"Fort Worth: Where the West Begins." - Fort Worth Cultural Axiom
"Go anywhere in Texas, and you won't find anyone more proud to call themselves Texans than you will in Fort Worth." - Kent Allen Halliburton
"When I was on the touring circuit, I always had to make a stop in Fort Worth." - Willie Nelson
What is Urban Planning? What is Urban Growth Policy? How long have they existed? Assuming they have been around for a while, how have they changed over time? Does the city of Fort Worth, Texas practice Urban Planning? Does it have an Urban Growth Policy? When did the city first begin an organized effort at Urban Planning and Growth Policy? What are its policies now? Is the city actually following these policies? What does the future look like for Fort Worth? To answer these questions, a review of the dominant theories of urban planning is in order. Next, a review of the theory, or lack thereof, of urban growth policy will be conducted. The history of urban planning, from its earliest incarnations to the present day, will then be briefly considered. The discussion will then move on, more specifically, to the city of Fort Worth. First, the history of Fort Worth and its first use of urban planning will be briefly reviewed. Second, evidence that the city of Fort Worth does, in fact, practice urban planning and does actually have a formal urban growth policy will be looked at. Next, using its Comprehensive Plan, the city’s policies for growth management will be outlined. The city’s track record will then be assessed, using things like impact fees and business practices, to determine if it is actually following the policies that it has set out for itself. The article will conclude with a few observations and then a set of recommendations that might better secure the future of the city of Fort Worth, Texas in a rapidly changing world.
The Theory of Urban Planning
There are two theories of Urban Planning, Systems Theory and Structural Theory. These theories, generally, apply only to Europe. Unfortunately, this is because the development of a comprehensive urban planning theory in the United States has been severely lacking. The Systems Theory of urban planning was born out of the scientific advancements of the nineteenth century. If the scientific method developed during the Scientific Revolution could be applied to applied sciences like engineering, with its use of physics and advanced mathematics, and biology, with the advancement of evolutionary theory and the use of the taxonomic system, why not urban planning? The idea was that just like in a complex mechanism, like a construction machine, or an evolutionary chain, like in biology, every department in a city was a moving and vital part of the city’s overall functionality. If one part of the system broke down, the whole system would stop functioning. This theory also extended to the national level. Every city in a nation was a moving and vital part of the nation. Thus, during this period, there were a lot of plans for urban development made, almost exclusively, at the national level.
The systems theory of urban planning was given a boost by the destruction of World War II; however, by the late 1960s, this theory of planning began to fade away. It was having a hard time meeting the direct local needs of urban centers that were not necessarily in line with the national policy. This gave rise to the Structural Theory. This theory was designed to more appropriately respond to the dramatic increase in population after the war, as well as, increased levels of wealth, personal aspirations, and economic opportunity among the working class members of the post-war welfare state. More so, however, it was designed to meet the needs of these people from a more local perspective. This was more of an ad hoc approach to planning, in that individual urban centers were able to plan for individual needs that might pop up at a time that would normally have been inconvenient for a system operating according to the systems theory. Not everything that had been done on the national level before, would now take place at the local level; however, some of the simpler things like road maintenance, local public transportation, water delivery services, waste management, electricity delivery, and the like, could now be adjusted to the local needs of individual urban centers. After all, the daily needs of an international industrial center, like London, were not likely to ever be the same as the daily needs of a much smaller town, like Exeter in western England, who would never really have to worry about the increased traffic that happens in such a busy city as London (Batty, Michael, “Planning Systems and Systems Planning,” Built Environment, Vol. 8, No. 4 (1982), 252-257).
The United States does not have any form of national comprehensive Urban Growth Policy. A brief attempt was made at such a possibility in the 1930s, as a part of the New Deal, but the plan was just as quickly set aside. It was not thought that such a plan would survive the wrath of the Supreme Court, which at the time, was benched by conservative Republicans. Urban Growth Policy is, basically, any plan, law, regulation, ordinance, or policy that is designed to control, regulate, restrain, encourage, or manage the growth, development, or expansion of a municipality (Loewenstein, Louis K, and Dorn C. McGrath, Jr., “The Planning Imperative in America's Future,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 405 (January, 1973), 15-24). In the United States, this realm of public policy has been left to the discretion of the states who, for the most part, have all left the specifics to the discretion of the individual urban centers within their borders. States have, in many cases, outlined for cities certain rules on transportation, water delivery, electricity, road maintenance and quality, annexation and land use, retention of growth management plans, and many more policies, but for the most part, the development of urban growth policy in the United States is left to the individual urban centers themselves, where there is no single unified policy (Brubaker, Charles William, “Urban Growth Policy,” Art Education, Vol. 23, No. 7 (October, 1970), 16-17).
