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Dallas Arts District – Time for a Remix? Article by Joe Self, AIA Photography by Charles Davis Smith, AIA and Justin Terveen

54 Texas Architect

11/12 2012


rendy food trucks have arrived in the heart of the Dallas Arts District at lunchtime to populate an otherwise quiet section of downtown. The trucks with their eager vendors serve as a kind of non-architectural redevelopment force and a reminder of the original vision for the district — a vibrant mix of pedestrian-friendly uses. Why that didn’t happen is rooted in a culture of commercial development not uncommon in 20th Century American cities, and in the dearth of architects active in community and governmental organizations. “The Sasaki Plan is what we follow,” said Veletta Forsythe Lill, executive director of the Dallas Arts District (who announced her resignation effective November 1). That plan by Sasaki Associates, promising “a lively, attractive downtown pedestrian environment” was adopted by the City of Dallas in 1982. It established an axis along Flora Street following on the heels of the Carr-Lynch Plan from 1978 wherein the idea of an arts district was sanctioned. Dallas is committed to its district, but perhaps it is time to question the merits of an arts zone segregated from the remainder of a city. The late Dallas architecture critic David

Dillon once remarked, “There’s too much art in the arts district.” A whole tribe of enthusiastic people has worked very hard and $1 billion has been spent. Yet, for large parts of the day, the arts district is not a fun place to be. Or even a useful part of the city in the everyday sense. Can you drop your dry-cleaning off, and buy some post-it notes for the office, after grabbing a bite during your lunch hour? Not in the Dallas Arts District. The list of uses allowed by zoning code in the district reads like the description of essential city elements: hotel, motel, bus station, day-care center, post office, community center, medical clinic, optical shop, bars, restaurants, a wax museum, art gallery, library, etc. Even carnivals are allowed if they are temporary. But few of the allowable amenities occur in the arts district in any significant way, and this explains why it doesn’t feel like a city when you walk through there during the day. It may be true that nighttime events bring people in from all parts of the city, but the district should be evaluated on a 24-hour cycle and against a broader set of needs. It’s true that One Arts Plaza, beautifully designed by Lionel Morrison for the Billingsley

Texas Architect - November/December 2012: Redevelopment  
Texas Architect - November/December 2012: Redevelopment  

This issue on the theme of “Redevelopment” exploits the multiple dimensions of the term, which routinely implies not only physical change, b...