A new study by engineering experts at Southern Methodist University found 62 infrastructure deserts in the city of Dallas.
Civil and environmental engineering professor Barbara Minsker led the research project using public data and aerial maps.
“An infrastructure desert is a low-income area that has very poor infrastructure compared to other neighborhoods,” Minsker said.
The study considered 12 features of neighborhood infrastructure including roads, sidewalks, internet access for access to medical care. Neighborhoods missing eight or more features were classified as infrastructure deserts.
An example is the neighborhoods around Lenway Street and South Harwood Street.
It has bad sidewalks and crumbling pavement. Freeways built through the neighborhood a generation ago do not have noise barriers to protect neighboring homes from noise.
“Imagine living with that all day. And that has huge health implications,” Minsker said.
Data is presented on maps in the SMU report to graphically detail areas where infrastructure is lacking.
Most are in south Dallas.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said he was pleased with the work of SMU researchers.
“That shows you on data what we all know from anecdotes, folks like me who grew up south of I-30. We’ve always known our sidewalks don’t look like North Dallas. We know our road conditions are not that good,” Johnson said.
But Minsker said the research extended beyond Dallas city limits.
“We looked at three other cities, New York, LA and Chicago. And Dallas has the worst infrastructure of all and the greatest inequality in terms of low and high income,” she said.
Dallas City Councilman Casey Thomas, now in his fourth term, has advocated for justice in the city’s spending throughout his tenure at City Hall.
He said past neglect was systematic, institutional and intentional, not accidental.
“The illustrations, the maps show the depth of the inequality,” Thomas said of the SMU report.
With the support of North Dallas council members, the city now has a policy that incorporates equity into budget priorities.
Thomas said the results of the public input for a new justice policy would soon be presented to the City Council for final approval.
“We need to overinvest in those areas that have been overinvested in the past. Once we do that, we will start talking about equality,” Thomas said.
Mayor Johnson said it shouldn’t be possible to tell what part of the city you’re in from the sidewalks, they should be of the same high quality everywhere.
A large infusion of federal COVID-19 relief funds is helping boost spending in neglected areas, but the problems are huge.
For example, federal money provides an immediate $50 million investment in sidewalks, but the city of Dallas has identified a $2 billion backlog just for sidewalk needs.
“The current Council is not to blame for the situation we are in today. It’s a product of years of neglect. But to the credit of this council, we have managed to address these historic injustices,” Johnson said. “It’s also not going to be something we can resolve overnight because the dollar amounts are so significant. But what we need is a sustained effort over many years.”
Johnson said investing in the neglected areas would strengthen the entire city and not come at the expense of North Dallas.
“The development of South Dallas will eventually allow you to get some tax breaks,” Johnson said.
The mayor said he will request that the SMU report be presented as a briefing to the full city council to show the evidence of the magnitude of the Dallas problem.