The History of Urban Planning
Traditionally, the Greek philosopher Hippodamus, who lived in the fifth century BCE, is regarded as the first town planner and the inventor of the orthogonal urban layout. The Hippodamian, which was name directly for Hippodamus, is this orthogonal urban layout. It is laid out with, more or less, equal square street blocks. This does not fail to accept that earlier civilizations planned cities, like the Egyptians. It does, however, make note that this is the first person who can be historically documented. From about the late 8th century on, Greek city states started to found colonies along the coasts of the Mediterranean, which were centered on newly created towns and cities with more or less regular orthogonal plans (Morris, A.E.J, History of Urban Form: Before the Industrial Revolutions, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge Unviersity Press, 1994), 35-540. The ancient Romans also employed regular orthogonal planning sites on which they molded their colonies. These were generally inspired by the Greek examples, but the Romans also took lessons from regularly planned cities that were built by the Etruscans in Italy (Anderson, Helle Damgaard, Helle W. Horsnaes, Sanne Houby Neilson, and Annette Rathje, Eds., Urbanization in the Mediterranean in the Ninth to Sixth Centuries BC (New York: Collegium Hyperboreum, 1997), 111-142). The Romans also used a consolidated scheme for city planning, developed for military defense and civil convenience. The basic plan consisted of a central forum with city services, surrounded by a compact, rectilinear grid of streets, and wrapped in a wall for defense. To reduce travel times, two diagonal streets crossed the square grid, passing through the central square. A river usually flowed through the city, which provided water, transport, and sewage disposal (Morgan, Morris Hicky, Ed., Vitruvius: The Ten Books of Architecture (London: Oxford University Press, 1914), 5-34).
Urban development in Europe during the early Middle Ages, characteristically, focused on a fortress, a fortified abbey, or a sometimes abandoned Roman nucleus, and it usually developed like the annular rings of a tree, whether in an extended village or the center of a larger city. Since the new center was often on high, defensible ground, the city plan took on an organic character, following the irregularities of elevation contours like the shapes that result from agricultural terracing. The new cities of the era, essentially, developed in concentric circles (Bartlett, Robert, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 5-60). During the Renaissance, Florence was an early model of urban planning, which was developed to adapt to advances in military technology. It took on a star-shaped layout adapted from the new star fort, designed to resist cannon fire. This model was widely imitated, reflecting the enormous cultural power of Florence in this age. Renaissance Europe was overtaken by this city type for a century and a half. The idea of a star shaped city impressed a utopian scheme upon cities, where radial streets extended outward from a defined center that served as the loci for military, communal, and spiritual power (Giedion, Siegfried, Space, Time, and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition, 5th Ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 37-46).
During the Enlightenment period of European history, rulers often embarked on ambitious attempts at redesigning their capital cities as a showpiece for the grandeur and wealth of their nations. Disasters were often a major catalyst for such planned reconstructions. For example, after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, King Joseph I of Portugal, and his ministers, immediately launched efforts to rebuild the city. The architect they employed, Manuel da Maia, dramatically proposed razing entire sections of the city and laying out entirely new city blocks and streets without restraint. There were several options, but ultimately, this option was chosen by the king and his ministers. Keen to have a new and perfectly ordered city, the King commissioned the construction of the big squares, large avenues, and widened streets recommended by Maia. The King referred to this designed strategy as the New Lisbon. It is interesting to note that while the poor residents of Lisbon did not fare well in this plan, the King of Portugal did listen to good council, and he exercised amazing foresight. The Pombaline Buildings, some of Maia’s specially designed buildings from this era, were among the earliest seismically protected buildings in Europe (Shrady, Nicholas, The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin & Reason in The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, (New York: Penguin, 2008), 147-168).
In the early twentieth century, urban planning had to take a break and rethink its strategies. The 19th century and the massive urbanization caused by the Industrial Revolution had put a lot people in the planning field into overload. Urban development, by the late 19th century was mostly under the control of big industrialists, who were planning developments that met the needs of their businesses, rather than paying attention to the needs of the people occupying their structures. This made urban crowding, filth, and poverty a visible part of life all over the industrial world. The first major urban planning theorist was Sir Ebeneezer Howard, of Great Britain, who, in 1898, initiated the Garden City Movement. This was inspired by earlier planned communities built by industrial philanthropists in the countryside outside of major cities, such as W.H. Lever's, Port Sunlight and George Pullman's, Pullman Town. All these settlements decentralized the working environment from the center of the cities, and provided a healthy living space for the factory workers. These new garden cities provided for the worker’s welfare and the companies need to have its labor supply nearby. These garden cities would also give rise to the modern urban planning theories, Systems Theory and Structural Theory, which arose out of the Depression, an economic downturn felt around the world, and the post-World War II recovery and population boom (Hall, Peter, Dennis Hardy & Colin Ward, Eds., of Howard, Ebenezer, To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Reform, 1898 (New York: Routledge Unviersity Press, 2003), 20-75).
