American baby boomers came of age as the suburb came king in an age of big cars, free parking, and the romance of the open road. American cities had begun their long decline, and President Eisenhower inaugurated the 48,000-mile interstate system as highways cut historic inner cities in the name of speed. For all the activism of the baby boomer generation, they largely supported the dire state of the built environment that they had inherited from their parents. From post-war planning plans calling for sweeping subdivisions to homeowners’ associations keeping their spaces frozen in amber, boomers have protected their desire for ever higher property appreciation and a quick and easy retirement system.
The urban sprawl – to evoke another Eisenhower coinage – is a powerful paradigm for converting our cities into throwaway places and making young and old dependent on an expensive private vehicle, even if they cannot afford one or have the bare minimums to drive. The urban sprawl is still growing in the same part of the country that has seen cheap growth for over a generation, the Sun Belt, and especially the one where everything is bigger – Texas.
Lodowick Brodie Cobb “Wick” Allison was born in Dallas in 1948 when this pioneering generation of boomers began. The sixth generation Texan was Conservative from an early age, serving as a junior staff member at the Nixon White House and as editor of in the 1980s National review. But Allison remained rooted in Dallas, where he was an entrepreneur. He started a new monthly month in town. D magazineto cover local politics, economy and lifestyle. For all his marketing and business acumen, Allison was also something of a bloody journalist. He cared about his country and town, and when he saw that something had gone wrong, be it the urban sprawl or a catastrophic war in Iraq, he spoke out vigorously, not only as a publisher, but also as a writer and activist.
“Urban sprawl is not infinite,” Allison wrote when introducing a special edition of D magazine, “Dallas and the New Urbanism”, in 2018. It must have been something for a suburban woman in Plano to pick up this problem at the checkout and discover that the Metroplex may change and replace shopping centers with traditional street landscapes. (Allison disliked the 1970s term “Metroplex” for the Dallas-Fort Worth sprawl, which sounded like a huge airport.) However, Allison had no time to apologize for status quo errors. He wanted to tell everyone the truth. If Dallas didn’t change, he thought, it could be just another Detroit. An erosion of the inner city and inner quarters could lead to a death spiral of municipal bankruptcy.
“In the late 1960s and 1970s, city officials moved away from the urban core to accommodate suburbs,” Allison told a chapter at the American Institute of Architects in Dallas. “This caused many self-inflicted wounds in the city.” Like the boomers who inherited those scars on the urban landscape, Allison has seen it all. Later he would swear to change course.
When Allison was a young man, the Barons of Dallas threw highways and suburban towers everywhere, as Allison Jim Lee said in town Dallas Observer::
“As a sophomore at the University of Texas, I stood with [Dallas developer] John Stemmons in 1968 in the Stemmons Towers overlooking the Stemmons Expressway, which opened in 1963. He was so proud of it. He thought this was going to be the greatest real estate development ever. … That was 1968. The last office building that was built on Stemmons was 1971. Stemmons Towers is for rent today and cannot be rented. It was a disaster. The market is not going to go where there is a freeway. “
Allison would admit that he hadn’t seen the problem right away. In the 1990s, his magazine sponsored a planned downtown freeway called Trinity Parkway. However, he began to realize that the wonderful riverside park didn’t really need the paved part. “The road was just a means to an end. It would provide bridges, and you had this wonderful park, and that was the whole point. “Then, in 2010, Allison saw an interesting report from some transportation consultants hired to improve an adjacent downtown expressway. Usually improvements meant more lanes, but “these people had become villains,” he said. “[Dallas officials] I-30 does not need to be expanded. That is exactly the wrong thing to do. You have to take it under the class, put an esplanade on top, and reconnect the city. ‘It was all new urbanism. … I’m going, “Holy shit!” I had never thought about it before. “
Allison had read Robert Caro’s seminal book The power brokerRobert Moses and a friend of a developer told him to read the 1960s urban designer Jane Jacobs. He began to see what would have to change to keep his city.
Allison began recruiting more people, especially Conservatives, to understand that New Urbanism was fully compatible with the wisdom of the ages. In 2011 he became president of The American Conservative and reached out to the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, a Chicago-based organization that supports traditional architecture. TAC partnered with Driehaus to create a regular series on New Urbanism, a collaboration that continues to this day.
