Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bastille Day - The Revolution

The Pretty People Are Coming! The Pretty People Are Coming!

I'm mixing my revolutions here, but change is in the air. With parking "invading" parts of Knox-Henderson, Lower Greenville potentially outlawing bars, Bishop Arts is one area that is or will be heading for an identity crisis. More on that later. First, the festivities:

The actual Bastille Day wasn't as much celebration as riot, but that term might have also applied to the Bishop Arts District last night. Expecting about 300 people on a hot mid-week summer's night, more like 1000 showed up throughout the evening to play boules on la petanque court built of dirt in the middle of the road, dance to a dj, sample the mussel cooking competition, eat crepes, or completely swamp Eno's which was overwhelmed by the turnout.

In terms of livability indicators, many were present: babies in strollers, bike/vespa parking, diversity of ages, and two future Livability Indicators, anonymity and "tourists." Perhaps not real real tourists as in visiting other countries, but they might as well be. Those that cross the river and ten time zones worth of collective mindset are fascinated by, gasp, people! People walking. People socializing. People taking over the street. It seemed as though nearly every other hand at a camera in it.

Which reminds me, the other day I was scolded on twitter by none other than Virginia Postrel as she said, "you can make Dallas walkable, but people won't walk." Huh. Odd for a national writer and professed libertarian to make such broad statements, speaking for everybody especially when that driving tendency is, ahem, driven not by preference but a lack of choice in mode, a lack of safe provision for walkability, and policies that encourage and actually subsidize car-oriented lifestyle. Tsk tsk to hypocrisy.

And since we're told that nobody wants to walk outside, "it's hot," we went on down to the Bastille Day on Bishop to check out what Jason Roberts is up to these days and say hi to friends new and old. I probably met two dozen new acquaintances there. They expected about 300 - got more like a 1000 throughout the night.

Oak Cliff might as well be 10,000 miles from uptown, but that socio-cultural chasm didn't prevent uptowners from showing up, or at least those fitting a Cliffer's mental sketch of what a pretty uptown yuppy might look like. They've read or heard about the buzz happening to the South and want to be a part of it. We all yearn for authenticity at some basic level do we not?

Two things: Bishop Arts area is going to have an identity crisis. Sure the buildings in the actual district will be preserved, but the immediately adjacent neighborhood will most likely transition, ie intensify, as demand to be near the burning magnetic allure of newly created fire.

I've been saying for some time that computer science types, networkers probably have more to offer bottom-up urbanism than architects or engineers in stultified professions. What Roberts has help to build in Oak Cliff is a real authentic urbanism where the flavor is provided by the locals, by building community and organizing where others want to be a part of it if for no other reason than to just be around other interesting people doing interesting things. This is a view into the 21st century city from a corporate paper pushing office window.

Generic uptown types noticed it and eventually many will want to move into the area, which will need to decide what it wants to be: a regional center with regional access and infrastructure or neighborhood center mostly for the adjacent residences to walk to. Lower Greenville is choosing to reject new investment and preserve things the way they are. Knox-Henderson is under pressure as well. These areas are invaded by "outsiders" looking for walkable urban, energetic environments. To see and be seen. To walk and watch others walk pass. To meet and greet. We simply don't have the supply of walkable urban areas at a variety of scales to support all of the demand.

Second, if and when that intensification happens, this eventually will price out the artist/creative types that built it, made it safe and cool for others to come visit. At this point, much like what happened with uptown, it will no longer be the "cool" spot. This is natural. It happens with clubs as they open and close every six months in a new spot under a new name.

It also happens in cities all over the world. In NYC the cool area is always hopping around, from Greenwich Village to West Village, to Meatpacking, and then eventually across the river to DUMBO and around and around it goes. The difference is they have more in place infrastructure for it to happen more quickly, more urban form and buildings to retrofit.

Once everybody moves in the pioneers move on to another area, upgrading it. At least today, the pioneers have a place to go, urbanism to create, and markets that will follow as the entire metroplex begins to look to self-organize, to densify into interesting, walkable urban clusters, unique from one another. Creatives no longer have to leave Dallas to find an outlet for their creative energy. Now that the movement is afoot, the City itself is the outlet and its neighborhoods are the canvas.

Imagery taken from an admittedly shaky iphone throughout the evening:

Dancing in the streets

Alternative transportation...

The view from Eno's early in the evening

Big Chess on a mini-board

Where are the street sweepers when we need them. This street is dirty!

Gratuitous plug for local artistic statement. Filet it.