Just Remember, We Were Warned: The Arts District Wasn't Going to Be "A Way of Life"

Categories: Arts, Development
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Even before the AT&T Performing Arts Center was finished, we were told: "Dallas might have to accept the arts district as a successful destination, not a way of life." That was more than two years ago. After that, the hits kept on coming, with the most recent being this deep dig outta Chicago. Which prompted this follow-up from The Economist:
Is it enough to build these gigantic monuments to modernity (in an otherwise not-so-modern and remote place) and assume that the razzle-dazzle will lure the tourists? Dallas's experiment illustrates the flaws in developments that consider the needs of architecture at the expense of people. A culture district without the glue of wandering pedestrians (or an atmosphere of working artists; or let's face it, streets) may struggle to earn its keep.
Which prompts this follow-up-follow-up from Patrick "Car-Free" Kennedy:
The Arts District is "off to the side," currently "a roadside attraction," a "billboard along a freeway" that is more akin to a supersized string of fast food joints to pick up your daily dose of culture at the drive-thru. It is built of a mindset that "location, location, location" no longer applies, except that location is still the primary factor in built permanence. I make the point to walk through it as often as possible, not to admire beauty but to think what could've been and what still might be.
Either way, still looking forward to Friday night.

Update at 4:40 p.m.: Blair Kamin, author of the original Chicago Tribune piece that started this spiral, just posted this response from Kerry Hayes, special assistant to the mayor in Memphis, who actually hasn't visited the Arts District but writes nonetheless that "it would seem that the powers that be in Dallas are working at cross purposes with themselves, or perhaps simply measuring what they're doing by the wrong yard stick."
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Bob
Bob

For thos who cry more density more density. Let me tell you what more density looks like in 50 years which is the cycle that these things run - high-rise slums. First we run to the city then a generation later we run from the city then another generation we run back to the city. It is just a cycle.

Augie
Augie

I Just posted this on the Tribune cite:

Memphis is casting stones at Dallas on the basis not of personal experience but reading a Chicagoan's critiques. How ridiculously lazy and ignorant.

The Dallas downtown scene has many many miles to go to be a vibrant place,without a doubt. However, it is much better off with the addition of the world class Winspear opera house a mere block from the world class Myerson symphony center another block from the DMA. Memphis would be tickled pink to have any one of those three facilities, much less all three in 2 block area. This doesn't even take into account the very fine multipurpose Wylie theater across the street from the Winspear. Now, the bridge park is literally a foot path to open the urbanizing Uptown to the business district of downtown. Clearly, these are all steps in the right direction. Dallas will never be NYC, and no one wants that. But, the cultural scene is improving greatly and heading in the right direction. By the way, these newest projects were all done with private money (several hundred million dollars in all) donated primarily by Dallasites. How many of those projects do you have Chicago or Memphis? I didn't think so.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Also, it's probably worth another timely reminder that the City of Dallas is the only party bearing any risk on the $200 million Museum Tower--- this after every other possible investor turned the project down.

Jay
Jay

Maybe we shouldn't care what they think but does that mean they don't have a point? The fact is the city had a plan here and a vision - for a vibrant arts district. If that was not the explicit goal this much was intimated to those who support this project/set of projects. By allowing the architects and developers to build features which alienated pedestrians, by not actively encouraging busking day and night, by not making food trucks or other sources of retail which would bring people and life to this occasion daily, by not widening the streets and improving the pedestrian infrastructure, by not closing Flora to traffic, the city couldn't even fulfill its own vision because it was too busy kissing the feet of wealthy donors to assert any leverage. Same thing is happening now at Belo gardens with the 12' wall. The same thing happened down the street at Hunt tower when the city thanked its lucky stars for a pretty building even if that building did nothing to forward the vision of a more pedestrian friendly and alive downtown in its design as yet another office fortress with NO street interactivity of any kind.

NotTheSuburbs
NotTheSuburbs

Totally agree, the area is not inviting and there is no reason to go there for most of the people of Dallas. Sammons park? Walk through the arts district and try to find anything that resembles a park. I'm totally serious about that. There is no park.

The arts district caters to the rich people who paid for it. There is very little programming that appeals to the masses. Annette Strause Artists Square would have had great potential if it was centrally located but it is tucked away in the back corner and sits unused.

