The World’s Best & Worst Plazas – Part3 Dallas City Hall

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 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 …look at all the potential for this plaza! Here are some of our aspirations.

First of all, after looking through the Bests it’s clear that concrete-only plazas are quite common and not always as desolate as ours.

So much concrete! But somehow strikingly beautiful

What our City Hall plaza really lacks are 1) the scale of surrounding buildings and 2) the activity of surrounding destinations that would make this a space that people enjoy traveling to and through.

Dallas City Hall towers over the edge of the plaza creating shade

Close-in surrounding buildings lend shade – maybe not as much as City Hall’s cantilever-like north facade, but if the height of the building and its proximity to the plaza are balanced, there can be a good amount of shade at different times of the day. That’s key for Dallas during our tripple-digit summers. In the winter of course you want sun to warm you up, and you’d rather have a wind-break from the winter chill. That’s the other weather issue for this City Hall Plaza, it’s so open the wind just whips around in the winter. Adjacent buildings can offer shade and also help mitigate the cold winter winds.

Florence, Italy – tall buildings create shade and block wintery winds.

Aside from actually building new buildings near this plaza though, installing some summer shade structures could double as wind breaks could easily meet both of these needs.

San Antonio’s Main Plaza, shade by Rios Clementi Hale Studios

The most important element of a successful plaza though is the diversity of people that come there and reasons for them to stick around. Popular plazas often have destinations like restaurants, civic halls, a church, transit hub, library, museum, offices, or residences. And there are places to linger. It becomes a central gathering space because it is central.

London’s Trafalger Square

A lot of people already use the City Hall Plaza daily. Citizens come to City Hall to renew their drivers license, pay their water bill, register a new birth certificate and developers and business people come to see council members and City employees. Across Young street is the Central library – the city’s largest branch. And a few blocks away, the Convention Center and Hotel host visitors who stumble upon the plaza while exploring the city. There’s already a fairly diverse range of people who traverse the plaza, not even counting the thousands who work at City Hall. A few changes on the plaza would give these people a nice spot to rest their legs, have lunch, or have an informal meeting. What an asset that would be!

“Placemaking …. involves looking at, listening to, and asking questions of the people who live, work and play in a particular space, to discover their needs and aspirations.” – Project for Public Spaces

As a through-space, the City Hall Plaza is a natural connection between Union Station, the DART rail stop and Trinity Railway Express (TRE) hub to Fort Worth, and the downtown Farmers Market – with some interesting sights and historical markers along the way.

On the walk from Union Station, there are a few nice pocket parks along the spacious sidewalk lined with trees, all making the walk pleasant.

At Griffin St the life-size brass longhorn and ropin’ cowboy sculptures are nestled between rocks and through the pond making a great visual of our history as part of the old cattle drives.

Pioneer Plaza

Following from the sculptures toward City Hall, the Pioneer Park Cemetery holds the remains of some of Dallas’ earliest settlers, open to the public for reverence and reflection.

Pioneer Park Cemetery

Cross the plaza at City Hall and you’re over half way to the Farmer’s Market! Currently it’s a bit of a forlorn walk, though it’s less than a half mile there. But recently an abandoned building was razed to make room for an outdoor amphitheater at Park Ave, just about exactly half way to the Market. It’s a straight shot though, and as the surrounding buildings gain tenants (the building at the east edge of the plaza, on Ervay may soon be redeveloped) the walk will become more and more pleasant. Some day this could even be a preferred route for residences near the Farmers Market to access their largest and closest park plaza. And with the design of the fountain feature at the plaza, it’s not hard to imagine it as a summertime swimming destination for the young downtown residences.

With so much growth and potential for downtown’s largest public plaza, we’re focusing on small pieces of the puzzle at a time,which will also allow time for the organic redevelopment of the street-level retail space and other buildings to the east between the plaza and the Farmers Market. Tables, chairs, shade, plants, kiosks……..We’ve fleshed out all the ideas on aerial maps, in phases. It is quite a vision. (Coming soon…)

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2 Comments to “The World’s Best & Worst Plazas – Part3 Dallas City Hall”

  1. worked in downtown off and on since the early 80’s. moved down here 3 months ago. absolutely amazed at the number of pocket parks and plazas all over this city, both private and public. A testament to Big D’s commitment to redefine itself. Glass meets greenery. Also amazed at the number of tourists (both local and far-off) enjoying our city at all times of the day and night.
    But why, oh why is there a fence around the art installation on the plaza? It might as well be uninstalled all together.

    • Dallas is definitely coming up and our public spaces and parks are a big part of our evolution. The Living Plaza project is working to get more people to use them daily and especially the one at City Hall. The reason is Henry Moore Sculpture is caged up is because the people do use the plaza use it as a bathroom and for other physical acts – at least that’s what I’ve been told. If more people were on the plaza and interacted with the sculpture perhaps like the “Bean” in Chicago, then it would be uncaged. We don’t have kind of culture on the plaza yet, but the Living Plaza project is getting it there.

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