Arturo Del Castillo is an urban designer with Dallas CityDesign, which is housed inside Dallas City Hall, which overlooks the concrete desert known as City Hall Plaza, which is almost always, without fail, empty. But apparently Del Castillo thinks the plaza could actually be good for something. So he helped set up a one-day-only installation (today, as Liz mentioned) to draw people out around lunchtime, hoping to prove just that.
There really wasn’t much to it. A few dozen plastic patio chairs were strewn around the plaza, boards were set up with checkers and dominoes, and one of those giant outdoor chess sets was lined up on a board made of sidewalk chalk (all of which cost only $1,000). There was also a six-piece band that paraded around and a few people flying kites, which all felt a bit contrived, unless I’m jaded in thinking that nobody ever actually flies kites downtown.
Still, it managed to add a bit of personality to an area that’s otherwise barren. But it sure as hell wouldn’t be enough to keep people coming back. Fortunately, there was a little sign in the middle of the plaza that provided a ray of hope. It read:
“If you want to see a place with activity, the first thing to do is to put out food.”
Preach, sign, preach.
Oak Cliff Crepes Co. had set up a makeshift stand inside a storage container, cooking crepes with propane and selling them for $3 a pop. And – shocker! – the stand pulled in about 98 percent of the sixty-or-so people who were out there between 11:30 and noon. And therein lies the secret: If you make food, they will come. (Better Block’s Jason Roberts said they had a couple hundred by the end of the day. They were still cooking crepes around 1:15, but the tamale stand was sold out and the barbecue sandwich were almost finished.)
Comestibles can’t be the catchall solution, though, because there’s still the issue of the complete lack of shade the plaza offers. On a cool day in late April, lunch outside was tolerable, even pleasant. But a handful of concrete benches and small trees that provide almost no respite from the sun won’t cut it when we get to those so-hot-you-could-cry-but-don’t-for-fear-of-wasting-precious-moisture kind of days.
It’ll take a bit of work, but if today proved anything, it’s that a couple of trees and a food truck or two might prove there’s hope for the plaza after all. I even overheard one woman say in disbelief, “This might actually be kind of a fun place to come!” Seems strange, doesn’t it?