In West Dallas, as work continues on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge spanning the Trinity River, plans to develop a 100-year old, long-neglected, one-square mile area nearby were presented last week to its local community with the goal to present to City Council in early March. Commentator Joan Davidow wonders if those plans include architecture and art to match the bridge’s splendor.
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For the past five years, while you and I were sleeping, speculators have bought industrial buildings, boarded houses, and vacant lots in West Dallas, amassing 60 acres of property. That’s 50 football fields of land! Butch McGregor of West Dallas Investments says they are “planning a massive development, so the Dallas bridge won’t be going to nowhere.”
A private/public partnership called Dallas City Design Studio recently unfurled a master plan for the area. Led by Larry Beasley, who masterminded Vancouver’s urban planning, the Studio is a new entity for the city developing urban design. West Dallas became its first project, because the two bridges were underway; there was public investment in flood control; and private investors were accumulating a lot of property in an area that wanted to hold its integrity.
The Studio evolved from visits to Vancouver two years ago by city manager Mary Suhm, Dallas planning staff, and board members of Trinity Trust, a private foundation dedicated to reclaiming the river. The Studio has since conducted fifty gatherings.
The resulting master plan envisions a mix of residential housing, offices, and mixed-use buildings… new city streets with a north/south access…and more throughways under the freight line that previously divided the community. The plan also respects the La Bajada community of modest single-family homes that wishes to remain cohesive, protected from the rolling development.
Now, as you exit the Continental bridge and drive west on Singleton, you see an uninspired metal sculpture (by Santiago Pena) of playful cutouts of children, and large, empty warehouses painted bright colors, sitting isolated on broad, empty fields. I call this “plop” sculpture, more decorative than thought provoking. This is the way the investment group gets your attention, as they envision their apartments, townhouses, cafes, and skyscrapers.
There are many innovative approaches the developers could pursue in the abandoned sites. The vacant buildings could be repurposed as loft spaces, live-and-work studios for artists and professionals ~ a farmers’ market and fish stalls, open parks and green spaces. The abandoned lead smelter could be converted into a recycling education center or a science-and-art magnet high school.
Ideas may come from the Creative Time report to SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts in early February. The New York-based public arts organization has been analyzing how Dallas can enrich itself artistically. An April symposium about the new model will feature national artists, planners, and activists.
It’ll take a lot more than bright buildings and weak sculpture to make a major urban statement! I hope West Dallas unfolds as the site of award-winning architecture. I would hope for real action utilizing artists, architects, and the community to create a vibrant, culturally sensitive urban model for our city and an exemplar for the nation.