Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 28, Number 2, Fall 2016 Page: 4
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It Seemed Like a
Good Idea at the Time:
BY EVELYN MONTGOMERY
f people were perfect, historians would
write dull recitations of faultless decisions with
optimal outcomes. Historical mistakes are both
fascinating and often informative about the lim-
its of human judgment and the complexity of
changing human beliefs and desires. The field of
city planning is a good area for observing these
tendencies. The planning of roads, services, and
public spaces is essential for producing a func-
tional modern city. Ancient and medieval cities
that grew organically, without planning, often
resemble mazes, with random streets that are
charming but not navigable. Planning is good,
but all of the training and knowledge available
is insufficient to make a city planner omniscient.
Dallas has not escaped the errors that result.
Dallas's founder, John Neely Bryan, was ar-
guably its first urban planner, building his cab-
in along the Trinity and envisioning a city that
would grow from river commerce. Bryan was
not alone in his plans for the area, and that fact
produced many of the ensuing problems. Bryan
planned a street grid for Dallas starting at the riv-
er that allowed the streets to be almost aligned
with the compass points. Land nearby had al-
ready been surveyed by Warren Angus Ferris,
who used a Spanish tradition of turning the grid
45 degrees, setting up the inevitable collision of
streets when the grids met. Just north of down-
town, John Grigsby was planning streets in that
As downtown Dallas expanded from the
1870s to the 1920s, Bryan's grid went as far as
it could, until it reached Grigsby's, two miles
away, and other canted grids to the south. With
no plans in place to resolve the street connec-
tions where the grids met, some streets simply
stopped in dead ends. Others managed to con-
nect in awkward triangles. In New York City,
such "precious irregularities and opportunities
at the acute and obtuse junctions" of Broadway
and the relentless grid spawned such icons as
the Flatiron Building.2 Most in Dallas spawned
only confusion, but where Commerce and Jack-
son streets met at what was then part of Preston
Road, Dallas eventually saw its own flatiron.
4 LEGACIES Fall 2016
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 28, Number 2, Fall 2016, periodical, Autumn 2016; Dallas, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth823532/m1/6/: accessed September 15, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.