Monday, October 24, 2011

Leisure is not a luxury: Public places and cost free distraction

One of the major tenets of the New Urbanism movement is that public places need to be made for people.  Taking a look at major public spaces around the world, the most common activity among them is sitting.  Washington Square Park in New York City creates a respite from hectic urban life by providing many places where you can relax.  Successful urban spaces allow people to change gears by offering a distraction to business, work, and domestic chores.

Washington Square Park
My good friend Stacy Cherones of Get Healthy Dallas says "Leisure is not a luxury."  In other words, people deserve distractions from the daily grind to regardless of race, creed, or income.  At Google, for example,  innovative work is balanced with recreation, which in turn makes employees more productive.  If people enjoy their work environment, employers will see a more industrious workforce.

Every Friday this October, DEOM has teamed up with Downtown Dallas Inc. to create the Pegasus Plaza Outdoor Market.  The mission of this project is to provide Downtown workers, residents, and tourists the distraction that urban spaces are able to provide.
More people on construction laden sidewalk than Market

Weeks before the Market, polling Downtown workers showed that they didn't know the name of the plaza and that pedestrians shuffled by with blinders on, unaware of their surroundings.  In fact, the first Pegasus Market showed that people were reluctant to interact with the marketplace and took pains to avoid it.

At the first two Pegasus Markets, it was baffling that people chose to walk on the difficult terrain of the sidewalks than to walk through the closed street where we set up vendors.  Perhaps these people were too used to their lunch routine, or maybe they didn't want to shop for anything.  I also considered that the passersby thought that the event wasn't open to them.  Despite our efforts to obstruct normal pathways, people still trudged on through.

People continue to walk on sidewalk despite obstruction.
After the second Pegasus Market, we received news from Downtown Dallas Inc. that we were over budget and could no longer afford to close Akard as part of the Special Event Permit.  The urbanism activist in me was disappointed because I believe in shutting down streets and limiting automobile access in favor of pedestrian walkways, but in this case, it was a blessing in disguise.  Dallasites aren't ready to walk on the streets.  They respect the car and its territory too much to question its authority in urban mobility.  Still, word of mouth in combination with familiarity and with human comfort attracted more people to the third Pegasus Plaza Outdoor Market than the previous two.

The sidewalk is more comfortable than the street.
Jane Jacobs wrote in her book The Economy of Cities that diversity in cities promotes innovation and development of new work and production.  The benefit of the Market in the middle of Downtown Dallas is that locally made, distinct, and unfamiliar products are given fresh exposure to a new group of people.  As these entrepreneurs make sales, new products are added to the market and their manufacture can be sustained.  In order for the vendors to make sales, the customers need a comfortable and inviting marketplace to come to.  Long story short, people need enjoyable public spaces to contribute to local economy.

People in Dallas need re-education in the use of public space.  Public places should be designed for human leisure, like eating, relaxing, and other distractions.  A real city provides leisurely amenities for its people in order to benefit their well being and their economy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Spandex justifies bicycling in a sprawled city

Whereas dogs make sense of their world by smell, humans make sense of their world by vision.  Therefore image is everything in human environments, as our clothes, hair, and skin help define what tribes we belong to.  Dallas tribes, like any culture, have interesting customs that define us as well as the city itself.

Being a city of consolidated, sprawled suburban areas, Dallas is a metropolis that features few actual city-like areas, which means that typical city-like forms of transportation are certainly underutilized.  In the homeland of the $30k Millionaire, people can't afford to be seen walking or biking from one place to the next.  The way you get around Big D indicates, for the most part, your status in our society.

And yet, people still walk and bike on occasion.  Given the social stigmas attached to such activities, pedestrians and velocipedists justify their choice of transportation by certain accessories.  In Dallas, it's only acceptable to traverse the sidewalks when with a dog.  For example, a person walking from Upper Henderson (near Central) to Lower Henderson (near New Flower Market) is ostensibly a non-Caucasian with no money.  But with a dog, that person is a local resident taking care of his or her pet responsibilities. Similarly, someone walking from Downtown to Uptown is obviously on crack.  But give them a canine, and they're coming back from the dog park.

Likewise, riding a bike in Dallas is justified only as long as you're wearing fluorescent spandex (hipsters notwithstanding).  Conversely, the more plain and baggy your clothes while riding, the lower your salary.  Wearing spandex not only helps reduce chafing, but it also means that the bicyclist rides for fitness and not for transportation.  After all, the well-off bike rider keeps a rack on the trunk of his car to schlepp the bike to and from White Rock Lake.  It's dangerous to a person's well being to ride on the streets of Dallas; being seen and recognized is almost as perilous as being hit by a distracted driver.

These accessories give the average Dallas walker and biker the image of well-to-do recreation.  Real destinations in the Jewel of the Flatlands require automobile transportation, otherwise there is no feasible way to access those places.  Since dogs are never found at the grocery store, a quick jaunt for snacks requires hopping into a car.  Spandex clad people are mainly seen mounting a bike, as opposed to checking out a book at the library or sipping espresso at the café.

