City Hall Expects Sunday's Better Ross Ave. Experiment to Lead to Citywide Changes

Robbie Good is planning on installing these signs along Ross Avenue as part of the Build a Better Boulevard Challenge
Robbie Good is planning on installing these signs along Ross Avenue as part of the Build a Better Boulevard Challenge
Better Block

Several times now we've sneak-peeked the Build a Better Boulevard Challenge set to debut along Ross Avenue, between Hawkins and Pavilion, this Sunday morning beginning at 11. Preparations are underway at this very moment, as teams of architects and planners and students begin building their better bus stops and outdoor markets and pocket parks and curbside eateries and so ons and so forths along Ross; Jason Roberts is posting updates here for those needing a look into the very near future. As he says in a press release just dispatched: "The Challenge's purpose is to create engaging spaces for the community that accommodates pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, as well as cars."

But what happens afterward? Because the event lasts just a few hours -- till 4 p.m., after which all the shades and benches and newsstands and bus stops and signs will be taken down and put into storage. And then what?

Ah, you see, that's where Peer Chacko comes in. He's the assistant director of the city's Development Services department, and he believes things like Downtown Dallas 360 and Better Blocks and Complete Streets are on their way to reshaping the way we think about -- the way we use -- our city. The entire city too, not just Oak Cliff or downtown. But your neighborhood. Your streets.

"We intend to ask them to do it again and again over the next year," he told me today.

Where?

"Everywhere."

We'd better jump.

All right, Peer. Jason and his Better Block-ers have been doing this for quite a while now. But all of the sudden, City Hall got involved for this event -- I mean, Linda Koop's having a press conference to kick off the thing Sunday morning. Why this event? And why now?

You said it: Till now the city has been more of a spectator with the previous Better Block events that Jason and his folks have been putting together. There are some reasons why the city has been wary of it -- because it shakes things up and handles things differently than most systems in the city are designed to operate. We want to take on the challenge of: How do we turn this boat around so we can make systematic changes to how we do things and change how our streets are designed and used? This event was intentionally trying to push the envelope beyond what Jason and his folks have done before. They expanded the length so it goes beyond one block. During the last couple of months it been testing our boundaries. We've had conversations about how to handle special events like this without bringing out the entire polic force. And I think we're making progress already.

How so?

Just getting more familiar with them, and with that we get more comfortable. Looking at this event in isolation, that's the immediate goal. We want streets to have more unconventional uses. Flexibility. We intend to ask them to do it again and again over the next year. And the important part is we want to get more people engaged in this initiative, the Complete Streets initiative, which, over the course of the next year, we'll use to make institutional changes.

This is about actually changing our rules, our regulations and manuals, and it's important for folks inside the city to know how to handle it. I think Jason and his folks are really on to something in terms of tapping into a primordial thing -- how to use streets -- which most of us have forgotten. I think it's safe to say the vast majority of people who live in Dallas aren't familiar with this, and they don't experience this on a regular basis. They see this elsewhere, when they go on vacation, and it doesn't touch their daily lives, and they haven't had reasons to face it. We want to expand the envelope and get more people involved. If we want to get people involved, we have to get them to come to terms with this shift.

Ah, but this is baby steps -- five hours on a Sunday ...

One of the limitations of an event like this is it spans a few hours and it's over and things tend to go back to the norm. As a result people just experience those few hours, and it may or may not make a difference. We aren't turning Ross into a two-lane road forever. It would be a huge change for a lot of people, but this can serve as a great illustration. We want to push that envelope. We will identify places where we can take out a few lanes and for a few weeks, not for a few hours. That will make a difference, and people will start thinking about it and understanding it, and if we do it right they will come to important conclusions about how to make it better. And we need to make physical, permanent changes.

This has happened in Oak Cliff. And in the Arts District. And now, along Ross. But what about elsewhere -- in Northwest Dallas, in South Dallas, places populated by people who may not venture close to the city core regularly, much less for a brief, special event like this one. Will you go there too?

Let me answer with an emphatic yes. That's our next step. We haven't pinned down the details, but in the fall we're gonna have a round of workshops, for lack of a better word, or Better Block events around the city. That's going to be our next step -- to find other locations where we can expand the envelope. We want to do it everywhere, and our preliminary thinking is to tie that to streets and locations where we have reason to believe we can implement physical changes, either because there's bond money available or it's going to be part of a future bond program or there's some TIF project associated.

There are several places scattered around the central part of the city; some, not as many, are further flung out toward the outer parts of the city. Rather than just doing it for a few hours, we'll turn it into something that could be implemented by making physical changes and engage people in that process and learn from the Better Block experience and take it a few steps further and result in permanent changes. We haven't identified all the areas yet, but it's going to happen.

For instance, around the Park Lane station area. A lot of people walk around there. There's a big market people there for people to walk, but it's not an easy environment. And there are a few other places that are no-brainers. But we'll try to get people outside their comfort zone. That's going to be our next step.

And I may be premature about it, but the idea is to be able to actually institutionalize a program where, whenever we go forward with a major roadway project that's likely to change the framework of that road, we do a test program where we have some temporary installations that we test out to engage people to tell us what they like and don't like but do what Better Block did. By that I mean land uses shift and you can have temporary outdoor seating and try out some new designs so people can actually experience them over a couple of weeks so we don't keep beating our head against the wall where we roll out big drawings and think people agree but when we begin construction people say, "Hey, this isn't what we agreed on."

Below is Robert's press release. See you Sunday? Incidentally, I'm doing the bike ride from Main Street Garden to Ross ... if I can find my bike, heh. That starts at 10:30.

MEDIA ADVISORY

Team Better Block in collaboration with the city of Dallas heads up a 72 Hour Urban Design Challenge to turn blighted and vacant spaces on Ross Avenue into vibrant and active places utilizing simple, quick, and affordable methods with the help of our city's greatest asset: community.

WHAT: The first 72 hour Build a Better Boulevard Challenge in Dallas will be held this Sunday June 26th, 2011 on Ross Avenue from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The City of Dallas has partnered with Team Better Block, to host an event to fully explore the potential for creating great places in spaces that are currently vacant or underutilized.

At 2:30pm in front of Three Sheets restaurant at 3113 Ross Avenue the winners of the Ross Avenue Design Challenge will be announced. Each team has been given a space where they can use any tools, materials, and people necessary in order to create an attraction that brings life to the corridor. The Challenge's purpose is to create engaging spaces for the community that accommodates pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, as well as cars.

The 72 Hour Challenge attractions and events built by each team will begin at 11AM on June 26, 2011. Visitors are encouraged to experience the revitalization at Ross Avenue from Pavillion to North Hawkins Street. The 72 Hour Challenge teams have come up with great activities including a Live Artist Façade, food truck court, and Pocket Park that will be active from 11 am to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Part of Ross Avenue will be turned into an urban street market inspired by Las Ramblas Market in Barcelona, Spain. Three Sheets will unveil their new deck where people can sit and take in the day's activities while Fellowship Church will have water activities for visitors to escape the Texas heat. Also, A pop‐up dog park will be installed as part of the festivities.

As Council Woman Angela Hunt recently stated "With the city too often we spend years planning for things and then you don't get that payoff." The 72 Hour Ross Build a Better Boulevard Challenge is the first step towards the Dallas Complete Streets Plan to truly make the city a more enjoyable and bustling place through busier and more active blocks and neighborhoods. The 72 Hour Challenge hopes to create permanent changes to the block by demonstrating for a day how easily a block can be transformed.

WHEN: 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. ; Award ceremony 2:30 p.m. at Three Sheets

WHO: Team Better Block
City of Dallas

WHERE: Ross Avenue
b/w N. Hawkins and Pavillion Streets
Dallas, Texas

WHY: The goal of the event is to show how underutilized and vacant spaces can become great places using simple, quick, and affordable


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