The History of Fort Worth, Texas
In January of 1849, U.S. Army General William Jenkins Worth, a veteran of the Mexican American War, proposed building ten forts to mark where the west Texas frontier began, from Eagle Pass, on the Rio Grande River, to the confluence of the West Fork and the Clear Fork of the Trinity River. General Worth died from cholera on May 7, 1849. His position was assumed General William S. Harney, who then ordered Major Ripley A. Arnold to find a new fort site near the confluence of the West and Clear Forks. On June 6, 1849, Arnold established a post on the banks of the Trinity River and named it Camp Worth, in honor of the late General Worth. In August of 1849, Arnold moved the camp to a north-facing bluff that overlooked the mouth of the Clear Fork. The US War Department officially granted the name, Fort Worth, to the post on November 14, 1849. Later, the Civil War nearly wiped the city off the map; however, in 1876, the Texas and Pacific Railway arrived in Fort Worth. This caused an economic boom and transformed the city into the regional center for the cattle trade. The arrival of the railroad ushered in an era of tremendous growth in other industries, as well. As migrants from other areas of the post-Civil War South continued to swell the population, the city became a major regional center for trade and industry and grew exponentially. It also came to serve as the portal for all destinations further west.
In 1902, the Swift and Armour meat packing companies came to Fort Worth. Their arrival meant employment for thousands of workers, greatly increasing the prosperity of the city. As a result, the city's population nearly tripled in size from 26,600 people to over 73,000. The Fort Worth Gas Company was established in 1909 and began serving almost 4,000 homes and businesses in the downtown area. In 1917, W.K. Gordon of the Texas Pacific Coal Company, believed there was oil in the town of Ranger, which was not more than ninety miles from Fort Worth. He was very correct. Oil was also discovered in the towns of Desdemona, Breckenridge, and Burkburnett. Fort Worth was strategically located between also of these towns. Its economy received an immense boost. Even before the boom, the city had three oil refineries. By the summer of 1920, five more had been built, with four more still under construction. In 1918, George E. Kessler oversaw construction of a new boulevard style street that went through the Arlington Heights neighborhood. Originally named Arlington Heights Boulevard, it was renamed Camp Bowie Boulevard in 1919, in honor of the soldiers who trained in Fort Worth and fought in World War I. This also involved a repurposing of all the buildings left over from the former military installation. Kessler, however, was more than just a road designer. He was a city planner, and a fan of the Garden City Movement, who had been hired by the city to put together a design for a Fort Worth of the future. This plan came to be known as the Kessler Plan, and it was the city’s first Comprehensive Plan. Before this plan, aside from the original square plat, the city’s growth pattern had no organized plan to it, at all. Ultimately, the Camp Bowie development was one of the only parts of the plan that was executed immediately. Many other conceptions, like a brand new public arena, an outdoor dinner theater, and a new fair grounds for the cattle industry, would come later (Selcer, Richard F., Fort Worth: A Texas Original (Austin, Texas: The Texas State Historical Association, 2004), 3-30, 55-71).
Fort Worth Does Practice Urban Planning
So, now that the twenty first century has dawned upon the great city of Fort Worth, does the city actually actively practice urban planning? It most certainly does, and here is some evidence to that effect. In fiscal year 2010, the City of Fort Worth collected over 295,500 tons of residential garbage, recycling, brush, and bulky waste from an average of 195,500 households. Waste Management, a private collection company under contract with the City, collected the residential waste from Fort Worth single-family households. Several private collection firms under grant of privilege agreements issued by the City collected the waste produced by multifamily complexes and commercial and industrial activities. The Fort Worth Water Department provides retail water service to the citizens and businesses of Fort Worth. In 2010, there were approximately 228,400 retail water accounts. They also manage waste water. Currently, the City provides service to 211,883 wastewater accounts generally located within the city limits. The city treats waste water at three existing facilities, the Village Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, Denton Creek Regional Wastewater System, and the Central Regional Wastewater System. There are also two additional facilities slated for construction at different points in the future (Price, Betsy and Charles Rand, 2015 Comprehensive Plan: Fort Worth, Texas (City Planning Commission, 2015), 173-194).