In 2015, Allison was convinced that another Dallas freeway was stifling redevelopment. He was encouraged by the Midrise Uptown neighborhood in the north, which he had moved to, which improved when three blocks of freeway were converted into a city park. Since the 1970s, I-345, an elevated road to the east, had cut off downtown from the historic Deep Ellum neighborhood. Allison and others thought removing the freeway and replacing it with a boulevard could revive some of the lost human habitat in the area. Many were skeptical, of course, but as White Papers in his new coalition for a new Dallas showed, most of these lanes were not occupied by local residents, but by outside traffic looking for a faster route through the city center. He and his allies cited numerous examples of demolished urban elevated roads that never experienced the congestion that came with them.
The movement Allison started is more than a think tank or vanity project. When Allison organized it as a political action committee, she turned the campaign into a real political effort and pressured local officials to take these ideas seriously. He also helped organize a panel at the 23rd Dallas New Urbanism Congress that was attended by two editors The American Conservative put forward arguments for “bipartisan placemaking” and attracted a large and likely largely liberal crowd who were thrilled to see real, living conservatives ready to join arms with them.
Allison wore many hats – journalist, activist, realtor, businessman, gentleman-scholar – and as he neared his eighth decade, he never tired. Like in old times TAC The editor Daniel McCarthy said to me: “Wick knew what had to happen to make the city more beautiful and more human. He worked tirelessly for it, but when I watched him it never seemed like work: it was what he enjoyed more than anything. The thing enlivened him. “
Was it really that surprising that New Urbanist Wick Allison became a friend of his class, a friend of the real estate barons in Texas, an avowed conservative, and eventually a baby boomer?
Indeed, Allison’s kind of conservatism was not a reactionary politics of the status quo, but a rather Burkish sensitivity to gradual reform, always tempered by tradition and history. No less a figure than the great urbanist Jane Jacobs has also been described as a Burkish conservative. Jacobs understood that fine-grained urbanism, that centuries of collective knowledge built up through habits, could be destroyed by negligent utopian planning schemes. Upon discovering it, Allison became a student of Jacobs’ work, so much so that he kept several copies of it The death and life of great American cities in his office, distributes them to potential converts.
“Perhaps the greatest prejudice of all people is presenterism,” commented Allison once, “that is, whatever was and always will be.” Allison could transcend the politics of the moment because this avowed Classicist and Roman Catholic convert could also break through myopic, myopic presentism. Starting with incremental reforms was what Allison’s conservatism meant.
The tired vision of the urban sprawl that the silent and greatest generations implemented after World War II was actually quite radical. As the urban sprawl matured and became the norm, it stagnated and cheap real estate systems ran out of steam. Today, the boomer generation embracing the autocentric world has in many cases become a more vicious, reactionary way of defending one’s privileges – you might even call it the bad kind of “conservatism.” But even as a boomer, Allison never succumbed to the temptation of his cohort in old age.
McCarthy also recently told me, “Wick didn’t come to city politics as an ideologist, with a blueprint for what the city would look like if it were redesigned according to conservative aesthetic principles. Instead, his urban conservatism grew out of his experience and love of the city itself – he knew how Dallas works and what it feels like, and his battles against disruptive highways and other follies have always been about the character and potential of the city. “Part of Allison’s legacy will be” to set an example of how conservatives can think about business and aesthetics, business and beauty alike, in a way that is guided by the personality of a place. “
This ability to love and cultivate one’s own city and at the same time try to overcome the very real spatial differences that lead to identity and class differences has made “conservative urbanism” a force for good. Many Conservatives have a strong pessimistic tendency, but Allison was always forward-looking and once told us, “The future may be intended. We can take responsibility for the future – and take responsibility for the future – and restore our communities as deliberately as we did in the past to destroy them. “
May this founder of conservative urbanism inspire many more generations of such daring and energetic activism as we rebuild humane places worthy of a great civilization.
Lewis McCrary is formerly editor-in-chief at The American Conservative. This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.
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