Access to Social and Educational Activities

Geomaps reveal problems of food access and food quality. Similar sociological data can be drawn to reveal lack of access to activities and cultural attractions that have critical social and educational value.

The Report on DFW Area Visitor Attractions reflects the tremendous possibilities and underutilized resources in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and offers recommendations for moving forward.

Food Deserts Geomapping
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service geomaps reveal problems of food access and food quality.

"Intellectual Nutrition" Access

The Report on DFW Area Visitor Attractions suggests the Metroplex is similar to a solar system with two suns, where most of the visitor attractions are centered in Dallas and Fort Worth. Certainly the two are the main centers of arts and culture activities. They are considered the main places for the intellectual stimulation of the overall population. But they aren't the exclusive centers of the east (Dallas) and west (Fort Worth) populations of the Metroplex. Attending activities outside the workplace, using leisure time that may increase in the future, is critical for personal health and education, and broad community and social well-being. Inaccessibility due to distance, lack of transit, and lack of ease of transportation (an often overlooked, but important reason for mass transit) is a serious concern.

There are centers of activities located in other places around the Metroplex, but given that the populations are larger or more dense than Dallas itself, the distribution of the visitor attractions is terrible. Their ability to serve the diverse interests of DFW communities also leaves a tremendous amount to be desired. Another visual description in graph form of attractions across the Metroplex would reveal peaks over Fort Worth and Dallas, with spikes of activity over many of the other large cities in the region, like Arlington, Garland, Irving and Plano.

Outside of Dallas and Fort Worth, Arlington provides the most attractions - Texas Rangers baseball, Dallas Cowboys football, Six Flags Over Texas amusement park, Levitt Pavilion, etc. - but even in Arlington the attractions are not particularly local or accessible to the full population, or widely varied. If it is 13 miles to the Dallas Cowboys stadium, 14 miles to Levitt Pavilion and 18 miles to River Legacy Living Science Center from addresses in the extreme southern part of the city, they are certainly even less accessible to communities that may think of Arlington (such as Mansfield, Grand Prairie, Kennedale, etc.) and other large suburbs as cultural centers. Attractions being 13-18 miles away from tens of thousands of people is a problem that plagues most cities, but because of the size of populations that live outside Dallas and Forth Worth, where more people live outside their city limits than in them, it affects even more people in the Metroplex than many other cities.

Because of their routine 13-18 mile commutes, people across the Metroplex will say, "that's nothing," but they will also admit that distance and the time they already spend commuting is the reason they rarely support cultural resources, like the region's musicians, or visitor attractions, like Levitt Pavilion and other parks and public performance venues.

Lack of access and lack of resources causes an overall deficit for the region, including governmental concerns, like reduced economic benefits and loss of innovation through creative industries, and personal and social concerns, including lower standards in health, educational interests, cultural experience, happiness, satisfaction and overall quality of life.

NEA graphic Why People Attend the Arts
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) graphic: Why People Attend the Arts.

Social and Educational Activity

For all the very same reasons people need arts and culture activities in the future, they are needed in the present - physical and mental health, and to have social and educational activity in their lives. An NEA study recognized that 73 percent of audiences attend to socialize, 64 percent to learn, 63 percent to experience art, and 51 percent to support the community.

It is important to think of the full array of possible activities, from elite performances to personal participation, and from professional sports to personal recreation. As modern cities should consider the widely varied lifeways and beliefs, they should plan community facilities and parks to accommodate all forms of cultural interests, including the more obvious sports and music activities, and the less obvious food traditions, fashion demonstrations, lectures and dance performances.

Cities should also not limit their attractions or believe communities share the same interests, nor that it is good to have such limited interests. Professional sports is an area of interest that is thought to serve the majority of the Metroplex, yet provides opportunity to about 15 to 28 percent of the population of more than 7 million. And while the population may grow to over 9 million in 10 years, the capacity of professional sports venues may not grow significantly.

