Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Provisional Urbanism: A Defibrillator

THIS is a great idea and one that I'm glad somebody figured out how to make work.


I proposed a similar idea to a developer who was looking at some cheap/vacant land in a pretty rough patch of town that despite showing some signs of turning around, was more treading water. Instead of the oft-used term urban acupuncture, I called it Urban Defibrillator to jump start an area, incrementally develop and instill new demand for an area, and maintain its affordability until the area is ready for more permanent structures.

Where this project looks to be adapting the trailers for permanent housing, I was looking more at Katrina Cottages and maintaining the portable nature of the housing. The reason, was that several cottages at a time could be picked up and moved to other parts of town where affordable housing is in demand, particularly near DART lines on un- (and under-)developed land. As you peel away the Katrina Cottages, you add more permanent housing and give the tenants first opportunity to upgrade to the newly constructed units or relocate along with the cottage.

For this and a similar idea for provisional artist studios/lofts to provide fine-grained fabric and more urban form to the Arts District, both needed a modular, mass-produced product. The Katrina Cottages seemed natural for temporary housing. I had always assumed the DISD trailers were too needed to be repurposed into something other than classrooms. It is truly a great and needed idea, providing (to some extent) that mass produced quality that is then customized at the relocation point by the resident or groups like Habitat/Architecture for Humanity.

Katrina Cottage.

The great thing about the school trailers is that, I think, they can probably be utilized in a number of different ways including being adapted to potential commercial use. Seeing the tents during the Super Bowl week that were essentially "pop-up shops" filling the missing teeth around downtown and providing new destinations and desire lines that currently don't exist because they're mostly surface parking lots, I wondered "how can we do something similar" that is year-round if not a permanent structure?

Can we create office spaces and restaurants (similar to the food truck idea) and housing to line the surface parking lots around downtown and create some measure of urban form where currently there is none? Could each trailer "rent" out three or so spaces from a surface parking lot owner at $5 per day per space for 20 days (or however many weekdays per month there are) each month? Perhaps they could even get a discounted rate for the (semi-)permanent rental. That works out to a rental space of about $300/month.

Certainly, the rate would be bumped up to pay for the labor and the unit, but maybe that is a cost the City or some foundation eager to help Dallas revitalize could eat?? Even if it was $600 per month, that is very affordable for a small business looking to get past the various barriers to entrepreneurship such as the cost of office space while being able to take advantage of downtown living/working.

In diagrammatic form above, we use the DISD trailers (perhaps a way to raise cash-money for DISD?) to line parking lots that in many cases already have reasonably wide sidewalks and on-street parking (as well as parking interior to the block - goes without saying), but no longer is the parking lot a detriment to the downtown, but an asset...and transformed rather quickly and cheaply.

The idea can even spread to lining bad, anti-urban buildings. The building still has its primary function, but now is lined with a commercial interface and proper urban form. In this case, we are lining the Borg Cube, I mean, Wyly Theater with commercial space for Artist Studios (or hell even accountants or food trucks) on Ross Avenue and Leonard Street, i.e. a reason to actually go to the Arts District while providing some more permanent residents of the arts district, new businesses.