The City Wants You To Take Photos of Streets You Love. And Ones You Can't Effing Stand.

Yesterday City Hall put out the call: It's now accepting entries in something called the 2011 Dallas Great Streets Visual Essay Contest. Which is ...? Well, long story short, the city wants you to take up to six pictures or shoot a video no longer than two minutes in length featuring a single street in Dallas you either love or hate. (When it comes to the latter, you could always start here.) Pardon: "a street you think could be improved," in the words of Peer Chacko, second-in-command in Sustainable Development and Construction.

After I skimmed the site -- which says things like, "The focus of this contest is on effective communication of your ideas and opinions about street design and how it affects the attractiveness and function of a place" -- I called Chacko for more, ya know, specifics. Such as: How will the city use the photos, for which there's prize money available, and, like, what's the point? To which he responds:

"We're planning to get a broad range of input about what people like about streets in Dallas that we could use as part of our Complete Streets manual. And we're actually hoping to glean some examples we can use for some of our design projects we're expecting to work on during this project."

And by design projects, Chacko's referring to those future "Better Boulevard" projects we spoke about in June, right before the Ross Avenue experiment. Let's jump for a chat with Chacko. But before you go, keep in mind: That prize money creeps up to $500. Oh, so now you're interested.

So, these photos you're asking people to take. Will you use them to plan future Better Boulevard projects?

It'll depend on what we get. Right now, we've got resources to do a limited number. I know for sure we have resources to do one very substantial event, and we're trying to find resources to do a second. And the third use of these resources is to do not just an event for two, three hours, but, based on some ideas that are feasible, we want to do an installation we could keep in place for a longer period of time to see how it would work over a range of traffic conditions.

On Ross we were just testing it for three hours, but we are planning on doing another location at the end of the process where we reach conclusions about redesigning a street before we proceed. The idea is before doing something more substantial, we'd want to test it our for a two-, three-week period and then get some feedback.One of the challenges we've had with previous Better Block events is we pick them base don situations where we don't expect to cause a huge hue and cry. And that sort of limits them. That's not to say they aren't worth doing, but we want to find a situation that involves some significant reconfiguration with traffic implications.

So do you know where those will be yet?

In all these cases we haven't decided on locations yet. We have a strong interest in doing a Better Boulevard event like Ross in the southern sector, so that's a strong priority. And my preliminary thinking is we want to do something that's more competitive, because ideally we'd like to do something with community involvement to make it success. We wouldn't be importing something to make the street more active, but we'd get community organizations or neighborhood groups to make it work.

Again, will these photos help you choose locations? Or are they simply intended to, as the site says, help the city "understand from the citizen's perspective what works well in our streets and thoroughfares now and what could work better to make Dallas a great community." Because, trust me, people don't need to show you what they're happy to tell you ...

It's a possibility that they will help us choose locations. But we don't want to limit it. For now, we're just interested in finding another way to get people's thoughts on streets to show us what they think. We want to get people involved, to show us what they think is a nice street or a bad street.

You talk about "length of process," how long it'll take for the city to come up with its own Complete Streets manual, a concept that first began floating around City Hall in the fall of '09, if memory serves. [And it does.] You guys got the go-head back in February, so how long you expecting this to take?

"We originally estimated it would be a yearlong process. There's a lot of background technical work -- getting best practices and so forth. Developing the nuts and bolts of a manual we can accomplish in that chem frame, but factoring in public input and waiting for other groups and agencies is why we think it'll take a year to get done. And there are national-level manuals that are out there. But for us the challenge is to take those, which are generic, and customize them to Dallas and apply them when someone does a design project in Dallas so it can provide meaningful guidance on engineering and design levels.

You do realize, of course, that when you ask for people to send you pictures of streets they like, you'll get a ton of Davis, and, on the flip side, more photos of Lemmon than you can possibly handle.

We'll see.

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