Archive for June, 2012

June 20, 2012

Living Plaza: June 27th Line Up



Come join us next Wednesday, June 27th from 11:00-1:30 during Lunch. The theme is Movement. This time around we’ve invited the students from the Oak Cliff Cultural Center summer camp to join in the festivities. They are providing the music (an 8-piece acoustic guitar ensemble) at 12pm,  and bringing out some giant puppets for a parade – sorta like the ones in the City Hall foyer now. Tsada Yoga will be joining us as well as Angola African to play Capoeira (Brazilian dance fighting). Also, just announced this week, the Chinese Lion Dancers are performing at 1pm. Finally, Dos Paisanos, Free Wheel In Cafe, and one other mystery food truck will be joining us for the show. We are really excited for next Wednesday, and can’t wait to see ya there!

June 18, 2012

Daily Plaza: Soakin’ up the Sun

One day, I looked out of our office window and saw a lovely woman sitting on one of the horrible concrete benches on the plaza. She had chosen the most unshaded bench in the most exposed area on the plaza. With her head tilted back, her legs crossed, and a hands gently folded in her lap she sat and basked in the sun.

Her name is Megan. She’s a City Planner and will have been with the city 5yrs in October. I asked her how long she’d been partaking in this ritual and she said ever since she started. A few days a week for ten minutes, give or take, ’round 2pm. Partly to “thaw out” from the icebox that is City Hall and partly to clear her mind. When I asked her what she thought about when she goes out and enjoys the warmth, Megan smiled at me and giggled, “Not that much.”

Megan has a shy, innocent happiness to her. So sweet, a caring and loving mother, and just a nice genuine person all around. So, I found myself feeling a little bit bad that I had intruded on her secret, little pastime. We talked a little more and she said that sitting on the plaza was good people watching and was a good way to get your vitamin D. Her answers about using the plaza were so practical and honest, and it reminded me how important in is to take a break from time to time, think about nothing, and soak up the sun.

June 8, 2012

The World’s Best & Worst Plazas – Part2 Worst

The Atlantic Cities posted their Best and Worst of the World’s Central Plazas and Squares with photos and insights into this element of our human habitat. We’re taking this all in, in Phases. Part 1 – The Best…gaining some inspiration…a few of the Best plazas that are similar to what we’ve got at City Hall. Part 2 – The Worst…at least the City Hall plaza’s not this bad (right?). Part 3 – Dallas City Hall Plaza…look at all our potential for this plaza!

Okay, let’s take a look at the Worst to see what lessons we can learn, and hopefully not feel so bad for having this plaza at City Hall that we all complain about….I mean, at least it didn’t make the list of World’s Worst Plazas!

Open space to this degree would seem like a good idea (especially pre-“Big Dig”) but this plaza ends up feeling anti-social with its challenging series of steps and concrete surroundings. There are no lack of planned events here but it does not inspire spontaneous gatherings.

IM Pei, who designed the Dallas City Hall building and plaza, designed the Boston City Hall plaza (the building itself was designed by someone else, but he planned the location and all.) It just seems to be really out of context. Like, perhaps if the mixed-use development had come to fruition as supposedly planned (similarly to supposed plans for redevelopment opportunities on the tree grove green of the Dallas Plaza) the area would have been a little closer to establishing the mix of uses necessary to accommodate the flocks of people that would necessitate a plaza this large.

Exchange Square is far from unattractive but it is also far from perfect. The seating that is provided feels too structured, as if intended for scheduled events. Walls form as barriers along the charming pubs and restaurants by Cateaton Street. A missed opportunity for a truly vibrant space.

A bit too contrived.

Beautiful fountains and an even more beautiful obelisk make for a great space. But two rings of heavy auto traffic make for a more stressful journey than necessary. This stress is especially noticeable after a walk in the adjacent Tuileries Garden.

This square certainly isn’t lacking in beauty. But its auto-centric surroundings make it difficult to reach its potential as an ideal gathering space. Traffic calming measures have been put in place recently but the spaces that touch N. 20th and N. 18th are still your best bets for a serene public setting.

Nothing is pleasant about dodging traffic – to get to the plazas in the round-about.

Schouwburgplein was once an abject failure. After a 1997 redesign, it is now simply a public square that fails to live up to its potential. It opens itself up to the street but much of the spontaneous pedestrian activity only occurs along its sidewalks adjacent to more dense city blocks. Schouwburgplein still seems too spacious for its own good.

Needs density. A reason for people to end-up there. And something to do once they’re there.

The seating and shelter islands have a vintage charm but HUD plaza is held back from some basic layout issues. In what was likely an attempt to not let the parking garage entry become intimidating, the path for cars is not distinct from the pedestrian paths. However, this makes one feel as if they are sharing the same space-a far from settling feeling for pedestrians. A wall forms at the sidewalk where cars emerge from the garage beneath, forming a barrier that makes you feel as if you have to cross another street just to find a place to rest.

Although few will doubt its significance as well as its efficient layout, the Mall is in need of significant upgrades. More paved surfaces, bathroom facilities, and trash receptacles would help. A master plan for it has been approved and a design competition for sections of it has been announced.

Planners tend to use the presence of people as a successful-people-place-metric, but just because there are people there doesn’t mean the space couldn’t be much more accommodating.

Designed as if for a Corbusien-metropolis, the Empire State Plaza has all the late modernist cliches that led to its demise. Swaths of empty space, cold, out-of-scale architecture, and high, blank walls that prevent pedestrians from seeing what is happening up the steps to the plaza. Photogenic, but not people-oriented.

Saved the worst for last. Desolate. Soul-less… probably looks great flying over.

Now, on to the good stuff! Part 3 – Dallas City Hall Plaza and all its great potential…we can fix this.

June 7, 2012

The World’s Best & Worst Plazas – Part1Best

The Atlantic Cities posted their Best and Worst of the World’s Central Plazas and Squares with photos and insights into this element of our human habitat. We’re taking this all in, in Phases. Part 1 – The Best…a few of the Best plazas that are similar to what we’ve got at City Hall. Part 2 – The Worst…at least the City Hall plaza’s not this bad (right?). Part 3 – Dallas City Hall Plaza…look at all our potential for this plaza!

First, some inspiration from the best:

(notice a lot of these have tons of concrete…notice how the open space interacts with surrounding buildings’ heights & facades…)

More than half a millennium old, Piazza del Campo needs no redesign. The perimeter is surrounded by cafes, restaurants, and shops while the center provides open space for pedestrians to casually gather.

Defined by its central location and its own landmarks, Trafalgar Square is a magnet for tourists and locals. The layout is stately but uncomplicated.

Plaza Santa Ana is smaller than nearby Plaza Mayor, but it is able to balance crowds along its edges (where the cafes and restaurants live) while also feeling comfortably open.

Pioneer Courthouse Square has been successful mostly because of its central location downtown. But it is also enhanced by its own quirks. The public art adds charm and helps define the space. The steps lend themselves perfectly to public performances but also to a spur of the moment decision to sit down for lunch.

Old Town Square is surrounded by charming architecture, cobblestones, and anchored by a sizable and iconic statue. When you take into account its central location, there’s no question why it is such a successful space.

This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: Cracow Culture
With its multi-use Sukiennice as the centerpiece, Krakow’s Rynek Glowny serves as the premiere local gathering spot. The immediate surroundings around this simple square consist of multi-use structures that vary in scale and form a diverse cluster of activity in the city center.

From CanadaGood on Flickr
Piazza Navona has charmed the world with its rich history and design. Everything about it makes it one of the best public squares you’ll ever set foot in.

Next, Part2: The Worst.  What can we learn from the Worst list? Can we feel just a little bit better that we didn’t make the Worst Plazas in the World list?…

June 5, 2012

Daily Plaza: Taking Pictures of People Taking Pictures


Today, we had some visitors from the Ukraine. It’s is their first time to Dallas, and they are here for the Open World Program. I caught up with them taking pictures on Living Plaza this morning before they go on a site seeing tour of downtown, then back to City Hall to having a meeting about their program. They offered to take my picture and I regrettably declined. What a beautiful backdrop!