Friday, October 5, 2012

Let's make Dallas a real city

Wow, last night's response to the Design District Market was incredible! The crowd was great, the music was rocking, and the energy on Cole St. was palpable.

Not enough credit has been given to Jim Lake Companies for bringing DEOM into the mix and for footing the bill of this event. But most specifically, a deep bow of gratitude goes to their marketing coordinator Monica Diodati, who is already lining up other events to bring excitement and attention to the Design District. It's always a pleasure working with a person who not only gets stuff done, but also someone who has real passion for this line of work.

Collaboration is the key to growing these events and spreading the good word that Big D is actually a cool place. As I've said before, Dallas is a bubble city where people don't mix, don't know each other, and don't work together. It's inevitable to have a plethora of cool, intelligent, talented people in a city this size. The problem is finding them.

People are now saying around Texas that Austin is becoming more like Dallas, and Dallas is becoming more like Austin. We have a bike lane now and a bunch of sharrows. This is the home of the Better Block Project. More and more street festivals are popping up around DFW, like Walk the Light and the Elmwood Street Fair, for example. People are stirring to the idea of Dallas as a dynamic city.

"You know how real cities have markets? We intend to make Dallas a real city," has been a running joke of mine since starting the Deep Ellum Market. The thing is, this could actually happen! Things are changing in Dallas right now, and it's exciting take part in it, but again, more people need to join in. I feel now is the time to change the catchphrase: Let's make Dallas a real city.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Different neighborhood, same story

Two years ago, living in my parents house for the first time in a decade, I quickly realized that running one market is certainly not enough to sustain myself and my lifestyle in Dallas. The Brooklyn Flea guys can charge $100 a booth and hold their market every weekend, but that's New York City, and I knew that getting people to Deep Ellum would be a challenge, especially in the beginning.

That's why I set up the business to be replicable in different places. In two years of operation, we've been able to set up markets in various neighborhoods and venues, from West Dallas to Downtown to Fair Park. The next neighborhood and project on the list is the Dallas Design District and the Design District Market.

What's interesting about this project is that it's remarkably similar to starting the Deep Ellum Market two years ago. Telling people about DEOM at that time, I encountered a lot of skepticism from vendors, special event producers, and people in the neighborhood. A few months removed from our 2 Year Anniversary, I like to think we've proved our critics wrong.

Now, telling people about the Design District Market on October 4 produces the same blank stares and quizzical looks when DEOM was still very young. Vendors are skeptical that people will come to this area of Dallas. There are neighborhood factions with little history of working together. Even fellow urbanists question the viability of the Design District as a pedestrian friendly environment.

I see the Design District as an up and coming neighborhood. According to information I've received from our partners on this project, Jim Lake Companies, the Design District now boasts almost 1,800 residents (up from 43 in the year 2000) and 1,026 businesses (80% related to decor/furniture/interior design). There are 11 restaurants, a theater, a museum,  a brewery, 22 art galleries, Trammel Crow Park, and the recently approved Trinity Strand Trail.

Like Deep Ellum, the Design District's infilling of empty space has the potential to be something great in the City of Dallas. The challenge, again, is to show that there is another neighborhood in the Central Dallas area that exhibits signs of real, organic growth.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Deep Ellum as an Entertainment District

Please read this blog about the Pitfalls of "Entertainment Districts".  Deep Ellum would certainly fall into the "naturally occurring" entertainment district category, as any historical reference to the neighborhood will mention it being Dallas' home of jazz and the blues in the 1920s.  Long story short, Deep Ellum has been Dallas' watering hole for the better part of a century.

Luckily, Deep Ellum has not become the "overnight" example of entertainment districts, despite talk in the past of building a West Village style development in the heart of the neighborhood.  I remember there being a lot of opposition to this project, and rightly so, as single entity ownership limits diversity and flexibility of commercial and residential space.

But opposition to this project empowered another group, which can be called the Circa 92, or the Keep Deep Ellum Empty faction.  The general belief is that if it worked in 1992 as an active collection of bars, it'll work today.  What is the definition of insanity again?

Deep Ellum will never be a relevant neighborhood in Dallas if it's only seen as an entertainment district.  Is the goal of the neighborhood is to be the receptacle of Dallas' debauchery?  Entertainment districts are notions rooted in suburban development, which necessitates great distances between drink and home.

To revitalize a neighborhood, or to make it like any other thriving community in any city around the world, commerce needs to take place at all hours of the day.  Attract people during the day, and Deep Ellum will be a completely different place.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Food Trucks in Deep Ellum

The Deep Ellum Food Truck Rally is coming to Deep Ellum!  The urban activist in me is extremely pleased to shut down Main St. and turning a road normally for cars into a space for people.

It's an undeniable fact that food trucks are currently a trend and that they draw a lot people.  It's also an undeniable fact that Deep Ellum needs more people in its street, so it makes sense to combine the two.

The west side of Deep Ellum is currently shaping up to be the commercial side of the neighborhood.  Elm St. currently boasts a concentration of bars (Anvil Pub, Black Swan, La Grange, Reno's, July Alley, etc.) while Commerce has proven to be a home for restaurants (Twisted Root, Freeman, Cane Rosso, Angry Dog, St. Pete's, Buzzbrews, etc.).  By natural extension, then, Main St. should be where all the retail is, and for the most part it's shaping to be that way (Lula B's, Millennium, In Accord, Dallas Pinup, Mid to Mod, etc.).  But how many people relate shopping with Deep Ellum?

With the exception of an occasional crowd at the Curtain Club, Main St. remains forgotten among this crest of Deep Ellum revitalization.  How can this be when Main has the widest sidewalks, the shadiest trees, and cool storefronts, making it one of the most pedestrian friendly stretches of land in the City of Dallas?

The reason is that Deep Ellum isn't relevant in a city-wide discussion of important neighborhoods, and many businesses suffer from this fact.  Granted, Cane Rosso is relevant in the Dallas culinary scene, and Trees and Dada are relevant in the music scene, but there are plenty of people who still won't come here because there are plenty of other options around town that are more familiar to them.

There is currently a nationwide debate pitting gourmet food trucks against brick and mortar restaurants. In putting together this event, I've personally been drawn into this debate.  There are many restaurant owners that see this Rally as an immediate threat to their business.  My defense of this project is fivefold:

1) Ours a special event and not a daily or even weekly occurrence.
2) You cannot deny trends, and this event will bring even more people to the neighborhood.
3) If the neighborhood continues to develop as it should, there will be plenty more competition for all restaurants. This will mimic that competitive environment.
4) The advantage of Deep Ellum as a venue for a food truck event is that the neighborhood provides alternatives to a 30 min wait standing at the truck or a selection of trucks that you don't want to eat at anyways.
5) The event is designed to serve dinner and entertain people with live music, but it ends early and encourages people to stay in Deep Ellum to shop or drink.

Perhaps the fear is that one food truck will lead to two, which will lead to the entire neighborhood being overrun with mobile restaurants.  But again, Deep Ellum must remain relevant to be a viable place for businesses to set up and for people to move in to.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Joshua King at the WAAS Gallery

Aurora Dallas was one of those events that makes you proud to be from Dallas.  On the evening of Game 7 of the World Series last year, more than 100 light, video, and sound artists from all over the country to our Arts District.

The reason this important to bring up again is that Joshua King, one of the organizers of the event, will have his first solo art exhibition "Goods and Services" at the WAAS Gallery just south of Deep Ellum.

For more information about the event, visit the Facebook page here.  Josh plans to reprise one of his Aurora installations, and my favorite of the entire event.  Food Trucks Rockstar Bakeshop and Three Lions Truck will provide delicious delectables.  Plus there will be drinks and music, as any party would require.

For more information about the artist, watch this video.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

From Vibrant Geometry to Beige BBQ Building

Bakers Ribs is moving from its perennial location next to the Angry Dog to the corner of Main and Hall.  In doing so, it displaces the work of Ricardo Paniagua, local Deep Ellum Artist.

Building and Artist, photo by Scot Dorn

For Baker's Ribs, this is opportunity to ostensibly make room for their fried pies.  Still Paniagua's designs weren't in line with typical locations of the Texas BBQ franchise, and the company felt the need to alter the building's facade.

Please excuse the crappy phone resolution
As you can see, the building currently bears no semblance of its former self.  Paniagua's "Psalm 112: An Alchemical Spacecraft" had received national acclaim, but the BBQ joint felt that the mural didn't exactly fit their branding strategy.

This situation is a microcosm of what is happening in urban areas around the country.  When it comes to these old, non-suburban places, what should be done about buildings that have been there sitting empty for a long time?

