In Mexico City

Reports of crime in Mexico, including Mexico City, almost kept me away. That would have been most unfortunately. Crime happens everywhere, but on the ground, it did not seem particularly dangerous in Mexico City. The reality is it is on par with Chicago in terms of most crimes (yet being attacked because of your race or ethnicity is much less common in Mexico City!) The people here are friendly and helpful. We went in several areas which I am guessing are outside the typical tourist zones, and noticed people milling around at 3:30 a.m. when we left for the return trip.

It may seem odd, but leaving the airport it was like being in China. Now, you’ll have to understand the perspective here. Cities in China are busy with people, as is Mexico City. Dallas is providing the point of reference, and at any given time most places are void of people.

We arrived at the Hampton Inn about 11 pm. It’s not far off of the Zócalo, the main square. The hotel itself looked nice enough, but the route to it was less than direct, and the area seemed suspect. I looked out the third story window to see shuttered storefronts and wondered.

By morning the shops were open and the street was buzzing with activity. We set out for the Zócalo unaccompanied and felt completely comfortable walking the streets. Unfortunately, the square was covered with tents for an event and we did not get to see it.

There are many beautiful buildings around the Zócalo, including the Grand Hotel. You can’t just walk in and wander around, so we headed for the rooftop bar.

We joined a friend from Dallas and someone we had known through Facebook on a walking tour of some historic sites. Mexico City was built on Aztec temples and one building that now houses the Consulate of Spain has an area underneath where you can see some of the ruins and get a sense of what had been there previously.

Mexico City ChurchMexico City is filled with Churches. You see so many and they start to blend together in your mind. The most memorable with a Baroque-style interior. Our guide said it was a response of sorts to Martin Luther and reforms unfriendly to gilded decoration and statues. Anyone visiting gets the message.

Mexico CityThe most impressive building on our tour was the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which I had been incorrectly referring to as an opera house. The Beaux Arts exterior seems somewhat foreign to the Art Deco interior, however. It took a long time to complete due to political turmoil. By the time construction resumed, tastes had changed.

The other buildings worth mentioning are the Post Office and the building that houses the Museo Nacional de Arte, which I understand was built as a private residence (whoa).

It seems that most people visiting want to see the Frida Kahlo Museum, but with only a few days in the city, we decided to limit time spent indoors, and to stay in the historic center city area. We did head to see the Diego Rivera murals at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica and Museo Mural Diego Rivera.

Electric Bus Mexico CityAs far as street traffic, there is a lot. As far as transportation, not so many bicycles, a variety of bus service, both public and commercial including electric buses running from a pantograph, a subway (which I did not explore, and a variety of taxi service including uber (which was about half the price of the hotel cab return ride to the airport.) I have learned the hard way only to use official cabs in foreign countries, however.

The final thing to mention about Mexico City is the affordability. I don’t think we spent $300 on food in two days (for 3 people). That included several rounds of drinks. If you are looking for tourist items to bring home, we didn’t see much that was made in Mexico. The Popular Art Museum gift shop is one exception.

Now that I have a few days in Mexico City under my belt, I look forward to another trip. It is only a short flight from many U.S. cities, including just over 2 hours from Dallas (and the weather is way better in Mexico City).

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Being Urban: The Will to Start

Sustainable City News

You may have noticed freeway construction never seems to stop. You may also see that traffic never gets better. Experts say this is because of induced demand: better highways bring more drivers to them, and traffic gets worse.

If you’ve visited Amsterdam or other bike-friendly cities, you may also conclude this concept works just as well for bikes. Better bike infrastructure like bike lanes and bike parking entices more people to ride bikes.

But more bikes won’t bring about that much more biking without better bike infrastructure. Thousands of bikes were added to Dallas city streets recently when bike-share companies launched here. The green, yellow and orange bikes brought out the curious and are used by many. But this is only sort-of a first step.

Bike-share itself won’t turn Dallas into a city where bikes are a primary mode of transportation. That will require significant investment in bike lanes and…

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Last Gasp Before Coffee

Sustainable City News

No, it’s not a John Chamberlain sculpture (joke- I like Chamberlain).

