What Is Up With These Urban Design Centers?

As Dallas expands and overcrowds itself, questions about responsible development are more relevant than ever.

Last night the Dallas Architecture Forum and CityDesign Studio convened a public panel of urban designers at the Dallas Museum of Art to discuss the importance of public design studios and the ongoing challenges they face in improving the urban landscape. The "City Shaping: A Conversation About the Emergence of Urban Design Centers" panel was moderated by CityDesign Studio director Brent Brown and consisted of former Vancouver city planner Larry Beasley, Lyle Bicknell, an urban designer for the Seattle, Simon Pastucha of Los Angeles' design studio and Dallas' own David Whitley.

The panel focused on headway that has been made in the panelists' cities, from preserving communities to large-scale "gray to green" projects that produce wider, more verdant public spaces. All thanks to urban design studios that work with the community, the panelists said.

"Great urban design happens when you blur that line between public and private property," said Bicknell. "When restaurants spill out into the street, when parks come up to our office towers."

This, however, goes against design elements that have become entrenched over the years. Breaking away from these regulations and norms in favor of more flexible guidelines is a persistent challenge, said panelists.

"You become, in a sense, like guerrillas in the bureaucracy," said Larry Beasley.

Community involvement, they agreed, was also essential to develop new design standards at the city level, said Beasley.

"It doesn't happen from the bureaucracy out," he said. "It happens when ever person in the community demands it."

The caveat is that this process takes a good deal of time, panelists said. Though Dallas' CityDesign Studio has made headway since it was founded in 2009, still has a ways to go.

"The change doesn't happen in a year or two. The change happens as people, one by one, are liberated from the past way of doing things," said Beasley. "Your studio here in Dallas has to have the growth and the maturing period to see that happening."

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