Friday, February 21, 2014

A Better Carpenter Plaza

You want Carpenter Plaza.  Me too.  Who doesn't like parks, right?  The problem becomes when you only build parks without context.  A clumsy Keynesian effort in 'hopes' that it just might leverage development, usually not thinking about where the park is in relation to the broader movement network.  A park is only ever as good as its surroundings, and its surrounding developments are generated by the economic value created by the interconnectivity of the road network.

The past and current green space plans for downtown Dallas aren't thinking comprehensively about how development nor economics of urban spaces work.  They're band-aids to cover up mistakes rather than generate real value.

The original downtown park plan:

That's irrational and too much green space for a city already over-burdened with park spaces it struggles to maintain.  Again, more tax base is required, but an edge condition like this wouldn't generate any new value.  Nor would it be used heavily enough to garner much social or environmental benefit.

So, the plans have been revised:

Again, this generates no new value.  Nor does it address the surrounding network problems.  Again, it's an edge condition.  A border vacuum in Jane Jacobs' parlance, where life doesn't exist.  Great urban public spaces have centrality, in that all of the surrounding roads lead to them as they act as centerpieces for the surrounding neighborhoods.

This is exactly what we aimed to address with the 345 tear-out plan.

We have a plaza in the exact spot where Carpenter would occupy (roughly), however we do several things:

1) we provide centrality, by creating the plaza where an improved Swiss Avenue can meet an improved Leonard.  Both roads deserve it.  Don't know Leonard?  It's the connection from the Pearl DART station to the Arts District.  The Winspear terminates its vista.  Today it's defined by parking.  Swiss Avenue in this area is non-existent or surrounded by low intensity warehouses.

2) leveraging the right-of-way into development addresses the upside down nature of the economics that make development near impossible without significant public subsidy.  We simply can't afford to subsidize every single building new building.  Doing so also doesn't guarantee success.  It's merely supply.  Filling a bucket, when we need to light a fire under the market that can spread throughout the area.

3) replace the existing east downtown bus transfer center.  It's too land consumptive and not quality green space either.  It can be designed in a way that is far less intrusive on the land and surroundings and is closer to the DART train station(s) (if D2 ever gets off the ground again).

Instead, we should think about Carpenter as a chance to be the centerpiece of the highway tear-out, on the scale of great urban spaces throughout the world: