Downtown Dallas 360, the strategic development plan guiding the collective vision for the future of Downtown, identifies the “Reunion/Union Station” district as one of five key focus areas. The stated opportunity: “Establish a landmark mixed-use office and residential district that connects the Trinity River Corridor to the Downtown core.” Yet, as the plan also presents, it is an area faced with great challenge: “Although it has many acres of developable land, the [area] is challenged with topographic changes, two viaducts, and a freeway interchange that prohibit the site from functioning as a contiguous district.”
So how do we reconcile the opportunity with the challenge in order to connect Downtown with the region’s greatest natural asset? That is the question which spurred Downtown Dallas, Inc.’s (DDI) interest in, and commitment to, the Connected City.
The process of first-round qualification review was fascinating. In addition to logical criterion like project team experience, diversity and relevant work, two key benchmarks arose in the context of our mission at DDI and implementation of Downtown Dallas 360.
Can this team balance innovation with context? This is a challenge that will require a grand solution, a “bold move,” per the 360 directive. We have entertained planners from throughout the world over the years, and many have commented that they’ve never encountered obstacles of such proportion. A traditional project approach just won’t do. However, the grand gesture must also fit within the context of those things that define us as a city – a place which exudes great bravado while opening its arms with a warm, southern welcome. The final solution must also communicate between two highly contrasting environments, the intensity of the Central Business District’s built environment and the organic softness of the Trinity River.
Can this team create people places? To us, as the management entity of Downtown Dallas, the actual use of the space is critical. Too often we have seen form trump function, leading to aesthetically stunning structures that are… lifeless. Downtowns, by definition, are about bustle, activity, community and the convergence of neighborhoods and culture. One of the transformative strategies presented in Downtown Dallas 360 clearly addresses this principle, “Create vibrant streets and public spaces.” The tactics contained therein include: programming parks and plazas, enhancing streetscapes, increasing street vendors and putting an outdoor café just about anywhere there is opportunity. The vision for the Trinity River Corridor certainly creates these vibrant places (many of which are beginning to come to fruition), therefore its connection to Downtown must do the same.
We’ve witnessed what the mending of two urban neighborhoods with an activated public space can do in the short time since Klyde Warren Park’s opening. People have been brought together, not just to visit the attraction, but to integrate experiences on both sides of the former chasm, spurring social and economic growth. The same opportunity, magnified one-hundred-fold, lies ahead when we connect the core of Downtown with the Trinity River.