CITY SURVEY: YOU TOLD US!

DALLAS-You may think that you’ve already heard or read just about everything you want to know about the results of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture’s street life survey, which we printed in our February issue. It culminated in a March seminar, “Dallas Spaces, Human Places,” that was led by urbanologist William “Holly” Whyte. About 600 people responded, but when we collected all the responses sent in from D readers, there were about 100.

Whew! One reader wrote a five-page letter on graph paper offering his insightful interpretation of Dallas. A two-page typed letter from longtime Dallas resident Lee Worsham began, “You might say I’m another cranky old man, but I’m just heartsick over the demise of a once-vibrant downtown Dallas.” Another came on Adolphus Hotel stationery from a couple that was visit-ing Dallas. They told us in no uncertain terms that they were outraged because their camera was stolen at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and because a “panhandler” had pestered them for several blocks until they called the police. Some readers even ignored the survey questions and made up their own. But a promise is a promise, so here are the results in a slightly irreverent form-sort of the way our readers answered the survey.

Take question No. 1, which asked, “Where is the center of Dallas?” The bulk of respondents said, “Main at Akard,” but a quite a few shook their heads and wrote: Dallas Parkway or Coit at LBJ Freeway, Oak Lawn, Bloomingdale’s, Greenville Avenue and NorthPark Center. These answers lent themselves to the old adage, “The center of my world is wherever I spend my money,” or something like that. If the respondents thought the center of Dallas was somewhere downtown, they offered two reasons why pedestrians avoid the area. One, ironically, was that the streets were unsafe (“Pushers! Prostitutes! Thieves!” wrote one respondent), when in fact, downtown Dallas has the lowest crime rate in the city. The other was that Dallas is a car-oriented city. A few wrote that it was too far to walk between interesting sights. Another added, “Lazy people .. .they’ll jog 2 miles, but not walk two blocks!” Henry S. Miller Jr. said that there’s just too little retail to attract anybody. And wouldn’t Dallas architects and architecture critics like to have their hands around the necks of you people who liked the buildings they hate? The Plaza of the Americas was the hands-down favorite. That poor shopping/hotel/office/ice rink complex was nearly run out of town on a rail by architecture critics when it first opened. Others you like are the new LTV Center, First City Center and Lincoln Plaza. One respondent said that no building ranked with him, especially if it was built after 1970.

The buildings you really don’t like are Thanksgiving Tower (although 90 percent of you “love!” Thanks-Giving Square), “the tallest glass building on the West End” (we think that means Inter-first Plaza), InterFirst II and Southland Center.

Except for the high prices, many of you like the food at the new downtown restaurants, especially those in the West End, but you say it’s too cold/too hot/too windy to have outdoor dining. Other respondents suggested awnings, portable glass walls, portable air conditioners and heaters as a way to outsmart the elements.

Those of you who bothered to answer the question about what type of retail stores you’d like to see suggested everything from grocery stores and JCPenney to high-fashion boutiques, dry cleaners and sporting-goods stores. One respondent said, “I’d certainly hate to be the investor, and even more, I’d hate to lend to such a venture.”

Nearly all of you think that housing would help to create a natural street life in downtown Dallas. Most think that mid- to high-rise condos are appropriate for Yuppie tenants. (You said “Yuppie,” not us.) “It is my fantasy to have a high-rise apartment in the center of downtown,” wrote one young woman. And it was pretty clear that even though you want downtown housing, you want it to be off-limits to anyone under age 24 or anyone making less than $35,000. (No snobs here!)

When asked what would entice people to use downtown more often at night, a person in the real estate industry brazenly scrawled, “Call it San Francisco.” Another citizen wrote, “Get rid of some of the buses and all of the one-way streets-it’s confusing.” Although some said that nothing would entice them downtown at night, others suggested that perhaps “a street vendor selling oranges” or an “18-hole golf course” would help. The consensus, frankly, was that it would take more and cheaper entertainment, restaurants and parking to get Dallas-ites to darken downtown doors after 5 p.m.

The Arts District was the one issue that most respondents agreed upon. They used multitudes of adjectives and wrote boldly: “love it!,” “looks great,” “wonderful,” “excellent!” and “slow, but worth waiting for!” And don’t think your efforts at answering this thought-provok-

ing survey were in vain. Representatives from the City of Dallas’ Department of Planning and Development attended the two-day seminar and listened intently to what Whyte recommended and what the survey respondents said. (When Whyte was here two years ago, he suggested that the city put movable tables and chairs on City Hall Plaza and remove the cement grates from around the trees. Well, those tables have appeared, and Assistant City Manager Jay Fountain says that the trees are doing much better since the grates were removed.)

On his recent visit, Whyte lured the city staff outdoors on a walking tour of downtown Dallas. Many of them said they had never ventured outside City Hall, including Dennis Wilson, the director of planning and development. Wilson said that the trip was an eye-opening experience. He added that if there is one thing that stuck in his mind, it’s that Ross Avenue needs a big share of shops, restaurants and art. Right now, he says, it’s a boring and ugly walk.

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