Yesterday afternoon, the stretch of Ross from North Hawkins to Pavilion temporarily became a pedestrian oasis of sorts as cars slowed into a narrowed traffic pattern, bike paths ran alongside car lanes and a marketplace island replaced the center lanes of one area, as Robert dispatched yesterday. Visitors enjoyed crepes, bahn mi sandwiches and other mobile vendor goods, while some cooled off in a dumpster pool and dried off in the sun while browsing through crafts stands usually found at the Deep Ellum Market.
Dallas's fairy godfather of active street-space, Jason Roberts, had again waved his magic wand with the help of his Better Block team and troops of volunteers. Better Block's collaboration with the city's Complete Streets project as part of this Ross Ave. Build a Better Boulevard project resulted in a make-over as significant as it was temporary, and demonstrated how a neighborhood can shape up with just a few cans of paint, potted plants and plenty of resourceful, thrifty manpower. Meanwhile, the city is taking notes for more permanent fixer-uppers.
The Build a Better Boulevard project was a 72-hour blitz during which small teams remade a section of Ross. A group of UTA graduate architecture students took first prize for their atrium area with a massive awning made from recycled billboards, and tables and chairs built from reclaimed fences. Faced with a huge challenge and no budget, UTA team member, Ezra Loh, said making something out of nothing became an "intuitive, inventive game."
"Our goal is to have our streets enjoyed by everyone," council member Linda Koop said at an opening press conference. "We're trying to do a better job of that, and that's why we're here today."
"Welcome to the future of the city of Dallas," council member Angela Hunt told the crowd.
Koop told Unfair Park she hopes a series of Better Block/Complete Streets collaborations will result in an overall understanding of how to move forward to permanently improve the streets of Dallas and "bring that traffic that goes outside the city back into the city."
"Who would have thought downtown Dallas could activate a street like this?" she said. "Jason [Roberts] helps unlock that imagination of what a great street might look like."
"You're in the middle of the street!" Roberts told me as I approached him in the open space near the piano that straddled the yellow lane markers dividing Ross. He called the response from the city "surreal." Then again, he insisted: "Everything about this project has been surreal."
"It's no longer abstract," Roberts said of seeing the project in action, "It's temporary, but it's a chance to see what we can do and revision the area." At 4 p.m. Ross would turn back into its old people-less self, but at that moment, it was still wearing its proverbial glass slippers.
Roberts hopped onto the piano bench, standing in the midst of his island among skyscrapers and facing the street marketplace as he posed for a photo. (This morning, incidentally, he posted a comment in Sunday's item responding to some who thought the event was a little on the "boring" side: "This was really an exercise to show we could safely and realistically implement something that is seen in other cities around the world." He also posted this video showing how the open-air market radically altered traffic along Ross.)
To his left was The Shirt Girls tent selling screen-printed totes, aprons and baby onesies and run by Allison Drake, whose business is sustained by foot traffic at outdoor markets. "I don't know that I would still be in business if it wasn't for stuff like this," said Drake, a regular vendor at the Deep Ellum Market.
"It's a lot busier than I expected," she said of the day's business.
About a block east of Drake's tent, children sat in a shaded area stocked with colored paper, glitter glue, crayons, and chalk. That's where Robert Nunez brought his daughter, Alexa, who was adorning construction paper with shapes and glitter glue. "This is filling a void," Nunez said of the event. He said active streets are more common in other cities, and that Dallas is lacking places for families to spend the day without spending a lot of money.
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A bit farther east on Ross, children lined up to slide down a blow-up water slide in the parking lot of Fellowship Church, while adults cooled off in a dumpster pool lined with recycled vinyl billboards, the same material the UTA students used to create the giant awning over the area with tables and chairs near the mobile food vendors.
The dumpster pool is where Robert got himself into trouble. The afternoon sun was scorching, and an opportunity for our overheated blog editor to dip his head in the pool proved an even better opportunity for Andrew Howard of Better Block to give him a swift shove into the vat of cool water.