The already congested streets of Deep Ellum are littered with masonry materials and construction vehicles as the neighborhood makes way for new high rises and redeveloped retail outlets, and amidst all this chaos the Deep Ellum Foundation is hoping to carve out a space for all to use.
Reimagine Crowdus is a large-scale, one-month test, aimed at proving the viability of turning Crowdus Street into a pedestrian area, replete with hula-hoop contests, concerts and free Wi-Fi.
“Our big goal for this is to make it a really strong part of the fabric of the whole neighborhood, not just another destination in and of itself or just this kind of one-off thing, but it becomes this natural, 'Oh this is how it should’ve been all along,'” says Jessica Burnham, executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation.
The idea is not new, but nothing like what Reimagine Crowdus is hoping to achieve currently exists in Dallas, Burnham says. There are multiple public gathering spaces in downtown Dallas and Klyde Warren Park puts on programmed events above Woodall Rodgers Freeway, but Reimagine Crowdus will cut straight through one of Dallas’ biggest nightlife destinations.
Reimagine Crowdus has a full month of events lined up for the temporary gathering space. Burnham says the idea is to replicate a full year’s worth of events, including an entire week of holiday themed nights, running from St. Patrick’s Day to New Year’s Eve. The events are designed to put the space through its paces and see how well Crowdus can handle a crowd, and how comfortable the local community is twisting into yoga poses in the middle of the street.
“We’ve physically transformed it with the lights and painting the streets and the planters and the picnic tables but we need to socially transform it with all the programming,” Burnham says. “In the realm of testing it we actually tried to be as academic as we could, and say, 'Well let’s categorize it so we can really get a good feel of how well each thing did each week.'”
Over 50 local businesses and organizations have already gotten behind the project including the Dallas Mavericks and Deep Ellum-based Off the Record.
Some of the proposed long-term plans for the project even flirt with the idea of turning the whole of Crowdus — north to Indiana Street and south to the Deep Ellum Brewing Co. on St. Louis Street — into a park. A project so transformative, in an area already faced with a changing landscape, there are sure to be unforeseen problems. But Burnham says she believes that this is what the community needs most.
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“This is a huge change for the neighborhood and this is a huge test,” says Burnham, who has a master’s degree in research design. “I think that kind of freaks people out, because it’s important to remember how much Deep Ellum has been through with the city, and how long it took for Elm Street to get redone. … There’s a lot of change so to add more to it intentionally can always be like, 'Just take it easy on us,’ but I do think this is the right time to test it before we get over-leased.”
Still, despite the intention behind Reimagine Crowdus, some are still wary of the impact the project will have. A post on the Deep Ellum Community Watch Facebook page concerning the project has blown up with concerns. Some suggest that it's a surreptitious attempt to grab valuable land in Deep Ellum while others complain that the diverted cars will clog the area and result in decreased access to alleys.
But Burnham says that’s why Reimagine Crowdus is still just a test.
“We don’t want to take over anything; we don’t look into options that are forced,” Burnham says. “Crowdus has been getting shut down a lot and it’s been getting shut down for years, for the outdoor market and for different events, so we really want to enable what’s already happening.”