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Dallas City Hall Plaza Comes Alive — For a Day

Chess sets and food attempted to attract people to the usually empty Dallas City Hall Plaza.
Chess sets and food attempted to attract people to the usually empty Dallas City Hall Plaza.

Arturo Del Castillo is an urban designer with Dallas CityDesign, which is housed inside Dallas City Hall, which overlooks the concrete desert known as City Hall Plaza, which is almost always, without fail, empty. But apparently Del Castillo thinks the plaza could actually be good for something. So he helped set up a one-day-only installation (today, as Liz mentioned) to draw people out around lunchtime, hoping to prove just that.

There really wasn’t much to it. A few dozen plastic patio chairs were strewn around the plaza, boards were set up with checkers and dominoes, and one of those giant outdoor chess sets was lined up on a board made of sidewalk chalk (all of which cost only $1,000). There was also a six-piece band that paraded around and a few people flying kites, which all felt a bit contrived, unless I’m jaded in thinking that nobody ever actually flies kites downtown.

There was a roving band of music makers.
There was a roving band of music makers.

Still, it managed to add a bit of personality to an area that’s otherwise barren. But it sure as hell wouldn’t be enough to keep people coming back. Fortunately, there was a little sign in the middle of the plaza that provided a ray of hope. It read:

“If you want to see a place with activity, the first thing to do is to put out food.”

Preach, sign, preach.

We hold this truth to be self-evident.
We hold this truth to be self-evident.

Oak Cliff Crepes Co. had set up a makeshift stand inside a storage container, cooking crepes with propane and selling them for $3 a pop. And – shocker! – the stand pulled in about 98 percent of the sixty-or-so people who were out there between 11:30 and noon. And therein lies the secret: If you make food, they will come. (Better Block’s Jason Roberts said they had a couple hundred by the end of the day. They were still cooking crepes around 1:15, but the tamale stand was sold out and the barbecue sandwich were almost finished.)

Comestibles can’t be the catchall solution, though, because there’s still the issue of the complete lack of shade the plaza offers. On a cool day in late April, lunch outside was tolerable, even pleasant. But a handful of concrete benches and small trees that provide almost no respite from the sun won’t cut it when we get to those so-hot-you-could-cry-but-don’t-for-fear-of-wasting-precious-moisture kind of days.

It’ll take a bit of work, but if today proved anything, it’s that a couple of trees and a food truck or two might prove there’s hope for the plaza after all. I even overheard one woman say in disbelief, “This might actually be kind of a fun place to come!” Seems strange, doesn’t it?

The main attraction: waiting for crepes.
The main attraction: waiting for crepes.

6 comments on “Dallas City Hall Plaza Comes Alive — For a Day

  1. It was good fun and a great exchange of ideas. I watched a young woman learn how to play chess as I ate my BBQ sandwich. Quite entertaining!

  2. They were out of everything except crepes by the time I got there (12:30) or I would’ve stayed longer… proving what was written in the sign.

    If they could make this even a monthly event (without running out of food), there might actually be some hope for the plaza and this whole urban hipster fantasy might come true someday.

  3. Fox 4 ran a story on the event and they found a couple of people who reminded us that too much of this kind of thing might result in *gasp* crowds. We all know that the only thing worse than a deserted plaza is a plaza full of people. It was pathetic. It reminded me of Cousin Eddie giving the logical explanation that he can’t damage the metal plate in his head because it might mess up the part in his hair.