Public places are the key to any area, especially an area full of high-rise office buildings like downtown Dallas. At noon on just about any weekday, a quick stroll through Thanks-Giving Square will prove that a little grass and some park benches can attract droves.
But downtown Dallas also has its share of public places that just don’t work. City Hall Plaza is a good example. Money was spent and a design was implemented, but nobody showed up. Now, city employees are starting from scratch, trying to make the area attractive and inviting.
Another public place in the CBD – a pedestrian way – was an outgrowth of the 1969 Central Business District Plan designed to make downtown Dallas inviting. The Akard Street Mall, stretching from Elm Street to Commerce Street, was designed to attract pedestrians; the street was widened and greenery and benches were added.
Money from a 1975 bond election was allocated for the design and construction, and the mall was recently completed. But there was no opening ceremony for the Akard Street Mall because, in many people’s eyes, the whole idea is a flop. Jim Cloar, president of the Central Business District Association, is one of those people who isn’t enthusiastic about the mall. “It wasn’t a bad idea,” he says, “but it just didn’t pull off.”
Cloar says that several factors contribute to the mall’s unattractiveness, such as the sidewalks that aren’t wide enough. Rolled curbing was used in the area, which took up some sidewalk space and, according to Cloar, didn’t add much aesthetically. Banners line each side of the mall, but they are unattractive and obtrusive, Cloar says.
Because of the lack of space, there are no park benches in the mall, and the flower planters, Cloar says, are too large. All in all, he says the problem with the mall is that too many design elements were crammed into one small space.
Now, an underground mall called the Pacific/Akard Pedestrian Way is being constructed in the area. Before it is completed, we decided to find out what the public thinks of the above-ground mall.
We recently surveyed 100 downtown workers who use the mall. The response was mixed, but the majority of people said they were fairly pleased with the area. A sampling of responses:
“I like the idea, but I don’t like the way it looks.”
“It doesn’t seem to be serving any purpose.”
“Anything is better than what we had here.”
“It’s nothing like Bourbon Street [in New Orleans], but it’s okay.”