In Bofill Plan for Trinity, Dynamite Makes Way for Blackland Prairie

This article is part of series on the Connected City Design Challenge, which seeks proposals for rethinking the connection between downtown Dallas and the  TrinityRiver. For more articles about the project, click here.

On Tuesday night, Ricardo Bofill presented his plan (full details here) for the Connected City Design Challenge. It was the second in a series of four discussions hosted by the Dallas Museum of Art in which the three professional finalists will present their plans to link downtown Dallas and the Trinity River. Bofill’s firm, Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, developed a plan that seeks to link the history of the region to the modern scope of Dallas and the Metroplex as a whole. To do so, Bofill incorporates strategic planning, ecology, his “D Walk” plan, socio-economic issues, and goes beyond zoning to create a master plan in order to link Dallas to the Trinity.

When Bofill first introduced his tentative concept for linking downtown and the river, he exuberantly spoke about dynamite. He equated dynamite and its destructive power as the first step in the creative process. Destruction is something that Dallasites are all too familiar with, of course. However, Bofill’s proposal keeps intact much of the original planning that has gone into the Trinity River Project. The toll road remains, and I-35 and the Pegasus Project are left untouched. This is despite the fact that the majority of the acreage in the proposed development area is currently constituted of highways. Instead, the firm works around these elements to reshape the environment of the area with Main Street and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as the main arteries leading to the river and emphasize the downtown street grid.

One of the largest features of his plan is reintroduction of the Blackland prairie, the most endangered ecosystem in North America, along the Trinity and into downtown. At the center of this reclamation effort will be the Dallas Bio-dome Museum and an Energy Park. The prairie will encompass much of the new development and wrap the Trinity Toll road, which remains in the plan albeit sunk under a levee. This emphasis on the expansion of greenspace should help to mitigate the CO2 emissions from the surrounding highways.

During the presentation, Bofill stressed the importance of the bio-dome as the catalyst for reclaiming the remaining remnants of the Blackland prairie in the Trinity River bed. He was adamant that this be one of the first projects to break ground so that the scope of prairie reintroduction can be realized. However, is a bio-dome really all that necessary to achieve this goal? A bio-dome was not needed in the Blackland prairie reclamation efforts around White Rock Lake that began in 1998. Instead it took dedicated individuals and careful management to restore the prairie to the state it is in today. The prairie is already there, it just needs to be nurtured.

The prairie is set to encircle and link the four distinct districts that the plan calls for. These areas would consist of residential and commercial development as well as several signature features and resources necessary to sustain an urban lifestyle. Each district, Trinity Market, Riverfront, Science and Culture, and D-World Business, will have a signature focal point. For three of these it would be an open air market similar to that of the Dallas Farmer’s Market. The D-World Business District’s focal point would be the bio-dome and a signature hotel or other large structure that would compliment, but not hinder, the already familiar Dallas skyline.

Developers have experimented with the create-a-district plan before in the city. What has resulted is often an island whose residents, if there are any, are woefully underserved and lack many of the essential amenities needed to create thriving communities. It is interesting to note that Bofill’s main component to the connectivity of these districts, the “D Walk,” is an effort to connect the Arts District to the proposed districts along the trinity. This plan includes placing parks under Stemmons Freeway and is eerily reminiscent of the plan to make Ross Avenue more enjoyable to pedestrian traffic heading to the Arts District under 75. The Arts District is the poster-child of a destination rather than a community as life ceases to exist there, outside of Kylde Warren Park, after business hours the vast majority of the time. It is this district model and that of Victory Park that Bofill needs to avoid. Areas need to be integrated with their surroundings and not made to be separate.

As mentioned, the prairie would serve as the main component of pedestrian parks that connect the districts. The districts would also be connected via an integrated transit plan. This balanced transit approach relies heavily on increased DART bus and rail service. It is implemented using a park and ride hub system similar to the one found at Mockingbird Station and many of the rail stations. The parking garages, some of which will be covered by Blackland prairie landscaping creating “green pyramids,” will be organized creating a new transit ring around downtown that stretches across the river into West Dallas. For this system to work, it would need greater participation from DART and that of the citizenry.

DART has already begun running a trolley bus that linking Bishop Arts, the convention center, and the Arts District. However, this system is mainly for the use of tourists at this point. Furthermore, an increase in scale of this size to DART’s bus network would likely be difficult as the transit authority is already stretched financially. It would likely force DART to increase fares in an attempt to cover the costs or increase the one percent sales tax currently levied against member cities. Neither of these outcomes is ideal to spur ridership. Besides, a main argument in Dallas is what is the incentive for a person to park and wait for a bus when they could just continue driving to their destination?

At the street level, though, Bofill proposes much of what can be found in the Dallas Complete Streets Design Manual. Here, streets are multifaceted with segregated lanes for cars, buses, and bicycles. When Bofill gave is presentation to city officials earlier on Tuesday, it was even suggested by a city staffer that trolley lines be incorporated rather than bus lanes. The streets are tree-lined to provide shade and some relief from the summer temperatures and the sidewalks are wide and pedestrian friendly. Examples of complete streets have been gradually appearing in Dallas. Despite all of the plans emphasis on public transit and walkablility, 70 percent of commuter mobility is still projected to be by car.

While certain elements of Bofill’s plan deserve the city’s full consideration, especially that of reestablishing the Blackland prairie and continuing to pursue complete streets, the refusal to tackle the problems of the highways downtown and instead work around them have an lipstick on a pig effect. Burying the toll road in the levee poses perhaps the greatest challenge, though. Images of the Big Dig in Boston race to the forefront. Obviously it would be naïve to think that the solution to the ring roads is a simple matter of erasing them. They are blight and will continue to be until they are directly addressed. At this point, everything is still in the planning and projection phases. Nothing is final and a winner of the competition has yet to be chosen. (Vote here.)