Way back last April, the energetic, civic-minded hipsters over at Better Block turned the area around King's Highway, W. 7th St. and N. Tyler St. in Oak Cliff into a nice little plaza space where it was entirely possible to sit without being, you know, repeatedly run over. That was the very first Better Block project, in fact, and now, a mere year and a half after we thought it would happen , that plaza is on its way to becoming permanent. The Davis Garden TIF District Board of Directors voted unanimously yesterday to allocate a little more than $400,000 to create that plaza for keeps. That proposal will now go to the city council for final approval.
"We're happy to come back to our first project and say, 'Let's make it a reality,'" Andrew Howard, Better Block construction director, told the board. "We have the potential to have another Bishop Arts district here." The temporary demonstration last April, he said, gave people the opportunity "to see what living in a walkable place would look like."
But a permanent plaza isn't going to happen all at once. There'll be another demonstration period first, this one for 90 days, Howard and Jason Roberts, Better Block founder, said in their presentation to the board.
"Cities are generally nervous about commitment and permanency," Howard said. A 90-day demo period, Roberts told Unfair Park after the vote, gives everyone involved time to test out different ideas and "see how people use the space" before committing to anything permanent -- the same idea, he said, that was used in the New York City Plaza Program to create the only place in Times Square where you might ever want to actually sit down. The final product here will involve some combination of crosswalks, bicycle facilities, planters, lighting, public art and shade structures. The Better Blockers will be working with the City Design Studio to come up with a firmer concept for just how the finished plaza will look. Howard sent along a sneak peek that follows.
"We basically just started that New York plaza program here," Roberts told us. "And part of the process is to mitigate fears."
One property owner, Roberts said, is still a bit concerned about how a more pedestrian-friendly area with fewer parking spaces might impact his business. But, he insists, other cities "have found that in these areas it's actually better for business," something he hopes will be borne out here too.
Roberts and Howard also reminded the board that parking in the area won't go away completely; instead, angled parking will be created on the north side of Davis. The goal, Roberts said, is to create a "green-way, similar to Berkeley or Portland," a "pedestrian-prioritized area" where cars are still allowed -- but with traffic islands and other "calming" measures to make the car/person co-existence a bit safer.
Though she supported the proposal, board member and Oak Cliff real estate agent Jenni Stolarski had lots of questions about implementation of the plaza and how the final product will look.
"This is a monumental moment for us as a board," she told Roberts and Howard after the vote. "But its true impact will be felt in 10 years, not in a month or two. The reason I asked intense questions is because I don't want it to just be something we hoped would do something."
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"We know it works," Roberts replied. "We've seen it happen in other cities. We think it's going to be a big success."
Roberts adds via email that the demonstration period will begin after final approval from the city council. "My guess and hope would be in the spring," he writes. He also sent along a little video showing a plaza conversion project in New York. Feast your eyes. King s Summary Report (1)