The People's Plaza: Come Fall, That Better Block Experiment in Oak Cliff Will Become Permanent

When Jason Roberts first introduced the Better Block Block project in late March, he did so with the caveat that it was "a 'living block' art installation" intended to prove it's possible to turn a screwed-up Oak Cliff intersection zoned "light industrial" into something livable and walkable. But three months later, after a successful two-day event in April that garnered the attention of city officials and council member Delia Jasso, that temporary Dallas City Code eff-you is awfully close to becoming a very permanent reality where W. 7th Street, N. Tyler Street and Kings Highway meet.

Roberts tells Unfair Park today that the city's Public Works and Transportation department has given Roberts and the quality-of-life nonprofit Go Oak Cliff the OK to shut down that stretch of Kings Highway permanently in order to create a plaza space. Roberts points to San Francisco's Pavement to Parks project, and New York City's Plaza Program, as proof such a thing is possible. Because if it can make it there, it can make it anywhere. Right?

"There's not a plaza space there, a place for people to sit down and relax," Robert says. "In Dallas there are no parks with retail surrounding them, so we want to create a plaza and take off from what San Francisco and New York have done. We've talked to Delia Jasso about it, and she's looking for some potential finds, and we've met with Public Works as well, and they're trying to see if there's potential. They said it looks good and that we need to flesh out more of a design and find inexpensive adaptive products. Like, in San Francisco, they used painted tree trunks to lay out and create barriers. So we're looking to paint the street and create a series of bollards to demarcate the space and bring in mobile food vendors. Delia's working with us to see how we can get utilities to the food carts and create people spaces."

Roberts says he has the go-head to shut down the plaza right now, if he wants. Initially, he says, the closure will be for three months -- a trial period to see if it works according to plan. But he says Go Oak Cliff will wait till September, when it's not as hot.

"We don't wanna do it in the heat of the summer, because it would be looked at as a failure -- no one will use the space in August," he says. "So we'll close it down in September and augment these ideas and monitor the effect: Is there positive economic effect? A negative effect on traffic, which we don't anticipate? And then we'll work with the city to make it permanent."

Roberts says Dallas will not maintain the plaza -- that'll be all Go Oak Cliff, whose motto, you will recall, is the opposite of Dallas's. The mobile food vendors will provide a source of revenue necessary for its upkeep, but, ultimately, says Roberts, it should be fairly self-sustaining -- a sort of Bishop Arts District in between, well, Bishop Arts and The Kessler.

"Go Oak Cliff would maintain it so it's not a burden on the city," Roberts says. "We're trying to keep everything simple in the space and allow for mobile food carts to come in as a source of revenue to maintain the area. But it also gives people a reason to stay, and it brings online the businesses on Davis, these small shops with high turnover rates. It allows the community places to walk, hang out, relax. Right now, there's not a reason to stay -- people come down in their cars, do their shopping at one or two places, and leave. But further down Davis those businesses need more incentivizers to get people to stay. We're trying to think about this holistically as a corridor. ...

"And the city likes it. Taking away streets is a foreign concept to Public Works. But as we forwarded them links to some of the work being done in San Francisco and New York, they did catch on. The Better Block block thing, city staff still talks about it. We thought of it as a renegade thing to show we want to bring awareness to the problems in creating a walkaboe city. And city officialss came by and now say, 'You've got some good points. What else do you have in mind?' None of us expected to be in the position of, 'Oh, people are serious about putting these into play.' City staff does the work at City Hall, and they're busy with fixing water lines, stoplights and intersections with high crash rates. So to come to them and say, 'We've got a solution,' that's a foreign thing."

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