This summer we are launching a series of articles that will look at Dallas’ architecture and urban form from a pedestrian perspective. We are not going to opine about what needs to be done to make this city more of a sensible place for citizens on foot. Rather, we’re going to look at how Dallas exists today, and specifically, how the tangle of plans, architecture, and ideas across the decades have created a strange, illogical, frustrating, but also sometimes pleasant and surprising urban environment.
To start: a simple thing I discovered one day when I went to walk from D Magazine’s offices at the corner of Ross Ave. and St. Paul St. (across from the Dallas Museum of Art) to the Dallas Public Library. With St. Paul under construction due to the expansion of First Baptist, I avoided a direct route. What I found was the kind of thing that is often pictured and idealized in New Urbanist plans: a street level pedestrian walkway that stretches from the north end of Downtown/arts district to the government district. Sure, it doesn’t look like the wonderful Fußgänger-Plätze that you can find in nearly every German city and town and which are often pictured in urban plans, but it serves the same purpose. Let’s start.
The first leg looks much like your typical downtown Dallas street: thin sidewalks; wide, one way streets; a parking lot on one side and a large building on the other, neither of which offer retail to break up the monotony.
At the end of the block, however, at the corner of Akard and San Jacinto, a building is surrounded by wide, tree-lined sidewalks and landscaping; benches; and a downstairs exterior coffee shop (Starbucks) complete with waterfalls. This is the kind of 1980s street design that characterizes most of the more attractive areas downtown. Sure, it doesn’t offer much for the window shopper, but if you are just trying to get from point A to B, it is much more pleasant than the single file sidewalks on St. Paul.
I love this view: the collision of styles, the pedantic sci-fi look makes it feel like a shot from Goddard’s Alphaville. The walkway, of course, is what helped kill street level pedestrian life in Dallas. But notice the little pathway off to the left of the walkway in the photo on the left. That’s where we pick up the pedestrian-only trail.
This little pedestrian way crosses from Patterson St. to Federal St. It’s not much to look at, but it works.
After the skyway crosses Federal St., it spills into a verifiable pedestrian zone (right), designed to offer entry into underground Dallas. It also continues our route southwards.
A detour into Underground Dallas. I imagine at some point this sounded like a good idea. (All those sandbags in front of the shop in the bottom right image makes me wonder if there are flooding issues down there.)
The brief pedestrian zone exits out onto Pacific where Thanksgiving Square greets the walker. By closing some of its entrances (right), Thanksgiving Square doesn’t make it easy to figure out how to get in or get through.
Thanksgiving Square is an odd public space. Given the traffic and architecture that surrounds it I can understand why it sinks into the ground, creating delineation from the street and cultivating a sense of disposition and tranquility. It obstructs the passerby, forcing the visitor to consider and reorient him or herself within the space. In that sense, the architecture does its intended job of providing sanctuary in the midst of a busy city. If only Dallas were more busy. In a city that is already lacking street level traffic, Thanksgiving Square’s mission works against its surrounding environs. You are either in the space or out of it, and when you are out of it, it appears as only a lifeless hole that stifles potential energy derived by interconnectivity. It is no surprise that there is little surrounding the square besides vacant storefronts, parking garages, and office tower entrances.
You almost feel like you have to outsmart Thanksgiving Square to keep the journey southward moving. The visual cue is the lovely ivy covered wall that brackets another easy to miss path that cuts past an office tower and spills you out onto Main Street. There is even an ad stand with a map to help direct you at this point, but it would be hard to miss one of downtown’s best streets, Stone Street, sitting just across Elm.
Stone St. Don’t spend nearly enough time here. I like this figure. Couldn’t find the artist’s name.
Stone St. empties into the heart of Main Street. We’ll have to compromise our pedestrian way theme a touch and follow the wide sidewalk for a few meters until we can cross over and cut past Neiman’s through the Main Street Alley. Sure wish the Contemporary Art Dealers of Dallas were still operating the gallery space adjacent to the alley.
Cross Commerce and you enter another pedestrian walkway, which cuts past the Dallas Power and Light apartments and which happened to be the setting of a film shoot the day I passed through (hence the acrobatic kid and water guns). Cross Jackson, and the final pedestrian way will lead you past Urban Market and the adjacent café/bar until you arrive at the library.
And so, while not ideal, there is an existing pedestrian way that cuts through downtown Dallas, which marks a central axis through the heart of the city and offers a way to get off those tiny sidewalks.
Next topic: From Dallas to Denton via train, and back again (we hope)