Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Dallas to Utilize...Fake Urbanism?

Sadly, I have the flu, so I am at least hoping to use this to catch up on some posts, including an article that appeared in Monday's Dallas Morning News. The headline reads "Host committee chief shares parting ideas" and the gist is Bill Lively, the Super Bowl Host Committee head honcho, will not lead another bid opportunity and gave ideas to make things better for the next bid, Presumably Super Bowl L.

Normally I gloss over stories like this, but had the extra time and read it, which I am glad I did, because buried in the story is this gem.

He (Lively) said he would like to see arts organizations and nearby downtown corporations make a play to host one of the big networks sets. Fort Worth's Sundance Square landed ESPN's outdoor set after city leaders wooed them, a first for the sports network. One of the big selling points was downtown Fort Worth's thriving street scene.

"We don't have Sundance," Lively said, noting what kept ESPN out of Dallas.

But he said that doesn't mean Dallas couldn't whip one up before Super Bowl L. Lively said he could envision the $100 million Woodall Rogers Deck Park - which is scheduled to open in 2012 - as ESPN's set just a few years after that.

He said nearby corporations, including Bank of America, AT&T, Comerica and others, could provide volunteers to fill the park during Super Bowl week. That kind of "choreographed" effort - much like a political convention - could create buzz that would draw more events to downtown.

So many things in just a few short paragraphs...where to begin?

Let's start with Fort Worth. Fort Worth's downtown is thriving for many reasons, the 70's and 80's building boom that produced large amounts of fortress office towers largely passed them by, there is a lack of extensive tunnel and skywalk systems, the main developer "gets" urban development, the main vibrant area isn't littered with parking lots, the buildings that don't produce street vibrancy are clustered on the outskirts which minimize their damage, etc. Dallas on the other hand, with the exception of Main Street between Field and Ervay violates at least one of the above and usually more than that. The only factor that Dallas has over Fort Worth is a more extensive transit system, but that is underutilized, thanks partly to city leaders who do things like push a route to serve the convention center hotel instead of the higher-ridden, cheaper options.

That quote also sub-conscientiously reveals that they know the Woodall Rogers Deck Park will not be patronized well, or else they wouldn't need to bring in volunteers. It really isn't a wonder. On the downtown side, starting west and going east, you have a fortress office tower, a vehicle entrance to a museum, a museum wall, a freeway exit loop and the back end of a performance hall.

On the uptown side, east to west, you have an okay office tower, a fortress office tower, a drive-thru bank, a decent residential building, another drive-thru bank and the Federal Reserve, by its very nature a fortress building.

Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities was the first that I know and the most succinct when pointing out that parks are complimentary, not catalysts. Without a diverse set of land uses, parks can be vacant the vast majority of the day, a lesson Dallas should know well, with its many empty parks that dot downtown.

But, I hate to tell Mr. Lively, but Main Street Gardens, with all of its limitations, has a lot of activity, and will have a lot more than the deck park, yet ESPN still passed it by before looking to Fort Worth.

Now while the article addresses short term fixes, it ignores long term fixes that would organically make downtown Dallas a vibrant place once again. By putting development codes in place that encourage more Third Rail Lofts or One Arts Plaza and no Hunt Tower or virtually every building built in the '80's, downtown would actually be attacking the cause of its lethargy.

So instead of fixing the problem, they are trying to fix the symptoms, which once again, keeps downtown Dallas low and under performing.

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