After the jump, lessons for Richardson.Oh, beloved Arts District people, how many times do I have to say it: alcohol and coffee are your friends. Embrace them. Use food and drink as welcoming arms to invite people to your mini-fortresses of Art. Klyde Warren Park has given you the gift of people. Open up your gates to them!
At first glance, it's hard to find parallels in Richardson. Richardson has nothing even remotely as valuable a civic resource as Dallas' Arts District and Klyde Warren Park (and numerous other parks and squares and neighborhoods on which to build complete communities.) Still, Richardson fails to appreciate what it does have, or what it could cultivate, or what is needed to create the environment that community can spontaneously emerge.
For example, in Richardson attitudes towards alcohol are still more Prohibition than accomodating (same for tobacco for that matter). Attitudes towards natural features are blind to hidden value.
Dallas has the Klyde Warren Park but is neglecting opportunity to emulate, say, Buenos Aires. Wick Allison describes what that city recognizes: "Across from almost every park in that robust, people-friendly city, space has been reserved for restaurants -- as many as seven or eight lined up together with large umbrellas sheltering diners from heat and rain."
Richardson's downtown might someday be a similar focal point, but it lacks a park. Richardson's biggest park, Breckinridge, lacks a commercial district, being surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The same is true for all other parks in Richardson.
The one exception might be the Spring Creek Nature Area. That big undeveloped area surrounding the PGBT DART station just north of Renner Rd is about to be developed commercially. Imagine a master plan that integrated the commercial, retail, restaurant possibilities of the PGBT development with the Spring Creek Nature Area. I've blogged before about this potential synergy, but I've seen nothing in any of the planning so far that even recognizes that potential synergy exists. Instead, I've seen excitement over the possibility of yet another cookie-cutter corporate campus.
Here's an idea on a smaller scale. You know those vacant lots across Arapaho Rd from the Civic Center that the city has slowly been buying up over the last decade or so? The city has now mostly cleared that block, but so far there's been no hint of any long-term plan for it. I noticed that the city has recently planted shrubs along the back property line of the whole block, suggesting that they plan to leave it as is for a while. It's too long and narrow for a real park. But the lawn and plaza of the Civic Center itself is just across the street. How about putting a row of restaurants across the street? Not new drive-through fast food restaurants, but a row of restaurants more like what you find in, say, Eastside. Then, make it easy for pedestrians to cross Arapaho and utilize that wonderful lawn and plaza.
To turn this small idea into a big idea, integrate it with a redeveloped commercial area to the west (where the city council just approved a self-service warehouse of all things). Integrate it with transit-oriented development to the east surrounding the Arapaho DART station (where the city council is marching inevitably towards approval of a 1980s-style apartment complex of all things). Thinking big, the Civic Center could find itself at the heart of a new downtown. It all could start by recognizing that alcohol and coffee are your friends.