City Hall

On April 27, Dallas City Hall Plaza Will Become (Temporarily, For Now) a "Living Plaza"

On the other side you will find a report William H. Whyte -- The Organization Man -- gave to the Dallas City Council on June 15, 1983. Whyte, then a fellow at the Dallas Institute who often came to town to give speeches on how to make our city "livable," wondered, quite simply, why Dallas didn't make better use of City Hall Plaza -- why it had been allowed to become nothing more than a "hot and windy" wasteland. Said Whyte, the plaza has "enormous strengths" being ignored. And that need not be the case:

The City Hall is a great public building, unique in this country and a sight in its right -- especially at dusk, when it is a dramatic view, and so is the view of the city from it. Some of the features are well liked -- the generous pool, the Henry Moore sculpture. Some are not: the bollards, the concrete cylinder cutting diagnostically across. But none of the recommendations that follow are for cutting against the grain of the design. What is wrong with the plaza is not so much what is on it but what is not.

And he laid out his myriad recommendations: covering its barren concrete with trees, erecting kiosks from which people could purchase food, allowing the public access to the pool, setting out seating, programming regular events -- all the things that would activate the vacant expanse.

In other words, all the things you will find on Dallas City Hall Plaza on April 27.

There, for a few brief hours during a day when the city council is in session, the Better Block-ers, the CityDesign Studio, bcWORKSHOP, the Trinity Trust and, of course, the Dallas Institute will take over the plaza and make it what Brent Brown calls "a living plaza." Brown will roll out that converted shipping container-turned-commissary and sell food from it. Jason Roberts has gotten Ruibal's at Dallas Farmers Markets to loan plants and trees with which to shade the slab. They will set out chess tables and fill the pool with remote-control boats. For starters. We are at the beginning of the beginning of an idea proposed 28 years ago.

Roberts and Brown, who will send further information as the date approaches, hatched the idea one day not long ago, when one asked the other if he'd ever read Whyte's City Hall Plaza proposal. Turned out they both had. And both had wanted to do something with it. And so they teamed up, these perfect partners, to bring life to perhaps the deadest spot in all of downtown Dallas.

"It's the time to make a fundamental difference in urban spaces in the city center," says Brown. "We've all been working on this and thinking about it, and it was serendipitous. Jason was already thinking the same thing, so we said, 'Let's collaborate and get something beneficial that will re-enact Whyte's proposal and propel some idea that can become permanent over the net six months to a year.' At City Hall we look at that plaza every day, and now how do we have a conversation that drives us toward some permanent amenities in the public space that makes it living plaza?"

"We want to talk about this idea of championing great public space," Roberts says. "At Main Street Garden they've done a great job of activating that public space. We want to have the same chance at City Hall Plaza. Why don't we all work together?"

For a sneak peek at what to expect, jump for Whyte's report. The future is now. Or, at least, 1983.


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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky