DOWNTOWNDALLAS followers, old and new, thanks for your patience! As I mentioned in Sunday’s post, we’ve had just a few projects on our plate this week and in just the last 48 hours, wow, all of the attention! We feel like a prom queen.
The issue at hand is most certainly a brief from this week’s work on Downtown Dallas 360. But indulge me in a digression for just a moment related to opening week of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Dedication on Sunday. Events all week. Spotlight Sunday on, well, Sunday. But today, driving to and from the airport to put our friends from MIG on a plane back to their Berkeley home, I had the pleasure of hearing Veletta Lill and Mark Nerenhausen’s interview on KERA’s lunchtime program, THINK. Wow. Granted, I am bias. But how fabulous was the response to the question of, “what are you going to do about so many venues with events at the same time causing traffic and congestion in the District”? The response (paraphrased) – one, we are addressing it with ingress/egress and parking studies and traffic flow plans; but two, a certain amount of congestion – is that not a sign of success, of urbanity? We can afford to slow down. We can afford to find alternative means of transportation. To ride public transit. To walk. To eventually ride the streetcar. Signs of urbanity. Welcome, Dallas!
So – that brings me to the subject at hand, certainly not unrelated. Downtown Dallas 360, and a report on the last two days.
If you have been following 360 progress, you know that the City of Dallas kicked off the Plan officially in late summer, in partnership with DOWNTOWNDALLAS and consulting firm MIG. Since then, 30+ meetings have been held in focus group style formats. We have hosted small groups, large groups, elected officials, the Downtown Residents Council, small business, big business – in short, the greatest cross section of the community we could possibly gather. During the sessions, simple questions have been posed to stimulate complex answers.
What are Downtown Dallas’ greatest strengths and assets?
What are the top issues or challenges facing Downtown Dallas?
What is your vision for Downtown Dallas?
What would you like to see in the future?
This was also the basis of last night’s community forum, with more than 100 in attendance to share their thoughts, ideas, concerns and enthusiasm.
The SWOT-type analysis has been synthesized with intense site study, project surveys of such critical Downtown issues such as D2, the Downtown Streetcar, the Trinity, Parks Master Plan, and several others that must move forward cohesively. Not to mention taking time to ensure not only the MIG team, but those of us who need a refresher course, have deep understanding of past Downtown plans, their relevance to today’s market, and what can be taken from history to ensure a successful future. Armed with this arsenal of information some strategies and priorities are emerging.
TOD – With the Green Line, existing light rail, and D2, nearly every parcel of land in Downtown can be defined as a TOD (Transit Oriented Development). The significance? Not only from a sociological and sustainable development angle is this – put simply – a REALLY GOOD thing, but it also opens the door to new funding mechanisms at the county, state and federal level. Even without that level of funding, look at what the new Deep Ellum Station has already generated – Ambrose apartments for one, and I would bet that Trees reopening, Lemongrass and the number of permits you see posted in windows in the District today have something to do with DART. In fact, my favorite cashier at the Deep Ellum 7-Eleven station told me on Saturday, “I’m tired. Been so busy today. People are coming in droves from that new station next door.”
Districts – We here at DOWNTOWNDALLAS have been preaching the idea that there are in fact 13 Districts that make up Downtown for the last several years. You see us harping on it through this blog. To create an authentic and culturally inclusive urban fabric we must have a diverse mix of experiences for Downtown residents, Dallasites, and visitors from near and far. Our Districts give us the canvas to do just that.
Complete Streets – A trend that is sweeping the nation, we are right on track with it here in Big D. On Monday, council members biked to City Hall where the City’s Complete Streets plan was unveiled. In terms of how that applies to Downtown Dallas 360, we look at it in two ways. First, we look at the modal perspective. We must examine and execute ingress, egress and thoroughfares throughout Downtown that are URBAN. Yes, we need to avoid painstaking vehicular congestion, but we also need to understand the value of traffic calming, alternative transportation (bikes, rail, streetcar) – and in my personal opinion, most importantly, pedestrian connections. Second, complete streets include “street animation” – a term that is a broad brush stroke that simply means enlivening the street level experience. This includes outdoor cafes, retail, streetscape, lighting…turning many of our ground floor fortresses inside-out with transparent windows, bright interiors, and space that communicates and relates to the sidewalk that surrounds it, and the people who pass by. We also include in this category the need to create infill development in surface parking lots and the construction of brownstone and mid rise projects that relate to the street. And yes, there is talk of how to address the tunnels.
Connectivity – The idea of Complete Streets also merges with creating strong connections, which is perhaps one of the highest priorities emerging through this process as it relates to public transit, connecting our districts, and an overall feeling of a complete Downtown. Let’s look at how to improve our underpasses and alleys. The paths we take from the Meyerson to Charlie Palmer. From The Palm to AAC. We’ve made efforts over the last several years, but will concede work is still left to be done.
Public Space – Finally, the subject of activation of our public spaces. With the pending opening of Main Street Garden and Belo Garden and The Park (Woodall Rodgers Park) now underway, coupled with the more than 20 parks and plazas that already exist Downtown, we must find new and creative ways to encourage street vending, public art and a feeling of life in beautifully (and even those not so much) designed spaces that today sit stagnant. You can read the stats on our website of how many events DOWNTOWNDALLAS produces and supports each year, but we need the community to engage and support this effort as well.
A few miscellaneous, but nonetheless critical, topics that also came up in Monday night’s forum – a big stress on public art, and the “Arts” in general. The value of Downtown being home to the flagship Neiman Marcus. The importance of creating a city, and a “City”, that is business friendly. Affordable and diverse housing. Public safety and social issues. Commerical vacancy (and the recent surge of corporate relocations). Downtown residents in attendance were passionate about their choice to live in the city center. There was a feeling of overall improvement felt over the last decade. I feel confident that this was one of the largest grassroots swellings we have seen from people engaged and impassioned about issues Downtown in many, many years. It was inspiring, exciting and left everyone (I hope), with a sense of positivity toward the future.
Despite the pessimism that I know is looming, the intent is for Downtown Dallas 360 to be an inclusive process, one that will build an organic, authentic Downtown for ALL to enjoy, experience, and take ownership. Undoubtedly, as the strategies take shape, decisions will have to be made at the hands of a reality of fiscal limitations. It will be difficult, and we will have to narrow our focus and prioritize. And I’m quite sure we’ll get our noses bloodied. But at the end of the day, in my typical PollyAnna way, I am left with a great sense of hope for the future.
Great thanks to those who have led to the ideas developed thus far. For those who have not (or have more to share), please leave your comments on the questions posed above here, and look for www.downtowndallas360.com to launch soon for more technical updates and opportunities to get involved. These high-level ideas will now start forming into tactics and real tools we can all use as we move forward toward the new Downtown Dallas.