The city of Fort Worth is also part of an extensive public health system. The public health system consists of a network of agencies as diverse as the population they serve. These agencies include city and county government and nonprofit agencies, hospitals, educational institutions, and others. Together they protect and serve the community. The mission of Tarrant County Public Health is to safeguard the community’s health. TCPH does this through prevention of disease and injury, promotion of health, and protection from disease and injury. Following the elimination of the Fort Worth Public Health Department in 2010, an action that was hotly contested, many functions of the department were combined with similar functions of TCPH. Other functions were transferred to the Fort Worth Code Compliance Department. Public health activities are based on a foundational framework that emphasizes three main areas; assessment, monitor, diagnose and investigate; policy development, inform and educate people, mobilize partnerships, and develop policies; and assurance, link people to needed services, assure a competent workforce, and evaluate health services (Ibid, 195-202). The JPS Health Network is also a part of this system with Fort Worth, and it helps to fulfill TCPH’s mission. The network’s central facility is located on South Main Street just south of the center of Downtown Fort Worth. JPS is a publicly funded system of hospitals, clinics, and emergency care facilities. Its primary clientele are those people in Tarrant County who cannot afford private health services. JPS serves the population from nearly thirty additional locations throughout the county (John Peter Smith Health Network, “Locations,” About JPS).
The city of Fort Worth also provides for the education needs of its citizens and their children, from pre-kindergarten to college. The City of Fort Worth is served primarily by the Fort Worth Independent School District. The Fort Worth ISD serves slightly less than half, forty-seven percent, of the city’s land area and, based on Planning and Development Department estimates, sixty-eight percent of the city’s school-aged population. In the 2010-2011 school year, more than 81,000 students were served by the Fort Worth ISD in eighty elementary schools, twenty-four middle schools and sixth grade centers, thirteen high schools, and twenty-seven special campuses. Due to the geographic layout of Fort Worth, fifteen additional independent school districts provide educational facilities and services to portions of the city. Private schools have also become a major provider of education for Fort Worth residents. In addition to primary and secondary schools, Fort Worth offers residents many opportunities for higher education, including Tarrant County College, with five campuses, including a nearly brand new Downtown facility; Texas Wesleyan University; Texas Christian University; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and the University of North Texas Health Science Center (2015 Comprehensive Plan: Fort Worth, Texas, 121-128).
The city of Fort Worth provides police protection to residents within the city limits through five patrol divisions, and it works collaboratively with multiple agencies to reduce crime and increase the overall safety of residents and visitors to Fort Worth. Anyone living in Fort Worth’s ETJ is provided policing services by the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department. The Police Department’s mission is to provide quality service in partnership with the community to create a safe environment for all. On July 31, 2010, the Police Department implemented a patrol realignment, which created four zones within each of the five patrol divisions. The zones have approximately 3 to 5 beats each. The realignment is designed to provide supervision and accountability in patrol by using a team based approach. Consequently, the Department’s availability to address questions and concerns about service has more than doubled by providing command level personnel to cover the city twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In 2009, the Information Management Division was created to facilitate the ushering in of the next era of policing known as Intelligence-Led Policing. Intelligence-Led Policing is the effective utilization of collected data, focusing heavily on prolific offenders and groups of criminals, in order to make responsible decisions regarding resource deployments. Through the creation of the Information Management Division, the Department’s Crime Analysts were centralized. This has allowed information to be analyzed by one work group without geographical restraints or limitations on the accessibility of information on criminals and the crimes they commit. Intelligence-Led tactical strategies are then developed and implemented by Patrol or Specialized Units, greatly increasing the efficiency of special units on the ground (Ibid, 161-166).
The mission of the City’s Fire Department is to serve and protect the Fort Worth community through education, prevention, preparedness, and rapid response. The department’s service area covers 350 square miles and over 741,200 residents. The Fire Department provides fire suppression and rescue, first-responder emergency medical services, hazardous materials emergency mitigation, fire code enforcement, fire safety education, and explosive containment and disposal as detailed in the Fire Department business plan. The Fire Department monitors new residential and commercial development since growth typically creates the need for new fire stations to be strategically located within these growing areas. Managing the expansion of fire services is currently the department’s greatest challenge. One new fire station opened in the Spring of 2010. Station 34 is located at 14101 Sendera Ranch Boulevard. Station 42, located at Spinks Airport, began construction in 2011 and was completed in 2012. The Fire Department also plays a major role in the City’s overall Emergency Medical Services, EMS, system. It works under the medical direction of the Area Metropolitan Ambulance Authority to provide first-responder emergency medical response services. All firefighters are trained, at minimum, as State-certified emergency medical technicians, or EMTs (Ibid, 167-172).