Ultimately, this image problem hinders the viability of alternate forms of transportation.  While foot traffic can only be increased with infrastructure and destination rehabilitation, bicycle use can be remedied by having different expectations.  The mission of Dallas Cycle Chic is to do this exactly.  Meeting friends at the restaurant is unadvisable in pastel lycra, and wearing a helmet is such a drag.  The solution?  Make Dallas cycle-friendly.  Leave the helmet.  Wear jeans on your bike.  And watch this Ted Talk (courtesy of Dallas Cycle Chic):

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dallas ain't Madrid, but...

Inside El Tigre
When I got back to Dallas from Madrid in 2006, the first business I wanted to attempt was a Spanish style tapas bar.  I had in my mind El Tigre, a traditional type of tapas bar in Madrid where you order a caña (small beer) and you get a tapa (free food).  At any time during the day, you find theater people, musicians, gays, businessmen, punks, and pijos at the standing-room-only bar.  What I wanted to bring to Dallas was a small slice of Spanish culture at its best.

After almost a year back in town, however, I realized Dallas doesn't have a single location that would sustain a business like this.  After all, sprawled cities cannot support diverse communities.  El Tigre attracts such a peculiar crowd because its location is within short walking distance from various popular destinations in Madrid.
Madrid, Spain. El Tigre in the middle.

El Tigre is located within 800ft of four different Metro stations (red diamonds on map).  It's mere minutes from the Gayborhood, the Hipster District, the Theater District, a ton of shopping, and the center of the city.  People go to this tapas bar because it's easy to get to, it's laid back, and the food is cheap and delicious.

In Dallas, there are plenty of places  that are cheap, delicious, and laid back.  But this city's biggest disadvantage is that everything and everyone is so far away from each other.  Many people doubt that Big D could ever be a condensed, diverse, walkable city.  Here's the thing: Dallas used to be that way.

Dallas had become a significant, bustling city after the Civil War.  The brand new national railroad system made Dallas an important crossroads connecting north, south, east, and west.  The Jewel of the Flatlands soon became the most important hub in the Southwest for economic activity in cotton, oil, and investment banking.  That money created an urban landscape that today's blighted downtowns envy.

Downtown Dallas. Main and Akard. November 3, 1951.

Unfortunately, automobile focused development killed downtowns all over the country, as highways spliced through urban areas and incentivized citizens to move further and further away.  We now see the results in weakened cities, unsustainable sprawl, and a plethora of places not worth caring about.  On the other hand, in spite of irresponsible urban planning, Dallas still has sections and neighborhoods that retain the spirit of good urbanism.

Four years after coming back to my hometown, I started a business that would help activate one of the few Dallas neighborhoods that retained this urban spirit.  I wanted to create a place that took space away from inactive automobiles and allowed human activity to prevail.  Instead of a car soaking sunlight, an artist would use the space for self expression.

Deep Ellum is a place worth caring about.  Not only is its history important to the character of the neighborhood, but also its future is directly tied to the kind of city Dallas becomes.  As developments within the city grasp at straws to figure out how to create a place where people want to be, Deep Ellum already has the shape and infrastructure to show a sprawled town what a real city looks like.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dallas police reaction to recent special events

The past few weeks, I attended the Homegrown Music Fest in Downtown, the Deep Ellum Outdoor Market (of course), and the Brew Riot in Bishop Arts.  Security is key to all outdoor events, such that the City of Dallas requires Dallas Police presence to ensure the safety of all in attendance.  From an event coordinators perspective, this is an expensive but necessary cost, as it's important to have a smooth running event.

It's even better when the police have a positive comments of the event.  Packing up our booth at Homegrown, I overheard a few cops saying how it was a well run event with a good crowd that didn't cause trouble.  As I handed our officer his check and thanked him for coming out, he told me that he looks forward to the Market every month.  At Brew Riot, surrounded by hundreds of people drinking, I witnessed a few cops joking around with each other knowing that vigilance was not a priority on the day.

It's crucial that people have a good time at these events, but it's even more important that everyone feel safe, and if we make the cops' jobs easier, then we make it easier to pull off these special events in the future.  Most importantly, the people who come out to these events, I've observed, appreciate the quality of experience and respect the work it takes it pull these things off.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Impact city neighborhoods by creating public space.

Before attending the City of Dallas' Deep Ellum Area Revitalization project presentation last week, I would have signed off on improved streetscaping and bike lane installation without even thinking.  Indeed, I am always in favor of walkability and bikeability in neighborhood design, but the point of these meetings is to get everyone's perspective on the project and to be open to contrary opinions.  Many why's, who's, and how's were asked, but there were a few objections to the plan that stood out to me.

To paraphrase: Where are the people going to come from when the plan eliminates street parking crucial to the businesses on Elm St.?  Who says there will be bicyclists and pedestrians?  Furthermore, why would street improvements attract more business to Deep Ellum?  The plan, as it stands, will eliminate 24 street parking spots from Good Latimer to Hall.  These spaces create easy access to the establishments up and down this corridor of Elm St.  Additionally, there is skepticism that widening sidewalks would actually promote pedestrian activity.

This got me thinking about the DART Rail and the strategy for its implementation.  DART won an award for building the longest light rail public transportation in the United States but experienced a drop in ridership from 2009 to 2010 despite extending the Green Line just before wintertime.  And this when gas has become more expensive!  The DART Rail is an example of infrastructure development before destination development. 

The lesson to be learned from DART is connecting sites is not as important as connecting destinations.  Following a trend and implementing a greener technology does not necessarily make people buy your product.  Granted, this rail system exists, but does it take you to places that you want to go to?  To apply this to the streetscaping plans, is it reasonable to believe people will want to walk the Deep Ellum sidewalks just because the pavement is wide and a bike can share the road with a car?  It is much more reasonable to believe that people will walk to and from a desirable destination for the simple pleasure of doing so.

The question now is how do you develop a destination?  To quote the authors of Suburban Nation:
"Just as it is difficult to imagine the concept of family independent of the home, it is near-impossible to imagine community independent of the town square...In the absence of walkable public places - streets, squares, and parks, the public realm - people of diverse ages, races, and beliefs are unlikely to meet and talk."
Any visitor to New York City will see how crucial Washington Square Park and Union Square are to their respective communities.  Both are comfortable and inviting public spaces that give people access to other people, things to do, and other places around the city

There is currently a lack of these kinds of places throughout Dallas, but Deep Ellum is a perfect candidate to feature such a public space.  Deep Ellum feels divided by Hall St. where the west side of the neighborhood features most of the eateries, drinking holes, and metered parking, as opposed to the east side, where most people live and don't pay to park.  A public space would connect these places and provide a communal area to enjoy at any hour of the day, much like how the Main Street Garden Park serves Downtown Dallas today.  Imagine the sight in Deep Ellum of residents, Downtown visitors, and Baylor folk communing in a comfortable and shady environment. 

As it stands, most of the activities in the neighborhood are on the west side of Deep Ellum where parking is at a premium because of the expectation of convenient, direct to the door, parking.  A walkable streetplan would open up the rest of the neighborhood to foot traffic and incentivize people to park farther and walk longer.  In truth, there's scant reason nowadays for a person to park near Undermain Theater to watch a show at Trees, even though the walk takes less than 10 minutes.  To promote this kind of pedestrian activity, make it worth that person's time to stroll through an area worth caring about.

How about holding off on the monstrous task of reformatting Elm St. and develop a public space that will not handicap the businesses that are currently thriving in the renewed interest in Deep Ellum?  It is such a crucial time for the businesses trying to gain a foothold in the local economy that hindering access to them is dangerous.  Since the City of Dallas has money to spend on Deep Ellum, develop a project that helps the local businesses, encourages residents out of their lofts, and attracts people from neighboring communities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The complications of food in Dallas public markets.

It's easy to compare Big D with the Weird City down south, and the general conclusion is that Dallas isn't as cool as Austin.  The Capitol of Texas is lucky to be located in beautiful Hill Country, to house the University of Texas, and to have flexible laws that allow for creative use of space.  Food trucks and farmers markets are all the rage nowadays, and whereas one Texan city has been open to their use, another to the north has made them more difficult than they need to be.

We had a nerve wracking visit from Code Compliance last Saturday at the Market.  We were prepared, having applied for and received a Temporary Food Service Permit (TFSP) for the one vendor we thought would actually need it.  The last time I talked to someone at the Health Department at Goforth Rd. in December, the supervisor told me that 1) a properly licensed food truck would not need a TFSP when used in conjunction with a Special Event Permit, 2) a vendor selling closed food products did not need a TFSP, and 3) a vendor selling produce would need a TFSP.  Apparently, it really matters who talks to you at the City of Dallas because the ginger haired code inspector who came by knew nothing of this supervisor who had promised an easy time having food at the Market.

The ginger inspector informed me that the Food Truck indeed needed its own TFSP.  Also, the vendors who give out samples of their food also require a TFSP.  If they sold jars of their product without letting people sample them, then no TFSP would be necessary.

I understand the need to regulate the food that people are consuming at a public event.  Being the one responsible for the Market, the last thing I want to see is someone getting sick off the food being served.  What is prohibitive about this process is the cost and confusion of doing it right by the City.  The TFSP costs $190 and can cover up to 5 vendors for $5 per vendor.  In other words a permit for 5 vendors costs $215, but a permit for 2 vendors costs $200, so a permit for 7 vendors is $415.

