Fort Worth

Downtown Fort Worth is growing fast, but is it becoming too wealthy and white?

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The growth of downtown Fort Worth during the past several decades is by just about any definition a tremendous success story.

But is the city center getting too wealthy for its own good?

Downtown Fort Worth's ZIP code (76102) is the sixth most gentrified neighborhood in the United States, according to recently released research by the apartment finder RentCafe. The ranking was based on changes in home values, household incomes and ratio of college-educated residents in ZIP codes across the U.S. between 2000 and 2016.

Generally, gentrification occurs when affluent residents move into an area, displacing previous dwellers. It's a common occurrence in cities where run-down neighborhoods undergo improvements to buildings, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

Those improvements should be good things, but what often happens in cities that don't plan carefully is that property owners in a newly improved area smell an opportunity to jack up rental and ownership prices so quickly that some of the neighborhood's traditional residents are forced to move. Then out-of-town developers begin to see the area as an untapped market, and begin building more and more projects aimed at the high-income demographic.

The result can be neighborhoods filled with too many wealthy, childless households and not enough ethnically and economically diverse families — a combination that most urban planners agree is needed to ensure the neighborhood makes a smooth transition from one generation to the next without a period of decline (followed by the need for yet another urban renewal cycle).

Long-term, it's important for cities to ensure they are adopting policies that encourage neighborhoods to grow in a diverse fashion — so that those areas can change with the times as one generation grows old and another is born. That was one of the key messages delivered Wednesday to several hundred members of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., who attended the group's 36th annual luncheon meeting at the downtown Omni Fort Worth Hotel.

"I would encourage you to be deliberate about diversity and price points," said Brad Segal, president of Denver-based Progressive Urban Management Associates. "Make it a more welcoming environment, and create diversity."

Segal didn't specifically reference the RentCafe report in his keynote speech to Downtown Fort Worth Inc., but he urged area business owners and government officials to closely monitor housing costs in the downtown area to ensure that the area doesn't become too populated by high-income residents with no children. He also encouraged development of schools and green space, to ensure the area was attractive to families.

"Do we have enough two- and three-bedroom units, and not just one-bedroom and studios?" Segal asked the crowd.

Segal said Fort Worth was positioned to do well in attracting new residents to its downtown. He said many baby boomers are looking to move into downtown areas to "age in place" in their retirement years, and that young people under 35 have a strong desire to live in areas where they can run most errands without driving.

Only 60 percent of 18-year-olds in America have driver's licenses, the lowest rate since the 1960s, Segal said.

The wait time for a newly constructed home is double what it used to be, and the rising costs of new materials can make quite a price difference.

RentCafe used the 2000 Census and 20016 American Community Survey to compare data in 11,000 ZIP codes.

The report found that in Fort Worth, home values in 76102 had increased 323 percent during those 16 years. Also, household incomes among downtown residents more than doubled — going up 103 percent from 2000 to 2015. And finally, the ratio of residents with a college education increased 123 percent during that time.

The only ZIP codes where gentrification had outperformed downtown Fort Worth were:

90014 in Los Angeles

20001 in Washington, D.C.

77003 in Houston

19123 in Philadelphia

10039 in New York (Manhattan).

The attraction of high-end apartments and hotels is continuing in downtown Fort Worth. Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., said 1,400 new apartment units are planned or under construction in the area, adding to the supply of 4,300 units that already exist.

Also, several new hotels are planned, adding 1,100 rooms, compared to the existing 2,900 hotel rooms today.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson

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