The area was built like a suburban office park. I read that the food trucks will help create the street life that the developers envisioned? It's hard for me to understand why they envisioned street life. I guess because the developers put people in their renderings enjoying the "park".

It can be better but it will never be great because of the detached design of the buildings. Surrounding it by apartments won't fix it. Hall arts plaza has the most potential to impact the area because of it's size and location but who knows what will go there.

We shouldn't think of what it could have been if the venues had been integrated into a mixed-use development. We need to say "it is what it is" . It's a destination development with some beautiful signature buildings.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

one caveat on Annette Strauss. Last year, I went down to Patio Sessions. Free concerts on thursdays. I watched Doug Burr play to a small crowd. There were families there with kids and it was a delightful place for a concert. Grass for a picnic, and some water features for kids to play in.

They are trying, but people need to get in the habit of going there.

I agree with others that so far, there's no real street life in the area, but this sort of event could change that.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

So the guy form the Hood asks the question..

Since these buildings complex's were built with donated funds am I correct to believe there are no loans to be paid off ?The Opera house is cool because inside it really looks like an Opera house.The Wiley aside from live plays could be used to film sitcoms or as a indoor movie set...Not a knock just a suggestion

New things and ideas scare folks in Dallas.

Erica
Erica

Man, I guess I just have low standards, because as someone who has had season tickets to the Dallas Opera for years, I still can hardlly freakin' believe that an opera house was built. In Dallas. For real. They said they were going to do it. For years. And they did! And it's gorgeous and the acoustics are awesome! I don't care if it was built in the middle of a moonscape, I'd be excited. But, now this formerly hick town (which I've lived in for almost 40 years) now has an arts district? Why make the perfect the enemy of the good? This is a very, very good thing.

lakewoodsince1948
lakewoodsince1948

I tried to drive to the arts district to see all the great new development but my car fell into a pothole and I had to be towed to the service station.

Krains
Krains

I love your name -- you have a decade on me!

cp
cp

Which was 40 miles away because there are NO greasy oily service stations anywhere near downtown Dallas!!!! Or on Ross Ave....

G_David
G_David

Man, I'd LOVE to spend more time in the Arts District, but CSI is on, and then I'm sure I can find a Dancing With the Stars, and Tosh.O on my DVR.... screw the arts!

Actually, I agree that it's a work in progress, and I'm cautiously optimistic that the final product will be more than the sum of its parts. I've had season tickets to the DSO since the Meyerson opened, and the area has come a long way since then. Love the idea of streetcars down Ross between downtown and Henderson. By the way, if anybody wants to hear something amazing, get down there this weekend to hear Jaap lead the DSO in a performance of Mahler no. 6. He's one bad-ass Dutchman, and he's turned the group into one bad-ass orchestra.

Paul Burrough
Paul Burrough

re: Jaap...i wholeheartedly agree with this. He seems to have lit a burner under their risers. I don't recall the DSO playing these symphonies with such fire under Litton.

Amy S
Amy S

Exsqueeze me, but One Arts Plaza is UP FOR SALE (per DBJ), and I believe they now own or manage or "partner with" all of the restaurant space that was originally leased. Does anyone else think developers will be finding the next "hot" thing? I'm guessing it'll be around the new CC hotel, or possibly the old/new Farmers Market, wherever the city is willing to throw $$ out to subsidize.

James
James

Amy, One Arts is nearly 100% leased... The reason they are selling it is so they can get the money they need to expand with Two Arts & Three Arts...

Bob
Bob

Ever since John F. Kennedy was killed, people in Dallas have fretted over what others think of us. Folks, it doesn't matter. Those outsiders can think what they please. Who cares? Why care?

In the last 40 years in Dallas, I have lived through several different transformations of Dallas. Some have been for the better, some for the worse. The point is, Dallas folks need to do what WE think is best for our city, not what others think. We can reshape our urban environment any way we want to, based on what we think is best for us today and tomorrow.

Tunnels were good. Now tunnels are bad. Highways were good. Now highways are bad. Car lots on Ross were good. Now car lots on Ross are bad. Separating residential neighborhoods from business districts was good. Now separating them is bad. Putting all our cultural facilities at Fair Park was good. Now it is bad.

The point is, the city is ALWAYS a work in progress. We try things out, sometime for a good reason, sometimes not. If they don't work out, or if the environment changes, then we adjust. How about stopping this navel-gazing over the past, and work on improving the present to make a better future?

Les michaels
Les michaels

built by pigs for pigs

G_David
G_David

I'm sure there's a tractor pull or a pro wrestling match somewhere this weekend. Enjoy.

Coloringoutsidethelines1
Coloringoutsidethelines1

Urban design criticism from Memphis? From the people whose original thinking is best summed up by their copies of the Parthenon and a Pyramid? Please.

Ellum08
Ellum08

You took the words right out of my mouth. We are seriously screwed if folks from Memphis are looking down at us. Shit-hole indeed.

scottindallas
scottindallas

Seems to me a trolley line down Ross, from West End to Henderson or Greenville would ROCK! And, it would drive redevelopment along Ross. Maybe, the Bishop Arts streetcar will show it's utility. But, as it is, Lakewood and Greenville are sorta left out of DART. I would put a line up and down Gaston too.

LakeWWWooder
LakeWWWooder

Don't laugh but Ross has sort of the same elevation of the Champs-Elysees in Paris. It could be rebuilt suggesting that model. Remember, Ross was once the "Fifth Avenue" of Dallas.

Hey, it's a better investment than a billion-dollar tollway in the river bottoms.

OED_Denizen
OED_Denizen

My wife and I walked the length of Flora from DMA to One Arts Plaza last Saturday. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed the free concert by the Fine Arts Chamber Players at the DMA. The only negative to a lovely afternoon walk in the arts district was the lack of shade trees on much of the walk.

Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

Nothing says Arts District like a whole bunch of snotty exclusive condo towers. That most likely will be half empty for a decade.

Why do projects like Victory and Arts Distric have eliminated the possibility of higher density around them? And I mean HIGHER FREAKING DENSITY with housing for various income levels. These two project look like desolate Office Parks or lifeless strip malls. I work by Victory and never see another human being for hours. The possibilities.....

md
md

"It is built of a mindset that "location, location, location" no longer applies"

What a crock of shit.

"except that location is still the primary factor in built permanence"

What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

BubbaBGood2U
BubbaBGood2U

Who gives a rats ass what those idiots up north think of our Arts District. We didn't build it for them or for tourists. We built it for ourselves to enjoy and I truly feel the people of Dallas that enjoy the arts are pleased with what has been accomplished so far. When the new park is finished it will only be better.

Jay
Jay

Who's enjoying it? It's completely useless to 99% of the local art/music scene...The average citizen of Dallas feels no need to go here throughout the year except perhaps for Jazz Under the Stars and a few scattered events. The fact that people are still arguing that this couldn't have been done any better and that we should bow down and kiss the feet of people who did something improperly because they built pretty buildings is ludicrous. An arts district of all places should have life on its streets. And in exchange for a fraction of the millions spent with the right mindset and policies that life could have come. But no one cared. This area was built by a group of people seemingly at times for their own private use...

Paul Burrough
Paul Burrough

My wife and I most likely fall into your "average citizen of Dallas" category and we enjoy "it" often. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring last Friday, followed by dinner at Screen Door. Regular trips to the DMA. Regular trips to the Winspear. Regular trips to the PAC. My wife just bought 4 TITAS tickets for April...at a paltry $18 each. I don't understand your gripes...

NotTheSuburbs
NotTheSuburbs

I agree with you. If the goal of the arts district is to attract a small group of older, higher income professional white people, then it has been a total success. That's not what the article was about though.

Paul Burrough
Paul Burrough

Then good for the programmers, I say. The vast majority of the people in the DFW area also prefer Biebergaga and Nashvegas over any classical music varieties. Those people have the AA Center/Victory Park and - more often than not - their televisions. I thought the entire purpose of an "arts district" was to promote quality over quantity and expose that which subverts the non-stop onslaught of prime-time pop culture...no?

I appreciate what we have and applaud the effort.

NotTheSuburbs
NotTheSuburbs

Paul, it seats 2K people and doesn't always sell out. There are 6.5 million people in the DFW MSA. You didn't convince me that the "average person" in Dallas is interested in a classical music event at the Meyerson.

I'm not knocking classical music, or any of the arts, but Jay's point was that the vast majority of events currently being programmed in the arts district are of little interest to the vast majority of the people in DFW. If you want more people in the arts district, you need to add additional events that have a broader appeal.

