Archive for May, 2012

May 30, 2012

Daily Plaza: The Fountain

When most of us are still alseep, Patrick Brent, Fountain Attendant, is at City Hall going through his daily routine clearing the debri from what he affectionately calls the “Pond”. He’s there Monday through Friday from 6am-2pm. In October, he’ll have been the attendant for 2 yrs.

“It’s nice,” he says, of the work. Though he’s not smiling in the picture he usually smiles a lot, and when he does his gold tooth is gleaming. You can tell he likes it. He takes pride in it, and cares for it. He’s got an ease and calm about him that immediately puts you at rest, much like the fountain itself. It’s like they were made for each other.

The fountain has a rich history itself. At one point in time it was seen as a wading pool. But calling it a “pool” changed when the days of someone suing over burning their mouths on coffee became a “thing.” In his 1983 Report to Dallas City Council, William “Holly” White recommended it be used as a pool, and a place to sail small electric boats, for ducks, and the like. And in 1984 it was. The fountain was actually used as a pool in its legendary event City Hall Beach Day. But these days the pool-pond-fountain, is filled with so many chemicals that wading into to it would cause your skin to boil (okay, not for real, but there are a lot of chemicals). In fact, the other day, Patrick added 50 lbs of muriatic acid to kill all the algae, which consists of wading around the fountain, hand-sifting the powder into the water.

At one time, the fountain was drained and had tables in chairs in it. It’s even served host to concerts, and this blogger heard that Van Halen played here once. Even if they didn’t, it sounds like a pretty great idea! Today, the fountain is just for looking. I recommend from 11:00-1:00pm, when the water feature is a’goin, or 12:30, which is when I’m usually out-to-eat with a small motley crue of City Hallers. We have good conversation, fly kites, enjoy watching the tourist, and every now and then watching the cat-and-mouse game that occurs when someone sticks their toe in the pool or gets too close for comfort causing the security guards run out and shoe them away. Sally Rodriguez, of Parks and Rec, said that every now and then a protester or an errant soul will wade out abashed and jump onto the red balls. I told Patrick about this, we chuckled about it, and then got into a discourse about whether or not the balls are “art.”

As the seasons change, Patrick has to deal with different obstacles from leaves, to heat, to cold, to algae. Most days he goes through his routine, circling each level and sweeping the rocks into a pile, snagging floating debri with his net, changing the filters, and a litany of other odd jobs to keep things in check. Sometimes he finds some change, and every now and then he’ll find a buck – a nice little perk of the job! He works the pool quietly and methodically, communing with his thoughts and his ear buds, which he revealed are mostly tuned to hip hop. I grimaced when he told me that…to think, there’s a little hip hop concert happening in the fountain every day. Nice!

And though the fountain is mesmerizing, and as daunting as City Hall itself, only one person, ONE, gets to fully interact with it on a day to day basis. For the rest of us it’s beauty can only be experienced from a far – you can look but never touch.

May 24, 2012

Daily Plaza: Memorial Day Dedication & Bikers

At lunchtime, they appeared like a herd of mighty buffalo from the mist. A group called the Patriot Guard prominently showcased their chariots (mostly Harleys and Goldwings) on the Living Plaza along with the Dallas motorcycle cops bikes (I didn’t catch the brand), which towed the line at the entrance to City Hall. The Men and Women of the Patriot Guard, dressed in leather and denim regalia joined the neatly-pressed Men and Women in Blue for a Memorial Day celebration and dedication of the Living Wall display, which will be at City Hall from the the 23rd to the 28th.

The Guard, a band of merry bikers, were initially created to as a counter-protest unit dedicated to making sure that the funerals of fallen soldiers weren’t bothered by anti-war protesters. And if anti-war protesters did show, then they would drown out their chants with their loud, tough-revin’ bikes. The Guard, all volunteers, ride where they are needed. Only attending funerals, and leading funeral processions at the request of the families of fallen soldiers.

The gangs of bikers, dismounted and funneled into the City Hall foyer where remarks were made by the Mayor, the Police Chief, the Fire Department Chief and other service men and women cadre. The denim, leather, blue, and other professional outfits you see at City Hall all came together today. It is the start of the long weekend where we set aside a few days to remember, to reminisce, and reflect about the men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty, to which we owe a huge debt of gratitude.

At the end of the ceremony, the misty buffalo herds of bikers got back on their chariots and vanished into the lunchtime sun just as they had arrived. The Dallas motorcycle cops in a neat, contained single file line, and the Guard, well, they kind of meandered away. As they left, the boisterous echoes of the bikes left a resounding reminder of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Then the plaza was quiet, omniscient, gentle.

May 21, 2012

Daily Plaza: Globe Lights

Last week, one morning, I was in the Studio at City Hall looking at onto the plaza, as I do most days. I watched as the Equipment Building Services (EBS) crew rolled around the plaza in a blue motorized latter – it was light maintenance day. They stopped at one of the globe light fixtures and inspected it for a second. I grabbed my camera and raced out to capture them, but alas, I was too late, they had rolled on. Instead, I recognized something. The globe lights…ooooowww. I had noticed them before, but never stopped to look at them; inspect them, find out their story. Why was EBS inspecting it today, had they intentions to replace it?

