Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Let's Not Bust Out the Popsicles Yet

Dallas gets front and center attention from Fast Company for advancing culture in Cities. Not surprisingly however, all three photographs shown are of the much more photogenic Winspear Opera House rather than its ugly little brother, the Wyly. Regarding the Wyly's not so coincidental appearance as a prison cell:
The unending nihilism of the twin-architects doesn't make for attractive buildings, but it does make for the kind of deep objectivity necessary for critical analysis of its audience. In that way, the Wyly actually is a work of art.
The question remains, does the Dallas Arts District get this attention because of the availability of culture, of peak experiences for all or because of its size, scale, and level of investment befitting of its marketing arm? Does it advance culture locally even as much as aggregations of local artists in Oak Cliff or elsewhere? That is a legitimate question, not a rhetorical one.

My opinion is that both are necessary. The Dallas Arts District acts as a port, importing culture to be experienced by the local citizenry, whereas Bishop Arts, X+, Deep Ellum, et al are the silent whispers of local culture screaming, laughing, crying, or lashing out.

But regarding urban form they couldn't be more polar opposite. The local is off stimulating investment in new areas, the creative busy bees are finding the sweet honey in new infill areas of opportunity. On the other hand, clumsily clumping the Arts District and bounding it by freeways and high-rises was a mistake from the beginning, dissipating the potential for leveraged qualitative improvement of under-developed or non-performing properties as interactive, participatory urban integers. Wouldn't they be better off as centerpieces of reinvestment zones scattered in and around downtown and the nearby emerging neighborhoods?

But that is water under the bridge now.

We're still a simple minded people that get the city we deserve and cultural experience more equivalent to a drive-thru Mickey D's. Or at least, that might be the way we view ourselves. Expressing the deeper issue of self-confidence we struggle with, the internal conflict of braggadocio masking a rather lowly opinion of our City.

Personally, I would like to see some more cross-pollenization between the two, the imported and the local, the potentially exported. However, I worry that the urban form and exclusive nature of one might prevent the other from using its microphone and grand stage to show that Dallas also has local voices of culture. We don't have to always import ideas. "World Class" cities don't have to. They're voices, ideas, expressions come from within.