While it is a tragedy that the vibrancy of that intersection is now muted, the building was un-rentable, judging by its many years of disuse.  In fact, there are many buildings in the neighborhood that have been empty for a long time.  Is this a cause of the times, or is this a call for new buildings?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pinterest and the Deep Ellum Tunnel

Deep Ellum has always been a hotbed of controversy, from its freed slaves roots and criminal background of the 1920s to the Uplift Education debacle earlier this year.

In its late 20th century heyday, Deep Ellum's most beloved icon The Tunnel was a symbol of the edginess of the neighborhood.  Crossing under Central Expressway and going down Good Latimer through the Deep Ellum Tunnel meant you were crossing into another world that wasn't exactly safe and certainly not welcome to the faint of heart.

South side of the Tunnel
The walls were decorated with murals, another sign that you were entering into a place unique to Dallas.  It's understandable, then, that when DART announced it's taking the Tunnel in the name of urban redevelopment and public transportation, people were up in arms.

Like the aforementioned Uplift situation, decisions were made higher up, and the people didn't have a say in what was happening in their neighborhood.  Next thing you know, construction begins and the Tunnel is gone.
North side of Tunnel and tons of rebar
I prepared a photo essay a few years ago to retell this story, but there was never a convenient platform to show the pictures.  Then Pinterest happened and the Uplift controversy happened, and the time felt right to tell the story once more.  For more pictures, visit the DEOM Pinterest board dedicated to the evolution of Good Latimer.

I also failed to keep the photographers' names handy, so if I used your work, let me know and I'll credit you.

In the end, the only living piece of the Deep Ellum Tunnel resides across the street from the DART station, not far from where it used to stand.  It's now a stump that the Traveling Man leans against.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Residence Analysis of Deep Ellum

There is a subtle underlying context to the way that Deep Ellum has developed over the years.  Long story short, the neighborhood is divided in half by Hall St.  Essentially, the west side is mainly businesses with a few residences, but the east side is mainly residences with a couple few businesses.

Blue = West, Green = East, Bubble = < 3 tenants, Pin = > 3 tenants
In an urban context*, it's important to look for density and concentrations of people.  While there are a good number of living spaces in the west side of Deep Ellum, there are much fewer multi-residence buildings than in the east side.  In other words, the west is dense with commercial space but sparse in residential.

The east, on the other hand, is replete with multi-tenant buildings and consequently have larger concentrations of people.  By the way, there are no parking meters on the east side.  In a comfortable, walkable community, people have all the amenities they need within a 5 minute walking distance.  A 5 minute walk to the west from the Futura lofts on Commerce barely gets you to Walton St.

One of the biggest difficulties of local businesses is getting the area residences to patronize their establishments.  If the businesses are outside the universal preferred walking distance of where people live, those people will most likely jump into the car.  If they get into the car, they might as well go to Mockingbird lane, Greenville Ave, McKinney Ave, or Lakewood to shop, eat, or drink.

The bane of the modern city is zoning laws, which assist in the development of suburbs.  Everywhere in Dallas, with the exception of Downtown and Uptown, takes pains to separate homes from businesses.  It turns out, this goes against millennia of city development patterns all over the world.

*The Marquis on Gaston (pin in the top left corner) is not considered part of the urban context because it is based on the suburban fortress model of residential development and impermeable to city life. 

Time for a Change

The great thing about talking to people from different places is getting their perspective on how things work in their cities.  Dallas is certainly unique in many aspects, but it can also learn from other places.

V. is a recently returning Dallas native adjusting to life back home having come from the more urban, more dynamic Washington D.C.  Apparently over the better part of the last decade, in D.C. there has been the ubiquitous emergence of "hyper local" blogs, from which people get their information about the city.

A Google search of "Dallas neighborhood blog" only yielded search results from the Observer, D Mag, Dallas News, and a real estate blog.  Since Google doesn't recognize any Dallas neighborhood blogs, let's assume that the hyper local blog doesn't exist here.  Since it doesn't exist here, let's take this opportunity to start one, or at least re-tool this one to be more useful to people.

The goal of this project is threefold: 1) excavate information and conversations that may help to make Deep Ellum a better place, 2) get more people supporting local businesses, 3) give me an outlet for my opinions.  After all, it's my blog and I can do whatever I want with it.

So expect more posts.  They'll be shorter with more mistakes and hopefully more pictures.  If you're close to the Deep Ellum Postal Center at Main and Hall, stop by and say hi.