Dallas City Hall Plaza: Schemes & Dreams

It’s always been the goal of the Living Plaza project that the City Hall Plaza become a place where people linger and enjoy themselves and meet others, without the need for a ‘special event to bring people together’.  Although the monthly events are loads of fun – we’ve met the most incredible people and have become very familiar with what works and doesn’t work about this space – we don’t think it should be necessary to pull a special event permit every day. In fact, it’s quite a lovely plaza on its own without pre-arranged programming.

A lovely spot to take a break from the hustle & bustle

The best part about this project has been our realization that this plaza is already a place that people come to enjoy on a daily basis and people love this space for so many reasons. There are a number of people who enjoy the peaceful serenity of the little ripples in the water as the wind wakes the morning, the quiet, and quickness of the plaza wifi for job hunting and emailing, the cool grass and welcome break for the eyes from staring at the computer to stare up at the oak canopies, and a walk through the shady trees on the way to lunch.

The walk to lunch at Subway

It’s the concreted areas next to the building though that we’re most focused on making more human-friendly.

So here’s our grand vision for how this plaza would become a place so beloved like Bryant Park in New York – a place for people to enjoy passing through or staying for a while, with great events here and there at various times of the day.

Below, Phase 1. The circles are existing trees, the lines are the roads (Young St on the bottom, Ervay on the left and Akard on the right), and the grey is the City hall building (convention center building to the right, across Akard). And, yes, the blue circle is the pond and the tan blobs are the Henry Moore sculpture.

So in Phase 1 we simply add three elements:

  • Food trucks provide the food and drink necessary for people to feel comfortable continuing to spend time on the plaza, while also acting as a people-attractor.
  • Permanent tables and chairs that are free to be moved around allow people to move in and out of shade, facilitate group conversations and allow functionality and comfort to coexist.
  • The over-scaled chess board provides a bit of entertainment and a medium for interaction between people.

Phase 1 Design

Phase 2 adds five new elements in addition to more tables and chairs:

  • Shade structures provide more options for a respite from the hot summer sun in high-traffic areas, as well as draw attention to view corridors and vistas.
  • Bocce Ball injects a little fun into the mid-day break and the entertaining experience for passers by.

    bcWorkshop’s solar-powered container kiosk

  • The splash park can be a summer attraction for kids and a year-round artistic water feature. The plaza pool could also serve as a downtown destination zone, similar to the way dog parks are really for the people, bringing the kids to play in the fountain would provide a central activity to connect parents and the downtown community.
  • Food and retail kiosks could spin-off from a small business incubator program (based in City Hall or through an outside organization) and could even be completely separate from the electricity grid of the City Hall building, being solar-powered like bcWorkshop’s shipping-container kiosk.
  • Lastly, additional greenspace could be accomplished by attaching turf-grass to the cement, busting up the plaza concrete to plant grass, or (my favorite) building raised-bed areas that could be tended as community gardens or filled with beautiful native flowering plants, seedums, and grasses. The added greenery breaks up the space visually, creating outdoor ‘rooms’ and softening the harsh lines of the concrete ground, benches and trash receptacles.

Phase 2 Design

Phase 3 adds the idea of a stage area that could be permanently installed or designated for special events, as well as areas designated for potential development.

The thing that really adds dimension to a public space without needing event programming, is the mix of uses that attracts different types of people, all hours of the day, for different reasons. City Hall provides various services from 8-5 (get a birth certificate, pay a water bill, renew your drivers license, as well as meet with a council member or city staff, and attend council meetings.) And when the new hotel and residences at 500 S Ervay begin to open in 2014, we’ll have a host of new plaza uses right next door. But having a diversity of other establishments on or adjacent the plaza would really liven the place up, and fill some niche needs as the area densifies with more residents and visitors.

Phase 3 Design

Lastly, here’s how the plaza could be arranged for big events, with temporary open pavilions, given all the changes to the plaza layout.

Phase 3 Design – Event Arrangement

Thanks to the City Design Studio and to Arturo Del Castillo for his mad graphic designs skills.

With these three phases, the plaza would feel like quite a different space. For now, we’re focused on permanent tables and chairs, shade structures, pretty plants in the concrete area, and a pilot retail kiosk initiative. Give us a shout if you’d like to be involved in the transformation!


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