I'd intended to spend, oh, maybe half an hour in front of Dallas City Hall today, where, decades after William H. Whyte first proposed the idea of making that expanse of concrete habitable for humans, Brent Brown and Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard and many more breathed life into what they called The Living Plaza. But when I arrived shortly after noon, my parents were already there waiting in the ever-growing queue for crepes and barbecue sandwiches being served out of bcWORKSHOP's solar-powered E and H Commissary. (Sadly, the tamales were sold out half an hour into the event.) So I stuck around for a good hour and a half. And it was, indeed, good. Great, even.
Also milling about were various council members and city employees, many of them familiar names to the Friends of Unfair Park: Delia Jasso and Steve Salazar and Ann Margolin taking a break from their weekly meeting, First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers, Park and Rec second-in-command Willis Winters, assistant director of development services Peer Chacko, Dallas Film Commission boss Janis Burklund. Brady Wood was even there. Gail Thomas was there too.
Thomas, head of the Trinity Trust, was the founding director of the Dallas Institute when, in the 1980s, she brought Whyte to Dallas to speak about making the city livable. She was there when he spoke to the council in 1983 about bringing greenery and food and chairs and chess boards-- and people, most of all people -- to City Hall Plaza.
"It only took 30 years," she told me, smiling broadly. "I'm so proud of Brent and Jason and all these wonderful people. They've made the space ... human."
On the other side are photos Patrick Michels and I took from today's event, for which the Dallas Family Band provided the soundtrack as they strummed and strolled around the plaza on a breezy, slightly chilly, partly cloudy spring day. You'll find some thoughts from Roberts and Downtown Dallas Inc.'s John Crawford, with whom I spoke about The Living Plaza earlier in the week when we were discussing something else not nearly as interesting.
Downtown Dallas Inc. loaned some chairs and tables for today's event, though if Crawford was down there today I didn't see him. But he told me Monday he expects this will be more than a one-off -- he hopes that'll be the case, anyway.
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"Back when Whyte spoke here in the 1980s, that was a transition," he said, when asked why it took so long to make his vision a tangible reality. "It was talked about, and nothing was done. We've picked up that ball, and we're trying to run as fast as we can down the field. But we can't do it all, and we can't do it all overnight. I would guess the City Hall Plaza thing will be pretty nice. It won't be like that very day, but as peple call and want to hold events, and as we do those, we can use that as a potential location going forward, which we will do."
Roberts is even more optimistic: This will happen in front of City Hall again, he says, and spread out from there -- through downtown, then the neighborhoods.
"Our hopes for the long-term impact of the project are to use what we've learned from Whyte's work and apply it to other public spaces throughout the city," he says. "Ultimately, his studies outline simple and inexpensive solutions that have a big impact on the creation of humane, active, and lively places. When you break it down, it's all intuitive stuff like 'bring chairs,' 'create shade,' 'add food,' but we seem to overlook these time and again and pursue
bigger ticket items that don't have an impact on day to day life."
And did I mention: They did all this today for less than $1,000.