A couple of months ago, I started walking every day at lunch. Like any number of things I’ve done — like most things I’ve done, actually — it started on a whim and kept going on its own momentum. There was no real plan. One day, I went for a walk at lunch. A week later, I realized I’d gone for a walk every day. A month later, I realized I craved it.
At first, I just sort of wandered. I don’t remember those early walks very well, because they weren’t the point yet. I needed a break from the office, and I decided to walk instead of sitting on a bench somewhere, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was retracing steps I’ve taken probably 200 times since we moved downtown. Was I looking at my phone? Probably. There wasn’t much to see.
But I got bored and curious, so I started leaving my phone in my back pocket and began doing something close to exploring, going a different direction every day, maybe a little bit further. Pretty soon, I’d walked every block in downtown, and then some. I’ve walked to Deep Ellum and through various parts of Uptown. I walked through the triple underpass by Dealey Plaza and back again. Last week I went to the Cedars a couple of times, and I went again today. I’ve realized everything is a lot closer than you might imagine. Is it all walkable? Not the way an urbanist means it. But you can certainly walk it if you want to.
Beyond just going different places, I started paying better attention to my surroundings, seeing the details that pass by too quickly when you’re in a car. Some stray thoughts:
• There is an insane — technical term, sorry — amount of construction happening in downtown right now. Some are new builds, but mostly it’s renovation. Seemingly every rundown building is on the way back up. You know about the Statler Hilton, but there are at least half a dozen more big projects underway, and I think that’s a pretty conservative estimate. Maybe there’s 10. Probably there is more.
Does that really matter to you if you’re not deep in the commercial real estate game? Probably not. But if you live or work in downtown, it does bring up a practical concern: around noon every day, every 7-Eleven essentially turns into a commissary for construction workers. I have learned the hard way that if you don’t make it in before then — I like to sometimes get protein bars — you’re going to be in a 20-person line. And just about all of them need the clerk to get them a slice of pizza or a hot dog.
• You could disappear for a pretty fair amount of time in the downtown area if you had a cornflower blue dress shirt and/or a highlighter-yellow safety vest and a hard hat. At least at lunch, when people wearing one of those items make up about 85 percent of the downtown population. I mean, you could disappear if anyone was tailing you. I doubt anyone is tailing you, but I prefer to stay on the safe side of things.
• I.M. Pei’s Dallas City Hall has a very tiny label on the side that says — in the kind of font that suggests it was the idea of some middle-management type inside the building who was worried people might not recognize the upside-down crash-landed space pyramid as a government building — “DALLAS CITY HALL.” I don’t know why this amuses me so much. Here is a photo:
• A big chunk of the area south of City Hall smells like fresh roasted nuts, courtesy of Hines Nut Company on South St. Paul. The family-owned business was founded by the fantastically named Howard Holston Hines in 1925. It is easily the best-smelling part of downtown, even though I assume, given its proximity to The Bridge and The Stewpot, most people would guess otherwise. (The worst-smelling spot is near the corner of Elm and Akard, not far from Press Box Grill. It is unspeakably awful and hangs around in your sense memory, even if it only last a few seconds. There is a vent to hell there, maybe.)
• I know the solution lately in Dallas urban planning is often “Let’s build a deck park!” That said: Let’s build a deck park! The area around Ervay Street on either side of I-30 is begging to be connected.
• Does anything still happen at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium? It looks like a cool space from the outside — designed by legend George Dahl, sort of the architect of record for downtown — even if you forget it’s there, hidden from view by the Convention Center that mostly swallowed it. An enterprising promoter should start booking concerts there again. But maybe there is a good reason they don’t?
• Walking back from there, you get maybe the best view of downtown Dallas. Or it’s my favorite, anyway. It’s a great angle. As you approach the corner of Akard and Young and look north, dead ahead is the under-renovation Hotel Adolphus. To your right, the old Federal Reserve Bank lends an air of tradition, while more modern modern structures complete the frame. There are trees on either side, and a modest fountain in the foreground.
• Walt Garrison’s Rodeo Bar and Grill is closed. I think for good? One day the weird wooden cowboy sculpture was on a column outside its location on the corner of Akard and Commerce, and the next day it wasn’t. I don’t know why I thought of that.
• The DART bus West Transfer Center and the West End Station for the light rail are sort of one amoeba-blob of low-level tension filled with people who have no particular place to go and stale cigarette smoke. It’s not a fun few blocks, but it’s also not the worst thing in the world. There are plenty of police officers on hand, at least during the day. I mean, don’t hang out there, but don’t necessarily go out of your way to avoid it. Just keep your head on a swivel.
• If you get bored near our building on the north end of downtown — especially on Harwood — look around on the sidewalk and you’ll probably see a plaque like this one:
Not all winners, but some are pretty interesting.
Mostly, downtown Dallas is sort of a microcosm of the city as a whole: some parts are way better than outsiders give it credit for, some are worse, but you can tell the people involved are trying hard and that maybe a couple of them don’t know as much as they should about what they’re doing.