The Dallas-Fort Worth region, with a population of 7.1 million, is already the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States and is projected to grow 55 percent to reach almost 11 million by 2040.
The region has the fourth-busiest airport and the largest light rail operator, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, in the nation, and in a few years could be linked to the fifth-largest (and first most rapidly growing) metro area — Houston — by a 90-minute trip on high-speed rail.
This region has the third-, fifth- and 11th-largest four-year universities in the state — UTA, UNT and UTD — along with two excellent private universities (SMU and TCU), and numerous community colleges.
It is home to the new TCU/UNT Health Science Center MD school and to UT Southwestern, which boasts five Nobel laureates, more than any medical school in the world.
And the region boasts world-class art and architecture, including an impressive array of museums and art collections as well as outstanding works by major architects of the last half-century.
Connecting the two major cities of the region — Dallas and Fort Worth — are Interstate 30, Trinity Railway Express, a planned spur of the high-speed rail, and of course, the Trinity River.
What if we leveraged this wealth of assets by creating a linear district with the river as its magnetic core?
This Trinity District would be characterized by vital urban hubs around train stations, more parks and trails and strong links by foot, bicycle, transit and car within the district and to adjacent areas.
In addition, it would be an “innovation corridor,” where the synergy of “Meds” (medical research districts) and “Eds” (research universities) catalyzes innovation.
Already, I-30 was selected on Jan. 19 as one of 10 proving grounds nationally for driverless vehicles, and the district could become a test bed for other new technologies that, once refined, would scale to other parts of North Texas, enabling a “smart region.”
Stretching 30 miles from Dallas to Fort Worth, the Trinity District would be a place that offers the best of city life as well as natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities, elevating DFW into the hallowed realm of most livable U.S. regions.
Raising the livability quotient would, in turn, help attract talent, retain talent, improve public health and enhance life quality overall.
Identifying the Trinity District as a regional endeavor, which has occurred previously with construction of the DFW Airport and the Trinity Railway Express, would stimulate the economy, coordinate regional leadership, spur innovation, ensure habitat protection and environmental restoration, and contribute to brand the region in a way that would support existing initiatives, including Fort Worth’s Trinity Vision, Panther Island and Trinity Trails; Dallas’ Trinity River Park, Trinity River Corridor Project, Trinity River Audubon Center, Trinity Strand Trail, and Connected City initiative; Arlington’s River Legacy Park; and others.
Across the globe, rivers and other waterfronts have been catalysts for vibrant corridors of vital urban hubs interwoven with parks and trails.
Right here in Texas, this is apparent along Austin’s Colorado River, San Antonio’s Riverwalk and Houston’s Buffalo Bayou.
Linear innovation districts currently underway include Forbes Avenue with Carnegie Mellon, Innovation ABQ with the University of New Mexico, and the Cascadia Innovation Corridor linking the University of Washington with the University of British Columbia.
Match waterfront revitalization with the building of a smart innovation corridor and we have the Trinity District of North Central Texas.
Trinity indeed: a felicitous union of nature, a built environment that harmonizes with it, and the intellectual and creative capital of our community to produce a distinctive and completely game-changing district.
Nan Ellin is dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington.