What will DFW look like in 25 years?

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By Walter Bialas

Consider the implications of all the growth in our region – how many homes would be needed, and how much office and industrial space would be required to serve our larger community? We all talk about the population growth we’ve seen in DFW and what is forecast, but no one has paused to consider what that means for our built environment – the homes that must be constructed, the new office and industrial buildings that will service our businesses, or the retail where we will shop.

Housing is easy. Looking at a standard 65 / 35 split between single family and multifamily, we must build 900,000 new homes and 640,000 apartments. The land requirement starkly drives home how different our region will look and feel.  Assuming somewhat denser development patterns than today, those new residents will require as much as 450 square miles of new single-family acreage.  On the multifamily side, those apartments will need 20 square miles of land and that is at a relatively “urban” density, averaging 50 units per acre.

Because a large share of industrial space serves a broad regional market, there is a good relationship between population and industrial demand.  Looking at that, these 4 million new residents will likely spur another 325 million square feet of warehouse / distribution and manufacturing development.  Given DFW’s current inventory of 600 million square feet, that’s a 50% expansion.  Likewise, our office needs will grow.  Even assuming higher utilization rates (maybe 150 square feet per office employee) suggests that our existing inventory of 225 million square feet would need to grow by 125 million to accommodate the new businesses that will emerge.

 

 

These numbers are not meant to be viewed as an “exact” forecast.  Rather, it is the scale of the change that is important.  With this much growth headed our way, our community will change.  This will happen incrementally, and only be surprising in retrospect – kind of like the recollections of dove hunting after school in Plano and Frisco a mere 30 years ago.  Over the coming years, our community will expand.  New development areas will open along established growth corridors and completely new locations will emerge for housing and commercial uses.  It is also a reality that we will not be able to continue to expand into the distant suburbs.  Infrastructure costs, transportation times, and the like will become prohibitive.

This means that higher densities will need to become more accepted – especially in established in-fill areas to take advantage of existing infrastructure and re-development opportunities.  Like the concepts advanced in “new urbanism”, DFW will see a vastly changed built environment – more walkable in places, with a strategic mix of commercial and residential uses – all at densities much higher than what we envision today.  As we sit here in mid-2018, it is paramount that we plan progressively and with an eye toward the future, for the best that our future can bring.