Dallas is, by any standard, a car-oriented city. This, however, does not preclude the possibility of the city possessing areas of good urban space. In the past few years, Dallas has seen the improvement and creation of many key public spaces within the city; Klyde Warren Park, Lower Greenville, Main Street Garden, and the Continental Avenue Bridge to name a few. The mentality of the city has been steadily, if slowly, shifting toward a greater focus on enhancing the pedestrian experience and providing public space.
It was within this improving climate that the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) hosted its 23rd annual meeting in Downtown Dallas from April 29 to May 2. One touted strategy of the CNU’s “Next Generation” group is Tactical Urbanism, which is essentially citizens taking initiative to improve their city’s public spaces, with (or sometimes without) official support.
A stone’s throw from the CNU conference’s location is Deep Ellum, a historic neighborhood is in the midst of a renaissance. But this active neighborhood is without any sort of public communal gathering space. In response to this deficiency, the Deep Ellum Community Association birthed the idea of shutting down three blocks of the lightly trafficked Crowdus Street during the CNU conference and creating a pedestrian-only communal space. A group of local CNU members, community activists, architects, landscape architects, and urban designers took up the challenge of implementing this vision using the principles of Tactical Urbanism.
Rik Adamski, of AL Strategies and a CNU member, organized a design team that consists of local firms Callison (architecture) and TBG (landscape architecture). At the onset, the design team engaged the community to determine what they wanted for this space. Through public meetings they discovered that the desire of the community is for a practical space that can be used day and night.
Some specific ideas garnered through community input include an interactive chalk/graffiti wall, outdoor movie projection area, shade structures, a green “loop” connecting main community focal points, and secure bike storage, among others. The challenge for the design team is to synthesize these ideas into a cost-effective, impactful, and yet temporary solution. A master plan informed by the community’s feedback has been developed.
Though the installation only lasted a few days, the effort has great potential to make a lasting impact on the neighborhood of Deep Ellum. The hope is that the City of Dallas will take note of the positive change brought about by this infusion of public space into the heart of Deep Ellum and make this change permanent. Ask anyone involved in the effort, and they will tell you with unguarded enthusiasm what a positive addition this would be for the neighborhood.
This type of grassroots urban design initiative is not without precedent. The same strategy resulted in permanent road closures and the creation of pedestrian-only space in multiple locations throughout New York City and San Francisco.