Fort Worth’s Growth Management Policy
How is Fort Worth Performing?
So, let the real assessment of Fort Worth’s adherence to its plan begin. First, the somewhat redundant nature of the goals should be addressed. If they are not redundant, then they are at the least, out of order. The second stated goal, to meet the needs of their constantly expanding population, should be an overarching theme, rather than one of the city’s five main goals. The other four goals, when reading them and listening to the way they sound, seem more like sub-goals of the second goal, rather than full goals in their own right. If nothing else, some more thought could have been put into their wording, or their order, at the very least. That aside, the first goal, to sustain and promote economic growth, is being addressed by the city. They have tax incentives, financing incentives, grants and loan incentives, real estate, regulatory, and infrastructure incentives, and relocation incentives, as well as, state and federal grant and loan programs. All of these incentives are designed to encourage businesses to come to Fort Worth, where they will, then, provide jobs and boost the city’s economy.
One of the tax incentives is the Tax Abatement, or a relief of required municipal property tax payments. Texas law permits a city to grant property tax abatements to projects located within an investment zone for up to ten years if the project meets the economic goals and objectives as outlined in the City’s Tax Abatement Policy (Ibid, Appendix H, 1-8). The tax abatement, in conjunction with the other incentive categories, are meant to simply reduce the cost, for new and existing businesses, of doing business in Fort Worth, so that the city’s tax base and employment rate can be kept at respectable and sustainable levels (Ibid, 225-232). A look at the data of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that they are doing quite well. Unemployment in Tarrant County, of which Fort Worth is the Seat, is at a national low, 3.8 percent, down from last year’s national low of 4.1 percent (U.S, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dallas-Fort Worth Area Economic Summary (April 6, 2016).
The second goal, when taken by itself, is also being addressed by the city. As has already been noted, the city works to provide for trash collection, water delivery and clean up, police protection, fire suppression education and services, public health services, public and higher education, and employment for its citizens. The city also makes an effort to provide for the housing needs of its citizens. In 2000, Fort Worth had 211,035 housing units, of which 32 percent were multifamily units. By 2010, the total number of housing units grew 39.9 percent to 295,283 and the multifamily percentage had fallen to 28.7 percent. From 2008 to 2010, the growth rate for single-family and duplex housing was almost 7.1 percent, with the addition of 13,660 units. While some of this growth can be attributed to annexations, much of it was from new construction (2015 Comprehensive Plan: Fort Worth, Texas, 41-52) In October of 2006, the Fort Worth City Council adopted a resolution creating a Fort Worth Mayor’s Advisory Task Force on Quality Affordable Housing. The purpose of the task force was to seek ongoing input and recommendations of experts in the fields of housing development, affordable housing finance, and the housing needs of low to moderate income families. This city has not been perfect, however, as it does, and admits so, have a lot of work to do on properties that need refurbishment to meet modern living standards (City Council, “Resolution of Appointment,” Mayor’s Taskforce on Affordable Housing). The city needs to do a better job in these areas, however. Fort Worth’s 2014 homelessness rate was up sixty percent from its rate the year before (Hirst, Caty, “Number of Chronically Homeless Up Sixty Percent in Tarrant County,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram (February 26, 2014). The numbers have since improved, but only slightly. This continues to be a serious humanitarian problem that Fort Worth is struggling to resolve (Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, “State of the Homeless Report” (January, 2016).
In addition to this, the city makes a big effort to attend to the transportation needs of its citizens. It maintains over seven thousand miles of public access roadways. It also provides bike lanes and paths for citizens on bicycles. It also provides thousands of miles of sidewalks and paths for it citizens that move around on foot. The city also has a public transit system. It has The T, which provides bus service in certain parts of the city, Downtown being the biggest service area, and it has the Trinity Railways Express, which it operates in cooperation with the city of Dallas. The TRE provides rail service from Downtown up into the Mid Cities area and into Dallas county. The city also has several means by which to provide for the ariel travel needs of its citizens. It has Spinks Airport, mainly a training facility, in the far south of the city near Burleson. It has Meacham Field, a former regional airport, on the north side of the Downtown area. It also has Alliance Airport, mainly an industrial facility, in the far northern reaches of the city, and it has its largest airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the main airport for public travel in the region and another joint venture with the city of Dallas. The city also has the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base, formerly Carswell Air Force Base, the local military air facility (2015 Comprehensive Plan: Fort Worth, Texas, 101-120). In the past, Fort Worth also had Carter Field, the ruins of which remain visible, in the form of a single abandoned runway, just to the south of DFW Airport, at the intersection of State Highways 183 and 360 (Selcer, 99-109).
