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Dispatch From an Intern: The Belo Garden Opens

Belo Garden 3The Belo Garden on Main Street officially opened today. We sent intern Michelle Saunders to see what was what. And lo:

People With Diarrhea Must Stay Out of the Fountain
By Michelle Saunders

The ceremony proceeded smoothly, except for the periodic interruptions by emergency vehicles and an enthusiastic homeless man who sat on the front row, cheering and giving standing ovations, before eventually being escorted away by the police.

I did not expect to enjoy the garden as much as I did. Before leaving to cover the event, I was told about “The Wall of Spite,” as residents in the Metropolitan have dubbed the wall that stretches 60 feet from Main to Commerce, separating the garden from their building. I was told that this imposing wall essentially ruins the garden’s aesthetics and divides the space, creating a disharmonious, Berlin Wall-esque expanse in the heart of Downtown. Which is why I had my doubts about this so-called “urban oasis.”

When I entered the garden from Main Street, however, I was greeted by trees and open areas, a grassy knoll, and three interactive fountains. As I strolled the garden and mingled with other attendees, I temporarily forgot about the supposedly garish wall. When I finally remembered, I looked all over for the eyesore, and after a few minutes of searching, I finally located it on the far outskirts of the garden, behind the fountains and picnic tables.

As I made my way over to the wall, I noticed two things.

1. Yes, it is very big and very long.

2. From the Metropolitan building, it would definitely be unpleasant to look at.

Upon reaching the wall, I ran into a Metropolitan resident, who prefers not to be named, who told me that the wall was ugly and that most of the residents in the building hated it and believed that it was a pointless waste of money.

I tracked down Jacob Petersen, the principal architect of the Belo Garden, to explain the reason behind the divisive wall. The wall was a result of failed negotiations between Belo and the Metropolitan, Petersen told me. He says that Belo was more than happy to pay for the garden to extend all the way to the front door of the Metropolitan, but in doing so they would have had to remove the service drive because they didn’t want cars and trucks going through the garden and disturbing the peaceful atmosphere and endangering children at play. The Metropolitan, he says, wasn’t interested in removing the drive, so negotiations stagnated, and the wall was built.

So Petersen tried to make the wall as visually attractive as possible, using Amber Gold granite from India to create a light-colored wall that in the evening will pick up the dancing shadows from the trees and, along with the 9-foot grassy hill, help to enclose the garden and separate it from the busy city around it.

I tend to agree with Petersen. The wall, although enormous and certainly not beautiful, did help to separate the garden from the busy traffic. During my time there, delivery and construction trucks used the service road continuously, and I can’t imagine how much less peaceful the space would have been had the trucks been in plain view.

I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either. Downtown workers lunched at the picnic tables next to the wall and were able to converse freely without delivery vehicles (which would be only a few feet from the tables and benches if the wall wasn’t there), ruining their meal.

Although the wall is not ideal, it was definitely not as bad as I expected it to be. Had Belo and the Metropolitan been able to reach a satisfactory agreement, the wall probably could have been avoided altogether, but as is too often the case with private-public projects, that didn’t happen.

Fountain RulesThe park does not come without very specific rules, however. An oddly capitalized and detailed sign off to the side of the fountain lays out the rules. Water shoes must be worn in the fountain at all times, dogs are not allowed in the fountain (unless they are service animals), the fountain water is not to be drunk, diapers must not be changed within 6 feet of the fountain, and people ill with serious diseases or diarrhea are prohibited. While I was there, several people led their dogs into the fountain and allowed them to splash around and drink from it, and people walked through the fountain enjoying the mist. No one wore water shoes today, and I can’t imagine that the rule will be strictly followed in the future.

The garden hopes to host weddings and events, but as I walked across areas already littered with dog droppings, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting their wedding dress in the grass that will inevitably become a dog park for downtown residents.

All things considered, I think the Belo Garden mostly succeeds. I think it is a nice respite, and I was pleased by the amount of people, both downtown workers and residents, I saw enjoying the garden long after the ceremony had ended and the high-profile people and camera crews had left. Obviously the space is not without issues and some legitimate concerns, but hopefully people will respect and use the garden so that it will thrive and not suffer the same fate as the abandoned Thanks-Giving Square.

17 comments on “Dispatch From an Intern: The Belo Garden Opens

  1. Nothing says #firstclasscity like reminding people with diarrhea not to use the fountains in your new $14.5 million downtown park.

  2. “they didn’t want cars and trucks going through the garden and disturbing the peaceful atmosphere and endangering children at play.”
    Unlike the pedestrian promenades of Main, Commerce and Griffin?

  3. So, Belo finally gets someone to stand up and applaud their BLEEP and they thank the guy by giving him the bum’s rush right into custody? Now, that is sweet. He’s probably a former Belo employee who took a generous buyout because he wanted to spend more time with his family…..The signage seems to cover all possiblities, but one wonders if there was a sign at the Belo Garden that warned “NO GARDENING”? The soil is probably properly prepared for your high-quality herb. ” So, with a nod to the company’s 20th century attitudes, maybe “NO GARDENING! THIS MEANS YOU LONGHAIR!”