This morning I noticed demolition had commenced making way for a new Starbucks store on Oak Lawn Avenue not far from the former home of Oak Lawn Coffee (which I understand will re-open across the street). I think at one point not too long ago there was a restaurant that specialized in scotch and hot dogs on the site (A for creativity, but you don’t have to wonder long why we end up with another Starbucks).

Although the store will have a drive-thru, it looks otherwise walkable and offers indoor seating. Pedestrian improvements including wider sidewalks are also in the plans.

Future Site of Total Wine and MoreAcross the street, more changes are coming. A Total Wine & More store will replace the small plaza that houses long-time neighborhood favorite, Bellini’s. No word on whether they have found a space to relocate.

Sunflower on DickasonOn the way…

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Venturing into Small Town Texas

Sustainable City News

At times it seems everyone is moving to Texas. Houston, Austin and especially Dallas continue to show big cities in the Lone Star State keep getting bigger.

From reading the headlines, it’s easy to forget that Texas is home to some pretty neat small towns. This weekend we headed south for the Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival and then headed to Waxahachie for some antique shopping and a visit to the Webb Gallery.

Bluebonnet Trail Map

The first building we found in Ennis was an old train station that’s been turned into a museum. A caboose sits outside and provides for an immediate photo op. It was nearing noon, so we headed across the tracks to the festival and found several food trucks offering Mexican food, Cajun food, paninis and perhaps most interestingly, Bavarian food.

Lokey Train Passing CarThe downtown area has some interesting buildings and is several blocks deep. I didn’t do a…

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Oak Lawn Really Does Need a Streetcar

Yep.

Sustainable City News

I hear people say they would go to the Bishop Arts District, but then think about parking and skip it. That sounds like an “it’s so crowded no one goes there anymore” argument to me, but I’ve had the same thought.

Today I took the train.

It wasn’t a short trip. Leaving my house in Oak Lawn, I took the 15 minute or so walk to the Uptown/CityPlace station, then took DART to Union Station. I missed the first Dallas Streetcar and spend 8 minutes waiting for another.

The train arrives very near the center of the Bishop Arts District making that end of the journey very convenient. I’ve heard a lot about the construction/gentrification over there and so was worried I would find my favorite haunts replaced by Gucci stores. Alas from the Italian, Mexican and Greek restaurants to Hunky’s, they were all still there. Plus an amazing tap…

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A River Runs Through It: Changing Cityscapes in Oak Lawn

Sustainable City News

The view across Oak Lawn Avenue from the United Methodist Church would be much improved when the current big box Office Depot gives way to a new mixed-use apartment building. That was Masterplan’s Dallas Cothrum last night at a meeting of the Oak Lawn Committee conveying comments by a preacher at the church.

But unless street improvements accompany the project, residents in the new building would face the daunting task of crossing Oak Lawn Avenue should they want to hear a sermon. While the committee concerns itself primarily with zoning issues, members expressed frustrations with free-flowing traffic on the main thoroughfare saying the avenue “acts like a river” dividing the neighborhood and that crossing it was “like a game of Frogger.”

Other projects proposed for Oak Lawn Avenue recently including a new Starbucks (with a drive-thru) and a wine store seem to continue the suburban characteristics of the urban street…

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Easter in Oak Lawn Park

Sustainable City News

When Irving Belin wrote “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,” the Pooch Parade in Dallas is probably the last thing he had in mind.

Easter in urban areas is much different than Easter in small towns. In most places, the holiday consists of church and family events. For many in Dallas, it’s a time to head to Oak Lawn Park and watch the Pooch Parade.

Men and women (but mostly men) wearing flamboyant hats and colorful outfits filled the grassy lawn in front of Arlington Hall in the recently renamed Oak Lawn Park. Food trucks lined Turtle Creek Boulevard, and pets wanting for homes watched from adoption areas as decorated pooches prepared to strut in the parade.

In my time in Dallas, the event seems to have morphed a little from a campy LGBT event into a family celebration. That may reflect the changing demographics…

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