After a little more than 3 years of studying the plaza and working with the various departments managing the plaza, we’ve compiled a report of recommendations for turning the plaza into a more hospitable everyday gathering space and a functional event space for neighborhood-scale activities in downtown Dallas.

Once a month, city staff volunteers planned and hosted a temporary installation of the City Hall Plaza improvements and programming recommendations made by William H. Whyte in his 1983 presentation to the Dallas City Council. The lunch time reenactment, called ‘Living Plaza’, occurred between 11:30 and 1:30pm on a Wednesday to coincide with either a council agenda or briefing day. The goal, aside from helping to activate the plaza and planning for permanent change, was to engage city staff in a discussion about urbanism and to demonstrate how great public spaces increase quality of life, improve safety and stimulate the economy.

These monthly installations activated the plaza area between the Henry Moore sculpture and the pool with movable chairs and tables, shade structures, additional landscaping, food concessions, activities and entertainment. The first ‘Living Plaza’ event, held in April 2011, offered visitors the opportunity to learn about the development history of City Hall and the plaza, about William H Whyte’s 1983 study, and how urban design could be used to elevate the plaza’s viability and importance in the community.

City Hall Plaza has more than 2,000 people working right next to it in City Hall, yet few people are ever one the plaza. Many would like to see the plaza be a livelier and better-used space.

Photo by Taryn Walker for The Dallas Observer

The problems with the plaza are apparent. First, it is enormous. At just over five acres, the plaza is 2.5 times larger than Dallas’ Main Street Garden and twice as large as St. Marks Square in Venice. It lacks enclosure by its surroundings, is removed from the more vibrant parts of downtown, and it is out of scale with the individual. City Hall itself does not engage the plaza well at the ground level, presenting blank walls and only one entry point to/from the plaza. The plaza is hot during a large part of the year, seating is limited, and what little seating is available it’s generally unprotected and uncomfortable. Lastly, without programmed space or concessions, the plaza becomes more a space for maintenance rather than people.

What began as a collaborative demonstration project between the CityDesign Studio, Team Better Block, and bcWorkshop became owned by City Staff who were serious about improving the City’s built environment.  Initially, William Whyte’s unimplemented recommendations for the City Hall Plaza provided an opportunity to demonstrate how simple it could be to give City Hall employees a pleasant place to relax. The City Hall Living Plaza Demonstration Project has awakened our desire for “livable”, inviting, people-friendly plazas and has taught us the tools to transform any plaza.

City employees from various departments have volunteered their time to help organize the Living Plaza events and collaborate on changing City policies to enable the organic livening of public spaces in Dallas.

Special thanks for cooperation from the following City departments:

CityDesign Studio

Office of Cultural Affairs

Office of Economic Development

Office of Environmental Quality

Water Department

Parks and Recreation

Building Operations

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