Sustain in the Membrane: Turning a Dallas Parking Lot into a Community

This morning at City Hall, some three dozen urban planners, architects and city officials gathered on the fourth floor to begin discussing precisely how to turn a dollar-a-spot parking lot behind City Hall into a self-sustaining community. (That's the site above.) Meaning: How, precisely, can you turn an barren spot on the outskirts of downtown into a "community" where "people of all incomes" can live, work, shop, eat and play together, in the words of John Greenan of Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, one of the linchpins behind the RE:Vision Dallas project and competition about which we wrote earlier this week.

For the rest of the afternoon, the assembled will gather in various groups -- branded "community," "transportation," "construction," "economic/policy" and "natural resources" -- to brainstorm ways in which to transform the parking lot into "something we can actually build" that's "way cool, so cool we can get people from all over the city to live there," Greenan told the group, shortly after Mayor Tom Leppert introduced the site.

The Dallas site was among five discussed in August, during a similar design charrette in San Francisco; today's meeting is an extension of that initial discussion, which also included similar projects in such cities as Miami, San Francisco and Detroit. Among those who attended the San Francisco gathering was local architect Brent Brown, founder of bcWORKSHOP, who will be leading much of the discussion today as folks try to figure out how to turn a single city block into something that will include some 500 residential units, many of which will be afforable housing; some 75,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, including "shop(s) for daily grocery needs," according to a handout provided to participants; an "educational component that serves all the residents"; and a "multi-purpose care area and provider."

And that's just for starters.

The organizers of today's event know this all sounds like too much. In the introductory documentation provided, the RE:Vision folks plainly state: "On first glance, this brief may appear to be seemingly implausible, but it is intended to be provocative. And, it is very much real and intentional. This will be the basis for the Dallas RE:Vision international design competition."

Indeed, after today's discussion, RE:Vision will sift through the suggestions -- attendees were given several pads of Post-It Notes upon which they were to jot down ideas during the day's meetings -- and then turn the redesign of the block into a competition open to any and all comers who think they can turn a parking lot into a sustainable, green community that will even feature a spot upon which residents can grow their own food. Central Dallas CDC will oversee the construction upon the property, which is being purchased from Chavez Properties -- the same folks who owned the land upon which Dallas is building the convention center hotel.

Leppert said he likes the idea of tacking the single city block -- especially a "block that's been forgotten" -- because "we can get our arms around it and see something happen." The competition will begin next month. After that? We shall see. --Robert Wilonsky

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky