the American Airlines Center, and Fort Worth has two downtown with potential, we still need that central nexus with fairly easy access for anyone and everyone. A civic center for all of us, regardless of where we live and work.
Let’s get that on the agenda.