A few years back there were some questions on the Dallas Historical Society's chatboard about what in the wide, wide world of sports Exposition Plaza's supposed to be. Because, sure, you drive by the circular mini-park at Canton and Exposition all the time if you're heading from downtown to Fair Park or the Double Wide or Mac's Bar-B-Que, say. But, to quote Bill Murray and Steve Martin. The short answer, per the website of James Pratt, the man who designed the thing:
A $10 million urban design and traffic improvement project in honor of the state's sesquicentennial birthday, Exposition Plaza is a ten acre plaza funded through city, county and private contributions. The memorial project includes a realignment of major streets and their intersections to provide a gateway from the central business district to Fair Park.
But that's not enough, not anymore: On Wednesday the city council will vote to pay architect and urban planner Kevin Sloan $35,000 in 2006 bond money to study Exposition Plaza. The reason, per the council agenda:
To accommodate the growing demand for placement of various memorials and monuments in parks within the City, Exposition Plaza has been identified as a candidate park site to accommodate requested installations. The purpose of this master plan is to evaluate the park site for its potential to receive such memorials and to establish a baseline from which to develop design guidelines.
Messages have been left at Park and Rec, where this idea began, but Sloan provided some more details this morning.
Says he, Park and Rec's second-in-command Willis Winters came up with the idea after years of grappling with the issue of "accommodating public memorials within some lands of the park system," as Sloan explains.
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"Our study will study Exposition Plaza as potentially the setting to become a public place for the establishment of future memorials, whether they're for groups or individuals," he says. "James Pratt's design has an amazing presence to it -- it has an archetypal construction. The study we're doing is exploratory, to see if there's available land, to see if it's appropriate for this type of program."
Are we talking plaques, statues ...?
"We don't know yet," Sloan says. "That's part of the question: How does one accommodate memorials? Park and Rec is approached by groups that want to commemorate a topic, an event, an individual, and right now there's no strategy, no plan in place to accommodate that. Institutionalizing public memory is good for any city. Willis, I think, is really on top of this.
"Outside of the Dallas Police Memorial, which is adjacent to City Hall, the memorials that do exist have happened by circumstance. This establishes a structure, in the conceptual sense, for when someone says: 'We'd like to contribute X to the city. And this could ID Exposition Plaza as a place for such a program -- or not. We're going into this with open eyes, and if the analysis does bear promise, Exposition Plaza could become a new kind of place, not just a landmark or an urban marker but a program that goes with the significance of the monumentation Pratt designed."