The permit does not differentiate between food producers whose ingredients do or do not include potentially harmful food (PHF).  If it is consumable, it needs a permit, including coffee or tea.  Even pickles and jelly, which are foodstuffs developed over the course of human history as a form of food preservation, are lumped together with perishable meats and cheeses.  As a result, DEOM is restricted to booking food vendors at multiples of 5.

As is in Dallas, it's impossible for food trucks and markets (nationwide trends) to operate within the Central Business District.  If a food vendor wants to sell anywhere else in Dallas, they need a markets permit ($100 for the first and $50 for each additional market) and a TFSP on top of a food managers license, food manufacturing permit, certified kitchen information, and food handlers license.  Luckily, a market director is allowed to file the TFSP to alleviate a little bit of this cost.

What I wish for is a simpler and more cost and time efficient way of getting permitted.  I would like an organized governing body for this, so that Special Events, Health Department, Code Compliance, and Farmers Market can figure out what the other guy is telling people.  I would like to give input on a proper way of licensing these types of events that protects the City and also allows vendors to make money.  Dallas is literally the only City in the US that makes its food vendors pay $200 for the privilege of selling their delicious delectables. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The City of Dallas' attempt at progress

In 2010, the City of Dallas had enacted a moratorium on public markets.  They had suspended the licensing of markets in general to figure how they wanted to legislate their implementation.  Given the increased interest in community gardens, the City wanted to make sure that the permitting of neighborhood markets was done responsibly and that the new markets did not interfere with the already established Dallas Farmers Market.

Recently in 2011, the City of Dallas has allowed a new permit for "Neighborhood Farmers Markets" (Chapter 29A, Code Compliance), which is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for the promotion of local economy, sustainable living, and a positive image for the City.  Knowing that Dallas was working towards this end, we were excited by the prospect of progressive legislation that would accommodate the growing interest in public markets within DFW.  Unfortunately, we were disappointed when the provisions of the licensing were published.  The Deep Ellum Outdoor Market apparently does not fit the City's definition of a "Neighborhood Farmers Market."

First and foremost, an NFM must be outside the Central Business District and, therefore, does not pose a threat to the Dallas Farmers Market.  An NFM does not exceed 50 vendors, and a vendor does not use a space more that 10ft x 10ft.  An NFM does not take up more than 25% of the entire area of a parking lot.  An NFM is not a flea market, and therefore no more than 50% of the vendors may sell non-food items, additionally no products may be offered for resale.  An NFM does not project to attract more than 1000 people including vendors and market staff in a given day. Finally, a market coordinator may not file for a Neighborhood Farmers Market Permit at a separate location.

The Deep Ellum Outdoor Market fails to meet these provisions.  The White Rock Local Market, a fine example of a public market, had to turn regular vendors away last weekend because of the stipulations of the City.  If the number of vendors you are allowed to have is capped by the product they sell, what happens in extreme weather when produce is scarce?  What if the neighborhood where your market is located is a dense one of more than 1000 residents within a square mile?

The way I see it, if you keep telling people what they cannot do, it will make them give up attempting what they want to do.  The right thing for a city is to implement a regulatory approach that eschews policing people in favor of establishing rules that follow priorities.  Let public intentions and creativity define policy because these specific restrictions hinder growth.  This form of legislation is akin to locking the door to paths of progress.  In other words, get your greasy fingers out of my business and let me put on a market.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Upcycling Revolution

Recycling is the processing of used material into something more useful.  The products of recycling fall into two categories: 1) Downcycling - creating products of lower value, and 2) Upcycling - creating products of higher value.  An example of downcycling would be processing used office paper into toilet paper, while examples of upcycling can be found in multiple booth spaces at the Deep Ellum Outdoor Market.

Upcycling is the repurposing of an excess of unused resources into something usable.  The common expression is "one man's waste is another man's treasure," but upcyclers see it a different way.  To the upcycler, waste or unused material doesn't immediately convert to treasure, rather, the product goes through a transformation according to the vision of the artist. 

NiteOwl Z-3 by Red Ranger Rayguns
Recycle, repurpose, recreate is the mantra at the heart of this movement.  Melanie Woods of threeRdesigns refashions old records, cassette tape inserts, and chip bags into wallets, notebooks, and purses.  Caleb Massey of Red Ranger Rayguns transforms otherwise useless gun-shaped tools and toys into Atomic Disintegrators and other futuristic imaginings.

Recycling is all about reducing the rate of consumption of raw materials, while upcycling does this and increases the value of the product at the same time.  Nowadays, reusing quality, older paraphernalia outweighs the expense of utilizing raw materials.

The  Deep Ellum Outdoor Market itself is a reinvention of public space.  What was otherwise 5000 square feet of car shade is now a place of commerce and a reason to inhabit a space of little use.  What we intend to do is produce a quality, positive experience to attract a lot of people, in other words, to upcycle the parking lot.

Deep Ellum has the advantage of being a place that has been attractive to people ever since Bonnie and Clyde terrorized Texas banks in the early 20th century.  Over time, the buildings have been repurposed to fit the needs of the contemporary generation.  So, what does this generation need, and how can we use the resources available to us to make it happen?

Driving Ettiquette: The Lane Change

***Originally posted January 6, 2011***

Despite being a proponent of public transportation and alternative means of getting around, I personally am tied to my car.  Living in Plano but working in Dallas, a lot of my time on a daily basis is spent in the car.  To make up for this 1 1/2 hours of loneliness in my automobile, I listen to talk radio and try to communicate with fellow drivers by hand signal and flashing lights.

Perhaps the most frustrating maneuver to perform while traversing the motorways is the lane change.  What makes it so difficult is anticipating the expectations of the drivers in the desired lane.  In other words, is that dude (not to be gender specific) gonna let me in, or is he gonna make me work for it?

My intention is rather clear by the turn signal: I need to move over.  But what will be the reaction of the driver?  It would really help me out if the driver slows down a little bit to clear a space that would ease my lane change.  More often than not in this damn city, however, the driver speeds up and blocks a clear path to the next lane.

If this is the status quo in drivers' etiquette, what does that say about our expectations from each other when we're not in our cars?  Is this why it's so difficult to pursue progress in Dallas?  In the pursuit of change in lanes or civic mentality, why does blocking a clear path become an instant, initial obstacle?

The Philosophy of the Suburb part 1: The Cul-de-Sac

***Originally posted November 30, 2010***
The Deep Ellum Outdoor Market represents a common occurrence that happens in neighborhoods primed to be successful urban areas. It's important, then, to look at areas not primed to be successful public places to help define what we need urban spaces to be.

Dallas is a place with many people in the suburbs and few public spaces in urban areas.  Over the course of a few entries, I'll be breaking down the suburbs into component parts to figure out what is the ultimate goal of the suburb. If an ideal urban neighborhood seeks to bring people together, what does a suburban neighborhood seek to do?

The first component of suburbia I will cover is the cul-de-sac. It's a French word that means bottom of the bag, but it's also a staple of subdivision design ubiquitous in any suburban neighborhood in any town in the nation.

A cul-de-sac is a street that ends with a bunch of houses circling the truncated area. They were implemented in American subdivision development after World War II with the intention of limiting through-traffic in residential areas. There's no reason to drive down a cul-de-sac if you don't live in that pocket of houses, so cars are filtered out into busier capillary streets.  Traffic, in turn, concentrated in streets that led out of the subdivision, thereby reducing noise, traffic, and air pollution for those lucky to buy up the real estate in less traveled areas.

The cul-de-sac also allows developers to pack more families into irregular plots of land. Instead of allowing people access to larger thoroughfares, developers could fit in a few more houses within the subdivision.  If the developers' layout met a particular quota, there were Federal Housing Administration incentives for people to buy homes in these particular subdivisions.

Let's take a look at the cul-de-sac in it's extreme form. Here is a satellite photo of a subdivision in West Plano.

SW of Parker and Preston. 1/2 mile east to west, 1/4 mile north to south.

In this photograph, it's easy to spot no fewer than 9 cul-de-sacs in the neighborhood. The cul-de-sac design accomplishes its mission by restricting flow into and out of the area to only four roads: Sleepy Hollow Dr., Silver Creek Dr., Coventry Ln, and Bellaire Dr. Only two of them reach out to one of the main thoroughfares, Parker Road! In this case, inner neighborhood traffic is limited to these few roads while the other streets are free from traffic.

The drivers traveling on Parker and Preston, in turn, are completely oblivious to the residents of the neighborhood as those cars race by in a 45mph zone.

Additionally, there are long stretches of sidewalk bordered by a brick barrier protecting the subdivision in a way that no wall ever protected the Alamo.  Pedestrians within the subdivision, like cars, can only leave the neighborhood through one of the 4 roads listed above.  A church-goer living in the subdivision would have to drive to the church at Parker and Preston lest they sully their Sunday best clothes climbing the wall to escape the neighborhood.

The developers of this subdivision seem to have left out a human perspective in the design of the place, as the streets certainly cater to the conveniences of the automobile and not the pedestrian.  In reference to Jane Jacob's four components of a successful neighborhood, this subdivision follows none of those tenets:

1) There are no mixed use buildings.  The closest retail store is farther away than the church and most certainly a drivable distance. 
2) There is a lack of interconnected streets.  That there are only 2 roads that access the closest major street makes walking in this neighborhood a chore, since there is literally nowhere to walk to. 
3) Because there is nowhere to walk to, there are no people on the street.  The closest gathering place, the church, is empty save for a few services a week.
4) There is no mix of old and new buildings.  The subdivision was created less than a decade ago, so all buildings are of similar age.

When the components of successful public space are completely ignored, we have the modern subdivision, centered around the suburban cul-de-sac, which can be appropriately designated by this street sign:

The Benefits of Markets

***Originally posted November 19, 2010***

Throughout history, public markets have been essential to human commerce.  From camel caravans, to
Barcelona market halls, to the streets of Deep Ellum, markets have been an ever present companion to the exchange of local and foreign goods.

Since World War II, however, American culture has tended towards car-centric development where lateral expansion is favored over dense urbanization.  Commerce has been relegated to strip malls that necessitate parking requirements, whereas markets have been forgotten as we've been pulled further and further away from our neighbors.

Despite a plethora of competition for commerce and retailing, especially here in Dallas, public markets are important resources that give value to a place.  Markets have three potential benefits: 1) creating dynamic places, 2) providing economic opportunity, and 3) inspiring social contact.

1) Positive public activities are crucial to the revitalization of a neighborhood void of urban development.  To entice people back onto the streets, they need places to go to that are designed for them to use and enjoy.  The objective is to create an inviting, convivial space in otherwise forgotten areas.

2) Public markets provide a venue for small businesses to develop, incubate, and experiment without the risk of occupying a brick and mortar location.  Entrepreneurs benefit from exposure and contact with people, as customers can talk directly to business owners and product creators.  Additionally, the businesses within the surrounding community can benefit from the market's drawing power.

3) In a time when human interaction is filtered through screens, handheld and otherwise, public markets offer neutral ground where it's acceptable to talk to strangers.  Buying, selling, and socializing are activities that encourage the gathering of disparate peoples, the discovery of similarities, and the enjoyment of connections made.

The Deep Ellum Outdoor Market was created with this philosophy in mind.  Ultimately, the Market's goals are to spur economic development and to put feet on the streets of Deep Ellum.  The challenge we face is persuading people to eschew the status quo, leave their social bubble, and support local economy.

Deep Ellum as an Urban Ideal

***Originally posted November 12, 2010***

Any healthy city should have multiple destinations that reflect each neighborhood's personality and offers people from other communities an alternative to what they are used to.  Dallas boasts quite a few destinations: Lower Greenville, Uptown, Cedar Springs, Knox-Henderson, Victory Park, Downtown, and Deep Ellum of course.  But taking a look at the various locations throughout the city, it is interesting to note the limitations of geography and infrastructure that determine the size and growth potential of each neighborhood.

In Google mapping each of the areas listed above, each neighborhood has something in common except for Deep Ellum, whose geography and infrastructure are certainly unique.  Seen from above, Lower Greenville is pretty much only Greenville Ave.  Uptown's commercial activity centers around McKinney Ave.  The Cedar Springs area centers around Cedar Springs.  Knox-Henderson is just that.  Victory Park is centered around itself and doesn't connect with its surroundings.  And Downtown action centers around Main Street, for the most part.  All these areas are dependent on one street for commerce.

What sets Deep Ellum apart is that the neighborhood consists of 4 main streets: Elm Street, Main Street, Commerce, and Canton.  Then Pryor, Crowdus, Malcolm X, Walton, Hall, Murray, and Exposition split up the long thoroughfares to create many useable blocks.

The types of buildings also set Deep Ellum apart from the other neighborhoods.  The mixed use buildings around the neighborhood provide space for many storefronts intermingled among various types of housing, from loft space and converted warehouse space, to tall, multi-tenant apartment buildings. 

Taking cues from Jane Jacobs and her 4 factors of a successful urban area (as discussed in the previous post), we see that Deep Ellum already provides the most difficult components in infrastructure and architecture.  Fulfilling the missing ingredient has proven to be a tricky problem that we are actively trying to tackle. 

Recent discussion for the reformatting of Greenville Ave ( shows that walkable, urban spaces are wanted.  The thing is they have to wait until next summer to start construction on what they want.  Deep Ellum doesn't have to wait at all.

Why a market in Deep Ellum?

***Originally posted November 5, 2010 (different account)***

This question is not simple, nor is the answer.  Here is the most succinct way to put it:

In 1961, American-born Jane Jacobs wrote the urbanists' handbook The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  The book looked at specific examples of successful and unsuccessful cities and drew conclusions detailing what factors determined the liveliness and deadliness of an urban area.

To summarize, here are the four factors that contribute to successful urban life: 1) Mixed-use commercial and residential buildings, 2) Active sidewalk life, 3) Short city blocks, 4) Mix of old and new buildings.

1) Live, work, and play.  In traditional neighborhood design, people are within walking distance of retail stores and things to do.  Consumerism is so important to our economy that it should be easy for people to spend money at any time of day.  A place should attract different people at different hours so that the area remains lively day and night.

2) The excitement of city life is often embodied in the busyness of people on the sidewalk. People buzzing around provides commerce to businesses lining the streets, but also an important and subtle amount of socialization takes place: getting to know your neighbors.  Visible city life lends to trust on the streets, which leads to even more activity and comfort on the sidewalks.

3) Pedestrian activity is vital to the life on the street, which is virtually eliminated when the sidewalks don't take you anywhere. Very long city blocks do no offer many options for getting from one place to another.  A vibrant walking community features multiple paths for walking from one destination to the next.  And short city blocks create an abundance of street corners, which provides plenty of potential for storefronts.

4) A mix of old and new buildings gives residents and business owners different options for space rental.  Older places tend to be less expensive than newer ones, but the spaces provided can match what the renter is looking for based on the price point of the person's budget.  The idea is for the neighborhood to embrace diversity of people and the businesses they attract.

Recent efforts within the Central Business District of Dallas notwithstanding, there remains a lack of such types of places around Dallas with one glaring exception: Deep Ellum.  Deep Ellum has the mixed use buildings, the interconnected sidewalks and streets, and the mix of old and new buildings.  What the neighborhood is obviously lacking at this point in time is vibrant sidewalk life throughout the day.

The Deep Ellum Outdoor Market was created to serve this purpose.  For residents, tourists, and nostalgists to repopulate the streets of the neighborhood one weekend afternoon at a time until the spark the Market provides gives opportunity to more people and businesses to create a better city.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Interstates and Urban Sprawl

***Originally poster April 20, 2010***

When I first moved back to Dallas in 2006, it was evident to me that people my age had left the Metroplex years before to later return to the Jewel of the Flatlands after seeing a bit of the world. a visit to Chicago, New York City, or Boston reveals Dallas to be an expansive, sprawling monster traversable only by car. In that case, let's take a look at highways and their relationship to urban sprawl.

The first multi-lane limited access highway was constructed during the Weimar Republic years of 1930's Germany. the Autobahn then became one of Hitler's most useful assets as its creation bolstered the economy and later facilitated the transportation of troops during World War II. As supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, Dwight D. Eisenhower was impressed by the network of highways that empowered Germany's national defense system and realized that America must have its own version. What resulted from the President's European inspiration was a federally funded, nationwide web of crisscrossing freeways.

As interstates spliced through urban centers, people saw that property taxes down the road were much more favorable than what they contemporaneously were paying. Urban sprawl quickly followed, and blocks and blocks of subdivisions sprang forth with strip malls fueling the consumption of suburban populations.

What has failed to happen is a curtailment of wealth spreading further and further away from urban centers. In other words it's more profitable to encourage the dilapidation of outdated buildings in favor of newer commercial and residential projects because the state raises taxes as a property's value appreciates.

It is easy to surmise that there hasn't been incentives to fuel the preservation and development of Dallas urban centers since World War II, whereas there has indeed been a significant funding in the motorization of the United States. President Eisenhower realized his 'Grand Plan' for highways by paying for 90% of 41,000 miles worth of interstates with the Federal Highway Act of 1956.

Urban sprawl works in direct contrast with the 4 components of a successful city, but there are too many financial incentives to eschew suburban development. What would the motivation be, then, for Dallas to develop urban centers for itself ?

4 Components of a Successful City

***Originally posted April 6, 2010***

Jane Jacobs wrote a book in 1961 called the Death and Life of Great American Cities. ( Despite having been written 50 years ago, the ideas Jacobs wrote about are applicable today, as her observations of successful and unseccussful urban areas are still visible in any city.

Like Guns, Germs, and Steel, on the other hand, the book can be a bit repetitive at times, so I'd like to bring a brief summation of the major points to the table. This is a list of factors that contribute to successful urban life: 1) mixed-use commercial and residential buildings 2) vibrant sidewalk life 3) abundancy of streets 4) co-mingling of old and new buildings.

1) Urban dwellings should be mixed with businesses, as people should be within walking distance of places to spend money. Consumerism is vital to our economy, so make it easy for people to buy things.

2) The excitement of city life is often embodied in the busyness of people on the sidewalk. People buzzing around provides commerce to businesses lining the streets, but also an important and subtle amount of socialization takes place: getting to know your neighbors.

3) Pedestrian activity is vital to the life of sidewalks, which is virtually eliminated when there's nowhere to walk to. An abundance of streets in a small area creates a webbed network allowing for multiple ways to traverse the grid and potential places to put up storefronts.

4) What helps to maintain diversity of residential and commercial tennants is diversity of cost of where they can be located. Age of a building is often inversely proportional to the cost of occupying it, and variety is maintained by offering spaces that appeal to different contingencies.

Compare the cities you've been to and observe what made one city or neighborhood more successful than another. Did these factors have anything to do with it?

What Allen has that Dallas doesn't.

***Originally posted March 30, 2010***

Someone told me about a dog park in Allen, TX located in the middle of a strip mall parking lot, and I was determined to find it. It turns out it's not so much a strip mall as a modern day towne square.

Towne squares are commercial and social areas within a civitas that are used for community gatherings. An example of a traditional towne square would be Downtown Denton, which features a historical building surrounded by various shops and restaurants. Allen, TX is the modern day example, exemplified by the Allen Events Center ( the centerpiece within the Village at Allen (

As the traditional market square is surrounded by shops and restaurants, the Village at Allen consists of big-name stores like Best Buy, Toys 'r Us, Tjmaxx, Super Target, Petsmart, and Dick's Sporting goods, among others. But it's not just an oversized mall! There's a kids' playground, fishing pond, park area, and canine commons. Hiking and biking trails are yet to come. But wait there's more! The Allen Avents Center is home to the Allen Americans, farm team for the Dallas Stars, and a weekly concert venue.

Other cute features include ease of automobile entry, but difficulty in exiting. They stole this idea from Las Vegas, where the walkways and carpets are labyrinthian, designed to keep you in as long as possible. To their credit, it works wonderfully. Restaurants, on the other hand, were few and far between, literally, as the food court is a short car ride away.

What I like about this is that the planners take full advantage of bringing people to an area and having them spend money. What I don't like is that Dallas has nothing of this sort, with the exception of Victory Park, which has plenty of its own problems already.

The West Village is very nearly this civic ideal. It features a mix of commercial and residential space. They made sure the restaurants have plenty of porch space to take advantage of our great weather. There are a always people walking around. What the West Village currently lacks is an area for community gathering, a place to enjoy the neighborhood without having to spend money, the streetcar notwithstanding.

Now that Hank Haney's Driving Range has moved, a large plot of green space is currently available for development. I await my disappointment when a large crane is put up in the middle of this land and a fortress of condominiums is erected upon it.

What would it take for Dallas to have a legitimate towne square? How about a Washington Square Park? Imagine someplace to walk your dog around, a destination to take your sweetheart, a place for tourists to go and not remind themselves of the assasination of a certain united states president.

Why can't we have an Allen Event Center?

Dallas loves its bubbles.

***Originally posted March 24, 2010***

It's a wonder that this sprawling Metroplex really doesn't know much about itself. At least this East Dallasite sticks to his respective neighborhood and that's pretty much it. I know Uptown a bit and have a vague impression of Lovers and Greenville, but I couldn't give you any information about the Bishop Arts District, for example.

The thing is: the Jewel of the Flatlands does indeed have much to offer.

Did you know that Euless has a major Tongan population?

Koreatown is a big deal too:,_Dallas,_Texas

The better you get to know Dallas, the better you understand why so many Asians are here:

Despite the richness of diversity in DFW, I have yet to eat chicken and waffles, happy hour in addison, or spend a dime at Sundance Square, all of which are possible with an adventuresome spirit and a tolerance for highways. Nonetheless, what prevails is a sentiment of convenience and laziness that blocks me from stuff that's really cool to do and see in this city.

In other words, I tend to stick to my bubble and I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way. Perhaps this is true in other sprawltowns as well. Still, I love Dallas, though it does seem to shoot itself in the foot at times.

Gentrification is, in fact, a slow process.

***Originally posted March 22, 2010***

When I first moved to East Dallas, I noticed the plethora of taco restaurants, sub-par condition of the roads, and how slow these Mexicans drive.

More often than not, I'd be trapped behind a slow car with a Piolín sticker and I'd very nearly claw my eyes out as passersby on bikes passed us by.

But after about a year, I understood that the streets are small, the lights change with frequency, and there's no fire I need to get to. In fact, driving slower will save your tires in neighborhoods whose roads are neglected, and you can make left turns without fear of getting plastered onto the houses and bars that line the avenue.

Now, when driving, I quietly mouth to motorists: "slow down, white man!"

In the suburbs where six lane streets with wide medians define the course of traffic, it is necessary to maintain a high level of speed to 1) keep up with traffic 2) not get caught in bad traffic light timing 3) cover large distances between destinations. On top of that, more traffic lights are needed because left turns are so difficult, for example when exiting a strip mall.

In conclusion, though Knox-Hendo has become a popular destination for weekend party-goers, the neighborhood still belongs to the residents, the majority of whom are mexican who have a tendency of keeping to the speed limit and below. The question then becomes: when gentrification is complete, will these small streets retain their ease of driving, or will the white people insist on drag racing and tail gating?

Adventures in Language

***Originally posted March 21, 2010***

Yesterday, I was pumping gas into my car when a black fellow across the way from me gets my attention and asks: "Do you werk alone?"

Well, I'm in sales and I often do work alone, but how is that any business of yours? "Excuse me?" I respond.

"Do you werk alone?"

The lady in the driver seat is now looking at me for an answer, and I'm still trying to figure out why  this man is so interested in my profession. "What do you mean?" I ask inquisitively.

"I show you." he reaches into his car and fetches two boxes.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I don't wear cologne."

Figuring out the Internet.

In an effort to consolidate the amount of online applications I use, I tried using Facebook Notes as a blog.  Turns out hardly anyone uses them that way.  So I'm gonna repost the old stuff here and continue to post all new stuff on this thing.  Apparently it's easier for others to read the blog if I post them here...  We'll see what happens.