Up to this point, the assessment has remained somewhat near the surface. It is now time to get deeper into some of the specifics. How is the city of Fort Worth backing up its third and fourth goals, which have been identified as the need to revitalize the inner core of the city and the need to develop multiple growth centers, what they call mini-downtowns? The city identifies the updating of its transportation infrastructure in the inner core of the city, as well as, in these other growth centers as one of the top goals of its future growth plan. The goal is to make the center of the city more accessible and navigable for people that live in the center of the city and for people that come to work and play in the center of the city. They also want to do this for the Cowtown Cultural district in North Fort Worth, the growing business district along Camp Bowie Blvd, and the growing business districts around their two busiest airports, DFW International and Alliance. If one looks at Ordinance No. 20605-02-2013, which is an addendum to their Chapter 30, Streets and Sidewalks, of their City Code, (City of Fort Worth, Texas, “Chapter 30: Streets and Sidewalks,” Code of Ordinances (May, 2008), 1-53). the map of the fees assessed to the construction of new roads or the improvement of old roads will clearly show that the city is promoting the construction or improvement of roads more in these specific areas than it is in other areas. The city has chosen to wave certain impact fees in these areas to promote the needed construction. One will also see that the city has been divided into service districts. The service districts that encompass the areas where new or improvement construction is desired are the districts that have had their impact fees waved (Ibid, Addendum: Ordinance No. 20605-02-2013, Code of Ordinances (January, 2013).
Going back to tax abatements, the city of Fort Worth offers special tax abatements for the inner core of the city and the multiple growth centers that it is seeking to encourage growth in, namely, for the businesses that it hopes will provide the tax base, and more, the employment opportunities mentioned in the city’s Comprehensive Plan. One incentive of particular interest is the Historic Site Tax Exemption. The City freezes the assessed value of Historic and Cultural Landmark designated property for ten years for owners who spend an amount equal to thirty percent or more of the pre-renovation assessed value of the improvement or rehabilitation. Owners of Highly Significant Endangered designated property, who similarly rehabilitate their property, also qualify for an exemption from City taxes on the improvement. They also qualify for a freeze of the land value for ten to fifteen years, depending on the property. The inner core of the city of Fort Worth is littered with such historical sites. For the multiple growth centers, the city is making big use of the TIF. A TIF is a financing tool that uses revenues from tax increments to pay for improvements that stimulate future development or redevelopment in designated investment zones. The amount by which future total value exceeds the tax increment base is the captured appraised value, from which tax increment revenues are generated for improvement projects. Thirteen TIFs have been designated by the City Council. They are also using Industrial Revenue Bonds, Private Activity Bonds, and Public Improvement Districts (Price and Rand, 225-232). How is Fort Worth holding up?
So far, the city’s transportation impact fee and tax policies are showing that the city of Fort Worth is working to comply with the goals for the city’s growth, as stated by goals three and four that have been outlined its Comprehensive Plan. What do their water infrastructure impact fees say? The city’s water impact fees tend to reveal somewhat of a competition between the inner core of the city and the outlying growth centers. Common sense knows that the center of a city is going to have a denser population than the outer portions of a city. This also means that inner city developments are going to need higher density water piping. If the city of Fort Worth wanted to encourage growth in both regions, of these two regions, one would expect that the water impact fees would be equal to one another. They are not, however. The city charges higher impact fees for construction in the inner city and lower impact fees for construction in its outlying growth centers (City of Fort Worth, Wholesale Water Customer Impact Fees). This sense of competition also shows up in the city’s subdivision impact fees and zoning impact fees. The only difference is that these particular fees favor in the inner portion of the city that has been scheduled for revitalization. The fees in both ordinances are higher for larger plots of land and lower for smaller plots of land. The inner city, with less available space to work with, would have the smaller lots; whereas, the outlying growth areas, with more land available, would have the larger plots of land to work with (City of Fort Worth, Platting, Zoning, and Board of Adjustment Fee Schedule (July, 2014).