Paul Burrough
Paul Burrough

@NotTheSuburbs:

Friday night's DSO performance was sold out...as are many. If it were regularly half-empty, you'd have an argument.

NotTheSuburbs
NotTheSuburbs

The "average" citizen of Dallas is not interested in Classical Music, Opera, Ballet, Poetry Readings, and lectures by Authors. I bet it's far less than 5% of the population that have ever attended an event in any of those categories in the Arts District.

Daniel
Daniel

"An otherwise not-so-modern and remote place." Ouch.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

remote? Did they not hear of the great iron birds that fly here?

Lakewoodhobo
Lakewoodhobo

Tired of hearing about how Dallas ruined the Arts District by making it dull and lifeless. This is actually one where we need to push back and say chill the F out, 'cause the park is not finished. And neither is the City Performance Hall or any of the office towers mentioned above (Two Arts, Hall, Spire). Walk around the area north of the future park and you'll notice a bunch of small empty lots that may one day be residential buildings. Not to mention that Chase Bank drive-thru building which should be torn down and rebuilt for residential (even with a Chase Bank on the bottom floor).

Gregory Ibanez
Gregory Ibanez

Yes, it's a damn shame housing wasn't mandated as part of the overall master plan.Yes, the lack of residents diminishes the impact of the assemblage.No, we are not living in Chicago, where a strong mayor can dictate urban design.Yes, it's nice to imagine a "car-free" lifestyle here.

But- they were built. To the highest standards. In a place where cars are a way of life and image matters, for better or worse. The Mort is enduring well, as I suspect will the others. So here we are. Let's quit bitching about it now that it's done and instead take pride in one helluva an accomplishment. And learn the lessons for the next time.

Jay
Jay

Doing something wrong is not a great accomplishment...

Downtowner
Downtowner

With 372 residential units under construction now at Ross and Hall and plenty of land across the street from the Arts Apartments, there's plenty of opportunity for high-density residential development near the arts district. Plus, the Park will draw people from the already-dense State Thomas neighborhood and LoMac area. I have no doubt that finishing the park and fixing up the Ross/Central underpass will give the area some much-needed street life.

abuckley1970
abuckley1970

There may be plenty of 'opportunity' for high-density residential but there's 'opportunity' all around Dallas for change and growth. The focus should have been residential/retail in the area first, then the architectural monuments. When developers think residential development and the location of it they're thinking about basic amenities (in addition to their wallets): education, shopping (especially shopping), medical, etc. not whether or not it's close to an opera house. More should have been done to create this pedestrian-oriented area on the front end. The arts are a luxury, not a necessity for developers.

As far as the park drawing people from uptown, it might or it might not. No crystal balls to say one way or the other. And, people are creatures of habit - they may walk over while the park is new and shiny but revert back to their routines of going to parks in uptown. Whether people are funneled from lower greenville, deep ellum or wherever will also remain to be seen - they haven't been so far. maybe the the ross/central underpass will help but there has to be more to offer.

cp
cp

The first thing architect students are taught in design school is "form follows function". However, this rule does not apply in Dallas.

LakeWWWooder
LakeWWWooder

Also there is a large development planned by Spire Realty across Ross and they have the bucks to finance it privately. And then there is the possibility of new development on the old Dallas High School site, Tower Petroleum Building and (crossing fingers) The Statler Hilton and old Dallas Central Libary.

If you look up Ross Avenue east of Central there is a crane for a new multi-family development - since that street is being cleared of auto lots it is wide-open for redevelopment. Ross connects to Henderson Avenue and Lower Greenville. So there's another Arts District pipeline.

James
James

What we have to remember is that this area is still a work in progress... How will things change if Hall Arts Tower, Two & Three Arts and the Spire Development all get built? We still have Museum Tower going up and the addition of the park. This could be an incredibly vibrant area in the next 5-7 years...

Jay
Jay

Yeah because people paying a million for a highrise apartment are going to be the first to go for walks in an abandoned semi-industrial arts district with terrible roads and infrastructure? That is so very likely.

James
James

You're a douche Jay... If you knew anything about the area and the developments proposed around the area you wouldn't come across as such an a-hole!

G_David
G_David

Weird, I'm in that area all the time, and I have yet to notice anything that I would consider "industrial". Although I have heard the term "banking industry" before, so maybe you're right. Were you picturing smokestacks and loading docks, or maybe spouting off about something you know nothing about?

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