32 years of growth in a timelapse video

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By Steven McCord, September 7, 2018

While my first visit to Dallas proper was back in 1990, I first visited the northern suburbs in 2006 to visit a friend who had just helped his company relocate from San Diego to Frisco. Stonebriar Mall still smelled new and Preston Road just to the north had quite a few empty, grassy fields interspaced between the occasional bank or restaurant. That visit was the first time I heard the northern suburbs would eventually grow to the Oklahoma border. I wasn’t sure whether to believe it.

On my next visit, seven years later, I returned to find a brand new Sam Rayburn Tollway, Toyota and others preparing to build huge headquarters campuses, and new housing and retail everywhere. My thought was this is a speed of growth rarely seen in the US these days – one that I typically associated with the fast-growing megacities of Asia where I had worked for years.

Everyone jokes about growing all the way to Oklahoma. It may even happen if current trends continue (though probably within a few more economic cycles). A quick calculation suggests the northern edge – the edge of civilization where housing gives way to open prairie –  moved northward about half a mile a year during the 32 years from 1984 to 2016, and even more during the faster growth period after 1999.

After moving to the Dallas area, I heard more stories: duck hunting in Plano in the 80s, and the intersection of the Dallas North Tollway and the 121 being nothing more than a blinking red light in the 90s.

My favorite is the photo I saw of US 75 at Royal Lane in the mid-50s with no traffic on it and a lonely Ford tractor dealer along the frontage road. As it turns out, the “frontier” of Dallas growth has advanced an average of half a mile a year all the way since 1957.

What’s driving growth north? It’s the people following the companies. Areas such as Legacy are now key employment hubs. Secondly, it’s the search for affordable housing. As the saying goes – “drive until you qualify”. New housing developments continue to start construction further north, slowly closing the gap with the cities of Sherman and Denison.

There are now 31 miles to go to reach the Red River. Barring any chance of long distance express rail lines to move people more quickly, road travel times may start to become a little long.

The more likely scenario is steady “densification” and infill in existing areas leading to a more measured pace of land consumption in the northern fringe. It’s already noticeable that residential lot sizes have trended downward over the years and new development is on smaller parcels.

Anything is possible in Dallas and only time will tell.

Source: Dallas Public Library