The last thing to look at for these two goals would be the city of Fort Worth’s annexation policy. In its annexation policy the city indicates that annexation should be used to promote economic growth, facilitate long range planning, protect future development, and foster intergovernmental cooperation. To facilitate this process, the city keeps an active five-year annexation plan, where they define each year, those areas in their extra territorial jurisdiction, or their ETJ that they are planning to annex into the city. None of these areas are within the inner core of the city, so the annexation policy is obviously going favor the outlying growth centers. Their policy, however, until recently, while it has favored those areas, has not always been constructive. Fort Worth has had a tendency, in the past, to simply annex entire areas, without first encouraging development in those areas (“, A Map,” Fort Worth Star Telegram, p. 2 (October 30, 1949). Thus, in the past, it has cost developers a great deal of money to get those new areas up to city code regarding infrastructure. The city has only recently begun using a tool known as the Municipal Utility Districts, or MUD, to help alleviate the cost to developers of developing raw lands. The City of Fort Worth has authorized the formation of three MUDs, Live Oak Creek Ranch, Morningstar, and Tradition/Inspiration, and has given conditional consent to two additional phases of these MUDs. This policy, obviously, also favors the outlying growth areas, as it reduces the cost of new construction, thus making developers more willing to foot the initial bill for infrastructure costs (Price and Rand, 233-240).
This assessment will conclude with the city’s fifth stated goal, to celebrate the Trinity River by reducing the city’s environmental impact on the river and its tributaries. To do its best to adhere to this program, where they want to steer new construction away from the Trinity River and its tributaries, the city created the Trinity River Vision as part of their Trinity River Master Plan. It was initiated by Streams and Valleys, Inc., in 1990 and updated under the name of the Tilley Plan in 1999. The Vision in the Master Plan recommended improvement of forty-three miles of the Trinity River Corridor along both the Clear Fork and the West Fork. The plan emphasized the importance of using the river corridors to connect parks and lakes, activity centers, and neighborhoods. Nearly 40 miles of surfaced trails exist along both forks of the Trinity River and Marine Creek. The trails are within the floodplain of the Trinity River and its tributaries. Surfaces are provided for biking, walking, in-line skating, and horseback riding. These green belts are important, not only for protecting the Trinity River and its floodplains and providing accessible recreation and open space opportunities, but also for providing alternative transportation routes between neighborhoods and activity and employment centers, a boost to the city’s broader environmental goals. The 2010 Lake Worth Vision Plan called for the Trinity River Trail system to be extended to Lake Worth and to connect to a new bike and pedestrian trail around much of the lake. East of I-35W, the Trinity River will also provide linkages from Downtown to neighborhoods in east Fort Worth, such as Brentwood Stair and Meadowbrook, and eventually to Arlington and the eastern portion of the regional trail system (Ibid, 53-60).
They city of Fort Worth also does everything that it can to work with the Trinity River Authority, to whom it contributes a great deal of money to assist with the Clean Rivers Program. The Trinity River has a long history of water quality challenges, dating back to the turn of the century when it was known as a River of Death because of slaughterhouse operations and a rapidly swelling population that used the river for waste disposal. Over the past several decades, however, tremendous progress has been made towards improving and maintaining the water quality of the river. The Clean Rivers Program operates under the Clean Rivers Act, which was passed by the Texas Legislature in 1991. It’s stated goal was the assessment and improvement of the state’s water resources. The Act authorizes the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to levy fees on wastewater and water rights permits to cover the expense of the program. TCEQ then contracts with river authorities or regional entities to perform specific tasks within each river basin, mostly involving water quality. Typically, the most developed and populous areas of the state, such as the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, contribute substantial funding to the CRP. Fort Worth has done a lot financially to help boost this program (Trinity River Authority, “Clean Rivers Program,” Basin Planning).
The city’s only real fatal flaw in this respect is its air and water quality. Fort Worth is among the worst cities in the nation for air quality. A 2010 Air Quality Study greatly attributes this to the number of natural gas wells in the city, several of which are in or near the Trinity River flood plain. All of these wells combine to put over ninety different pollutants into the air, which can put the river’s cleanliness at risk. Additionally, fracking, which is part of the drilling process, has been known to pollute underground water sources. (Pring, Michael O., Regi Oommen, and John Wilhelmi, “Fort Worth Natural Gas Air Quality Study,” Eastern Research Group, Inc. (March, 2010). Admittedly, the study showing this information is somewhat outdated, and that would normally be a problem; however, the city is not only still encouraging the drilling of natural gas within city, it has increased the number of drills within the city’s boundaries since the publication of the quoted report. The city does try to keep the wells out of the center of the city with the use of drilling impact fees that make drilling in the center of the city near the confluence of the West and Clear Forks very costly, but this just transfers the pollution to another location. It does not eliminate it, and it still does damage to the river and its surrounding environment (City of Fort Worth, “Chapter 15: Gas,” Code of Ordinances (2013), 1-63).
So, What is the Determination?
