The West End is about to get its latest infusion of innovation. It will soon be home to a smart park, serve as the focal point of a case study for smart city technology and connect to Victory Park via a newly illuminated path.
The developments are all happening in what is called the Dallas Innovation District, a title that represents the civic, corporate, startup and academic initiatives in the West End. The Dallas Innovation Alliance, a nonprofit public-private partnership among Dallas, local corporations and startups founded in 2015, has been one of the driving forces behind the latest developments. The city, corporations and other entities provide resources, materials and leadership to increase efficiencies with new technologies. In 2016, the DIA established the Living Lab, the section of the Innovation District where smart cities technologies are being tested.
“The ultimate goal is around improving the quality of life,” says Jennifer Sanders, DIA executive director. “It's really about organic, community-driven pieces enabled by technology serving as catalyst for future development.”
The latest developments will take shape over the next several months.
James Corner Field Operations architecture firm is designing the smart park, called the West End Plaza. The park will occupy one square block between North Market Street, Corbin Street, North Record Street and the Spaghetti Warehouse building. Isabel Castilla, a principal designer for James Corner Field Operations, is heading this project. She's also the lead designer for a section of New York City's High Line, a public park built on an elevated historic freight line in Manhattan, and The Underline, a linear park in Miami expected to stretch 10 miles. Castilla has yet to release full details on the park but gave a teaser to her current challenges on a recent Parks for Downtown Dallas blog post. (To get an idea of what a smart park is, think wired, efficient tech matched with a traditional park or check out this article from the National Recreation and Park Association.)
“The West End is very different from the rest of Downtown Dallas and what you would associate with Dallas as a whole, yet there’s the initiative and vision to make this into a 'smart' park,'” Castilla said in the blog post. “How do you actually balance those two ideas — of something that’s very historic and needs to be respected and a space that is cutting-edge? That question is extremely interesting to me.”
Parks for Downtown Dallas, a nonprofit established by the Belo Foundation to create more green spaces in Dallas, is hosting two public meetings about the park: one at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 20 and the other at noon Sept. 21, both at Factory SIX03. There, Parks for Downtown Dallas is expected to unveil the plans and timelines for the park, which will leverage some of the technology — say, perhaps air-quality sensors — already piloted in the West End for efficiency.
Meanwhile, the DIA is also working on plans to illuminate the path between the West End and Victory Park. “One connection that has been top of mind is that between the West End and Victory Park and how easy it is to get from one place to the next,” Sanders says. “But people don't realize it, and walking on the underpass is not very welcoming.”
So this summer, the DIA secured a $25,000 grant from Downtown Dallas Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group, to improve the safety on the path with a light installation. The grant will cover a series of lit metal arches that will be programmable and “have lots of opportunities to engage artists,” Sanders says.
The DIA is also preparing to release a case-study next month based on its current projects. Included in that release will be a public-facing dashboard that will provide real-time results on energy usage, environmental quality and other raw data as it relates to the DIA's pilots.
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“People want to be able to work with that for startup or academic uses,” Sanders said. It also “becomes a resource for other cities.”
Over the past few years, the DIA has set out to implement nine innovations in the West End: environmental sensors, intelligent LED lighting, network connectivity, public Wi-Fi, smart irrigation, an open-source platform to provide data, smart parking, smart water meters and an end-to-end mobility app for residents. It has since unveiled smart streetlights, public Wi-Fi, parking sensors, air-quality sensors and an interactive kiosk to provide information to pedestrians. The DIA, which officially launched at the White House as part of the Envision America program, has been able to accomplish this with help from its partners, including AT&T Dallas, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Downtown Dallas Inc., Cisco, Ericsson, Microsoft and IBM. The organization went from idea to implementation in 12 months.
“What's interesting and unique about this project is the leadership and forward thinking of the city of Dallas to coincide with the work they've been doing for years,” said Trey Bowles, co-founder of the DIA. “We constantly have cities asking, 'How did you develop this public-private partnership?' None of that happens without the leadership of Dallas and the leadership of Jen.”
In the last several years, the West End has been undergoing transformation. Some may call it a revitalization of the historic district, which is now home to the Dallas Entrepreneur Center; Uber's Dallas office, which is working with Uber on the flying rideshare program called Uber Elevate; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas' C1 Innovation Lab; the Dallas Innovation Alliance; and a host of startups.