I walked around and took photos of the glass globe shells. I started with the one that EBS had inspected and began snapping shots. It wasn’t until five or so pictures in that I realized I was taking pictures of broken or dirty old globe lights. Eventually I found a pair that wasn’t broken, that wasn’t too dirty, and was possibly a replacement. I wondered why the other ones hadn’t been replaced? Money was the obvious answer, which was later confirmed when I talked to the EBS crew, but there was also another reason – design.

Design?!? Yep. A few days earlier I had been talking with Sally Rodriguez with Parks and Rec. Sally has been working for the City for over 30yrs. Our talk was mostly about who owned the plaza and who would I need to talk to in order to propose changes – that talk was very enlightening. It turns out, that the plaza is “maintained” by several parties. The fountain under the care of the Convention Center/Special Events, the green area by Parks and Recreation, the Henry Moore Sculpture and Big Red balls in the fountain by Cultural Affairs, and the plaza itself, concrete, flag poles, and globe lights are maintained by EBS. Additionally, the plaza is also patrolled by plaza security.

So, though the plaza is owned by the City at large, there are all these entities and systems that govern and shape it. Embedded in our conversation, we talked about IM Pei, the architect who designed City Hall and it Plaza. Pei also designed Boston’s City Hall and Plaza, which has a very similar, large, concrete inactive plaza. Apparently, Pei had written very specific instructions not to change anything about the design at Boston’s City Hall, and that was much of the reason why it had stayed the inactive over the years. Looking at the globe lights, a remnant of the late 70’s, and wondering if they were the original globe lights, I couldn’t help but think, why haven’t things changed?

May 19, 2012

Daily Plaza: As a Protest for Matters in Ethopia

At about 3:15PM people with green, yellow and red flags descended onto the plaza. Men and women in colorful garb embraced each other as if long lost friends, they joked and laughed, they took pictures and smart-phoned, and gathered on a planter box in the shade to waiting for the protest to start.

I met a young man sitting on the planter box and asked what was going on. He said that they were part of a Muslim Ethiopian group who was protesting what was going on in Ethiopia and he told me it had something to do with the Prime Minister. I had no clue. When I got home later today, I googled “Ethiopian Muslim May 18th” which led me to this article . It turns out that there are concerns that “more than half a million people are being evicted to make land available for foreign investment in agriculture, advocacy groups…” This was an international issue and it had landed on the doorstep/planter box, of City Hall.

When I asked the same young man why here? Why the plaza? He frankly responded, “It’s City Hall.” I could tell he thought I was a crass for asking the question. And in retrospect, I can see that. The plaza is the civic focal point of the city. It’s a platform for all issues here and abroad. It’s a stage for us to connect to the world.

A little after 3:30 organizers started conducting the crowd and getting people together. What sounded like a speech or instruction was given in Ethiopian, and then there was a prayer. The procession started the crowd slowly trekked around city hall chanting phrases in English and Ethiopian until they had completely circled around and reached the plaza in front of the Henry Moore sculpture. The chants continued. At one point, I heard a chant that reflected the diversity of the group, “We are Muslims! We are Christians! Stop the suffering!”

Towards the end, I talked to a few more people and found out that this protest was a Special Permitted event. I found the guy who actually got the permit. I wanted to know what he thought about the process? I got another crass-for-asking-that-question look. So, today I learned a few things 1] getting a Special Permit is not as hard as I think it is, 2] People see City Hall has political platform to express their ideas, 3] An eviction is about to happen in Ethiopia that is going to effect hundreds of thousands of people.

One of my last photographs was taken inside city hall, behind our massive glass lens to the plaza. The crowd looked so small, but later went I went out on the plaza to take a few more pictures, everything, the emotion, the activity, the sentiment was so much bigger.

May 18, 2012

Daily Plaza: Outlets and Internet

Did you know that Living Plaza has free wi-fi? In fact, not only does the plaza have free wi-fi (call name DALSURF or DALPUBLIC), the library across the street has it (also DALPUBLIC) and so does One AT&T Plaza. The man in the image above downloaded me with this knowledge. He’s there just about every morning surfin’ away.

There are also some hidden outlets on the plaza that have become a popular nodes for our plaza regulars some of them set up shop for the entire day. I’ve had several conversations with our plaza regulars and have found out that some of them are unemployed and part of what they do on a daily basis is search for jobs. Our regulars also bring their dogs with them to the plaza. They keep them on a leash, and have tags, everything is good. From time to time people complain about our regulars. They are told to move, or leave the plaza. They do, and then they eventually make their way back. It’s a strange little dance, but one that our regulars put up with because they want to use the space.

The plaza is a public space, which means that it’s open to everybody. While we have a monthly event to “activate” the plaza, it’s already teaming with life. Ultimately, the plaza is about people! It’s about connecting people and connecting the city. It’s a platform for interaction, collaboration, inspiration and a place for people to exchange ideas about how to make the city better. Our plaza regulars, are showing us how to use the plaza. They’re showing us that this mammoth space has small pockets of community life (like a metaphor for Dallas), they’re  showing us how to cope with the heat, and how to cater to the needs of other people around them who have complaints. They’re the authorities, and have the insider knowledge of how things work. Next time you’re on the plaza, say hey to Shannon for me, heck say hi to everybody for me. They’re all very friendly and courteous. Or, just enjoy the plaza and take advantage of the free electricity and internet.