  4. Credit should be given to Belo for an outstanding addition to the urban fabric of Downtown Dallas.

  5. Nicely done Ms. Saunders. Well written.

    I fear, though, that the hipster-urban hydra (Tim/Zac/Michael/Peter) will be sending you off to reeducation camp for contradicting St. Patrick Kennedy. If he says the wall is bad, so too must the rest of the D illuminati. And pointing out that on opening day the shamefully oppressed Metropolitan residents are already showing their true colors by not curbing their dogs? This cannot be; urban dwellers (especially the homeless) do no wrong. In fact, no one would have even considered sipping from the fountain whilst changing their barefoot diarrheaic child but for the city giving them the idea, the history of Pegasus Plaza and Main Street Park notwithstanding.

    That is an interesting link though; I had not seen St. Patrick endorse vandalism and destruction of public property. A real feather in the cap for urbanism.

    I already miss the former parking lot.

  6. @Tim Rogers: Published? Yes.

    You also recently “published” this:
    http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2012/05/02/a-proud-day-to-live-in-dallas/
    http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2012/05/03/why-we-will-spend-decades-and-billions-on-a-toll-road-and-never-properly-address-public-transit/
    and less recently this:
    http://www.dmagazine.com/Home/2009/06/01/The_Problem_With_Woodall_Rodgers_Park.aspx
    http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2011/07/06/the-park-ctd/

    And this month wrote this:
    http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2012/05/04/paul-dyer-should-be-fired/
    http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2012/05/08/jim-schutze-knocks-it-out-of-the-park-on-winfrey-point-controversy/

    One supposes you too are entitled to your Sister Souljah moment, but one story from an intern (kudos, again, to her) hardly balances out the virtual fellatic kiss D endows upon anyone who mouths words about green space, urban ethos, or a quixotic and shallow antipathy for everything Belo.

  7. “Had Belo and the Metropolitan been able to reach a satisfactory agreement, the wall probably could have been avoided altogether, but as is too often the case with private-public projects, that didn’t happen.”

    Huh?? What does this statement even mean, and Michelle Saunders, what experience do you have with public-private partnerships?

  8. @Thufir_Hawat: You are my new favorite @human. “Hipster-urban hydra” is of course my 2012-13 fantasy football team name.

  9. I don’t live in the Metropolitan and I hate the wall too. They could’ve at least cut some arches through so that people from the Metropolitan lobby and customers of any future retail at the street level can provide “eyes on the park.” Think about it. The more eyes on the park, the fewer acts of littering and loitering. The wall encourages homeless people to camp out there.

  10. @Thufir_Hawat: You missed my point. In your first comments, you suggested that Michelle might be in a little trouble. I merely wanted to bring to your attention that I put up Michelle’s post. If I had a problem with what she wrote, it would have been pretty easy to keep her words off the blog.

  11. How did @thufir_hawat miss all the fellatic kisses Joel Kotkin got on this blog?

  12. I agree with the author that the wall is not NEARLY as bad as I had expected. I actually feel a little foolish for being offended by something I had never seen:) And btw nice work!

  13. Check out the Texas health department for the fountain rules. These are mandatory by the state.
    The wall blocks no residence in the metropolitan building, side all apartments are above the lobby, thus above the wall, which separates idling vehicles from ruining your lunch; because otherwise exhaust pipe would be in your mouth. Belo corp and the city went out of their way to make accommodations with the building’s owner, but he refused. Belo corp also spent allot of their money to insure the wall was as beautiful from both sides-and they did not have to, which shows good faith. How many companies are calling the city with such a, generous money match???

    The was does not and will not have any impact on crime in the park. It seems the biggest complaint is the tenants at the metropolitan have to walk s around it, so their poets can deficate.

  14. The sign rules around the park and near the fountain are mandated by the Texas department of safety.
    The ‘pedestrian promenades’ are the other streets are not located by an area you can eat, and, there is No Parking’ anywhere asking main. Commerce, or Griffiin.
    Someone mentioned the garden wall blocks businesses. Do they not see that is a lobby and there are no businesses facing the park.
    Downtown is not divided by the wall, it has the same setbacks as would another building.
    would the metropolitan rather have a 60 story building on that place instead???
    this park will also raise their property values. Why complain?? Look at how many other building with residence have a garden outside their doors. Also, Michelle. Needs to know what that’private-public’ agreement states-doesn’t have anything to do with the wall.
    The park is already liked and used by many. Why don’t you find the real story, and try putting better facts together instead of hearsay or your unprofessional or not, opinion.

  15. Thom h: The lobby doesn’t take up the entire length of the building. There is empty retail on each side that would have benefited from views of the park. As for the mandated rules, I don’t recall seeing those rules at any other downtown fountain.