Last Night At La Grange, Imagining A Better Block in Deep Ellum

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BetterBlock_streetdog.jpeg
Danny Hurley
A Deep Ellum Better Block may or may not include a lane for dogs to lay down in the street. But will there be fist-pumps?
Tucked into Robert's preview of Oak Cliff's Better Block sequel was Jason Roberts's passing mention of a Deep Ellum spin-off slated for September 18 -- and while we knew about the I-30 overpass murals kickoff set for the week before that, it was the first we'd heard about any plans to replicate the guerrilla walkable-street happening in Deep Ellum too. (Incidentally, here's a quick video of the build-up to the upcoming Oak Cliff event.)

Last night I found an invitation posted in my building for a Deep Ellum Better Block planning session at La Grange, and figured I'd go and get some answers. Turns out, the one behind the scheme is the Deep Ellum Outdoor Market's Brandon Castillo, who figures a walkable street setup along Elm Street could be just the thing to entice market-goers to spend some more time, and cash, elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Castillo began with a mini-doc showing how Oak Cliff's Better Block came together back in April (see for yourself here and here), laced with feel-good Roberts aphorisms ("We changed the psychology of the street. The businesses can be successful now, that's all it takes") and outlining their spontaneous, extralegal approach.

Then Castillo led the crowd of 25 in a conversation about what such a block would look like in a better-regulated, closer-to-downtown, harder-to-ignore spot like Deep Ellum. Short answer: maybe sidewalk-only, possibly corporate-sponsored, and only if the city approves it.

There was a fair bit of Cliff envy evident in some of the talk about the go-getter attitude prevailing across the river, and why it doesn't take hold in Deep Ellum too -- how, for instance, they always get away with everything, but how someone from code compliance is always ready hand out fines the second you do anything fun in Deep Ellum; and how they all ride bikes. Castillo said 86 percent of Deep Ellum Market-goers come in cars. "They have a lot more leeway in what they can or cannot get done. We get a lot of attention," Castillo said.

Like the 400 block of N. Tyler Street, the stretch of Elm Street Castillo has in mind is lined with broken sidewalk, though unlike the original Better Block, there's hardly an empty storefront along this stretch from The Bone to La Grange. That meant those business owners could shoulder the cost of bagging the parking meters blocked off by the event. La Grange's owner Stephanie Houston and Josh Florence, of City Tavern and the upcoming Club Dada reboot, suggested they might each just extend their patios onto the sidewalk, within six feet of the street, which they can do without any extra permits.

Castillo said he's already paid one visit to the city's Office of Special Events, but he passed around a petition to gather signatures for a return visit to woo City Hall. "My whole thing is making sure we do it legally," he said. If it doesn't come together by September 18, he'd keep trying to get it together in time for October's outdoor market instead.

Zini's owner Tim Frazin said he doubted if the city would abide any guerrilla block-building from now until the Super Bowl -- but after 10 years on Elm Street, he didn't see how a one-off event would do much to improve the place. "If they want to fix Deep Ellum, it's real simple. Put up lights, fix the sidewalks."
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