Sports Business Daily's Rich Luker (January 6, 2014) made an interesting point about the use of survey data: "It was possible before the start of the (ESPN) Sports Poll to imagine sports fans did nothing but follow sports." Even among sports, fans' interests are diversifying. Luker notes that sports fans once followed 5 of 12 sports and now follow 8 of 12, and where they were once avid fans of 2 sports, they are now avid fans of 4. Over the 20 year course of the poll, 28-32 percent reported that they are avid fans, while 85 to 90 percent say they have at least casual interest in sports, including collegiate athletics, international sports and major events.

Professional sports tend to be an economic challenge more than many other areas of interests for the population, though most all possible areas of interest face economic problems in serving their audiences. Gallup found that 76 percent of upper-income men say they are sports fans. In a middle-income bracket, $30,000 to $75,000, 62 percent of men and 48 percent of women are sports fans. Overall, 2 out of 3 men are sports fans, but only 1 out of 2 women are sports fans.

One of the largest challenges, however, is how to bring activities to communities, where professional sports tend to originate from select centers. Not only are pop culture interests as broadly distributed across populations as professional sports, but even very specific genres and special interests produce meaningful activities in communities, and they are more easily delivered to a broader range of communities.

All areas of interests are facing a decline in attendance and even television audience due to internet use and stress factors in people's lives. Luker reports that the ESPN Sports Poll numbers indicate: "In the 1990s, 70 percent of all fans preferred to attend a game over watching it on TV... In 2011, 53.7 percent said they would rather attend. In 2013, that number is down to 49.1 percent."

With increasing and aging populations, most all visitor (attendance-based) activities are needed for health and quality of life. Attendance and participation should be encouraged for all productive interests that can be developed and financially supported by community members. As costs make some activities available to the most financially-stable populations, interests in lower cost alternatives are more necessary, including free and inexpensive events that are accessible and provide greater cross-cultural experience.

Grapevine Vintage Railroad
The Grapevine Vintage Railroad follows a route that will soon be open for TEXRail commuters between Fort Worth, North Richland Hills, Grapevine and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, opening new possibilities for local and out-of-town visitor participation in major arts, history and culture centers.

Suggested Improvements

There are many benefits to more effective use of the DFW region's cultural resources to provide more visitor attractions, most of which are covered in the Report on DFW Area Visitor Attractions. But the following suggestions are meant to increase access to social and educational activities: The Metroplex needs more coverage, where productive activities are closer to communities and easier to reach. As the report has stated, there needs to be more use of existing cultural resources to make worthy visitor attractions. There should be more promotion of productive activities and interests that benefit communities, including greatly increased media exposure, more discussion about benefits for communities by civic and community leaders, more involvement of schools and universities, and increased funded promotional campaigns (particularly for educational and cross-cultural activities).

More local organizations are needed to make a more complete community fabric and better cover the interests of the diverse populations of the region (an asset that will improve the activity centers of the region, especially underserved areas, and increase visitors to the Metroplex).

More funding is needed. In addition to the need for more organizations and the kinds of activity centers (improved parks, festival sites, performance venues, forums, community centers, etc.) that will positively transform communities, there is a need for new funding mechanisms. An increase in strategic foundations will help. Expanding the broad boundaries where community organizations may find support, along with increased technical support for organizations seeking grants, is needed. Where civic programs often transfer a small percentage of construction costs for new projects to public art, similar funds could be established to provide for years of public programming.

Improved mass transit, as well as better distributed - walkable and bikeable - destinations are needed.

Greater understanding of the gaps, what are essentially large voids of access and cultural deserts, is critically important. While this kind of resource mapping will help better serve all Metroplex populations and work toward community improvement, it will also make a much better tourism plan for all of DFW possible. A foundation or agency, preferably one with mass visitor interest, is needed to survey and map cultural resources and visitor attractions on a block-by-block basis with the goal to raise quality of life standards and success in community improvement to the highest in the nation.

There are many other pertinent issues and interests being considered in the Report on DFW Area Visitor Attractions.

Learn more:

Report Brief      Full Report

Return to Top of Page
   Copyright 2017 by Imagine a Museum    Report Hosted by Digital Story Resource Center