So, if an outside observer were asked to determine, using the information just given, if Fort Worth, Texas was taking care of its responsibilities and adhering to the latest edition of its Comprehensive Plan, what conclusion would they come to? Likely, as has been pointed out, they would start off by pointing that not all of Fort Worth’s policies are in line with one another. The city’s tax incentives and infrastructure impact fees are not necessarily working in harmony with one another, especially, when it comes to their desire to revitalize the inner core of the city. These policies, combined with their annexation policies, heavily favor the outlying growth centers, which better promotes their desire to enhance multiple growth centers at once. However, this person will hopefully attribute to the fact that revitalization work, despite the tax incentives, is still dramatically expensive. Further, it is just simply much cheaper to develop virgin lands. Further, Americans are still very much into the suburban feel. People want to live away from the bustling center of the city where they can see the environment around them. The workload and the expense in the inner city is just not worth the hassle for most developers. These are common notions that every major growing city must contend with when they make determinations to spend money on revitalizing old neighborhoods and the accompanying infrastructure.
This observer will also notice that the city of Fort Worth has a serious problem with the quality of its air and its pledge to keep the Trinity River clean. It’s among the worst in the nation in air quality and its natural gas policy is putting the Trinity River at risk. The observer will also note that the primary cause of this problem is the amount of natural gas drilling that the city allows within its boundaries. A pragmatic observer, however, won’t put a whole lot of blame on the city at this point. Natural gas is cheap, it is abundant, and it brings tax money and jobs to the city. Unfortunately, accepting the air and water pollution as the cost of doing business is what some cities have to do if they do not want to miss out on the income and jobs that the industry brings to their city. The observer will note this and understand it. The observer will also see a problem with the rise in homelessness in Fort Worth, despite stated efforts to address the problem. The observer will note the steep rise in recent years. Hopefully, however, the observer’s ultimate conclusions will be that Fort Worth, Texas, despite its sometimes contradictory behavior and economic opportunism, is a city with a rich history that is working fairly hard to keep pace with the monumental growth that the United States’ sometimes unpredictable economic shifts are throwing its way and that it is doing a fairly decent job at providing the services to its citizens that most Americans have come to expect out of the town that they live in, despite its persistent issue with homelessness. The observer will, hopefully, also see a bright future for the city.
To conclude, what does the future look like for Fort Worth? Generally, the city is going to have to continue doing what it is doing fairly well now. It will, much like the cities of ages past, as has been shown, have to continue to adapt with the times. More specifically, three recommendations come to the forefront. First, the city needs to find a way to break itself of fossil fuels and begin putting more, as there has been very little, effort into investing in renewable energy sources. As has been shown, Fort Worth has a tradition of nesting with the fossil fuel industry. It, however, has really not had much of a choice in the matter in the past, with its location atop the Burnett Shale, as it has been right in the middle of many of the major booms in both oil and natural gas. If the city really wants to have the best air and water quality in the country, it is not going to do so by continuing to support natural gas wells and the expulsion of pollutants into the atmosphere. Interestingly enough, the city is uniquely positioned for a local renewable energy boom, just like it was for oil and natural gas. It sits in a region that gets a great deal of sun light, so solar is in. It also rests on the south end of the Great Plains with no mountain ranges nearby to block the weather movements. Things makes wind energy a good option, as well. Investing in these two renewable energy sources would dramatically clean up the cities air and water.
Second, at the same time that the city slowly weens itself off of fossil fuels and moves into the green; as it were, it needs to gradually, but regularly, increase the reach of its public transit system. The city’s population is growing at a rapid pace. That has been shown. If it does not expand its public transit system, it’s air and water quality will only worsen as more cars hit the streets. This will only increase traffic jams and put more pollutants into the air and water from auto emissions and runoff. The city has a lot of old rail that can be repurposed to serve the city’s public transit needs, it can help to expand the TRE, and it has a very good model for a spread out city with a wide reaching transit system just fifteen miles to the east, in Dallas. All of the additional expenses from the new rails that it will have to build will need to be considered a forward investment for the health of the city, its resources, and its people.
Finally, as the city continues to rapidly expand, its ETJ is going to begin to shrink; and then, eventually, it will be like Dallas, a rapidly growing city with no more extra space to fill. Before this happens, the city needs to begin considering a new growth policy that might possibly head off any problems that would result from running out of free space to develop. The city needs to begin looking at the potential benefits of building upward, instead of continuing to build rapidly outward. Such a policy might help to alleviate their issues with chronic homelessness, as the city’s domicile per square mile rate would go up dramatically. This would, obviously, give the city more options when it comes to providing lodging for those people who, for whatever reason, are unable to provide it for themselves. These three ideas combined could potentially help Fort Worth to become the regional center of North Texas as its growth begins to outpace that of Dallas, but they are only recommendations.