On April 30, 2015, a team of architects and landscape architects assembled by the local urban strategy firm Ash+Lime implemented the Crowdus Pop-Up Park, closing one block of Crowdus Street in Dallas to vehicles in an event that ran for three days. With seating, concerts, games, and movies, Crowdus drew a steady stream of people throughout the weekend. Though the event’s duration was brief, the idea of a public space in Deep Ellum had taken hold in visitor’s minds.
After the event, Design Future Dallas, a grass-roots group of young design professionals, stepped in. Aware that the largest obstacle to permanent implementation of a public space on Crowdus was the lack of a physical design, Design Future Dallas decided to facilitate an international design competition to reimagine Crowdus Street as a pedestrian corridor. Twenty-five entries were submitted from 10 countries around the world, with 11 entries coming from Dallas-based designers. The quality of work was superb. A jury made up of prominent local designers and members of the community was assembled. After anonymous judging, all three top finishers were revealed to be Dallas-based, with a team from Gensler’s Dallas office taking first place.
With the academic exercise complete, all those involved began to shift their thinking toward action. The Deep Ellum Foundation determined that a month-long prototype spanning three blocks was in order to test the idea in a semi-permanent way. This was dubbed Reimagine Crowdus. The Foundation assembled a team consisting of the competition organizers, winning designers, and various local businesses to plan the event.
When Reimagine Crowdus went live on Tuesday, September 4, Crowdus Street had been completely transformed. The transformation was not limited to the physical street; events were programmed every day of the month-long event. These included dance classes, concerts, stand-up comedy, movies, markets, and much more. Crowdus Street truly became a place to spend time, have a chance encounter, and soak up the energy of the neighborhood. It created a public space accessible to all regardless of age or economic status.
The event served as a prototype, a contained study of the issues that are generated by creating a pedestrian space on a vehicular street. Much was positive, but challenges arose. Coordination with local businesses for deliveries and trash pickup were critical, and occasionally miscommunications occurred. Twelve on-street parking spaces were no longer available, and while 12 is not a large percentage of Deep Ellum’s overall supply, the difficulty of parking is a significant issue to those who live, work, and play in the neighborhood. The southernmost block struggled to attract people, likely due to the two large dumpsters located mid-block. The central block emerged as the natural hub of activity and drew the greatest numbers of casual visitors.
With the trees and benches now cleared away and cars once again dominating the streetscape, Crowdus is both a shadow of what it was and a reminder of the potential that still exists. Despite the initial difficulties, Reimagine Crowdus demonstrated that a permanent pedestrian space is viable on this street and can be integrated into the existing urban complexity.
After the first weeks, trash service and deliveries began to fall into the necessary rhythm. The daily events drew a great number of people to the street, and drivers found parking elsewhere. Several adjacent businesses saw significant revenue increases. Hundreds turned out for several of the main events. At the conclusion of the month, the civic authorities recognized the success of the experiment, acknowledging that the demonstration had allayed previous reservations about the project.
The momentum of the pop-up, the competition, and the month-long Reimagine Crowdus event continues as the effort now turns toward permanent implementation. The present hope is to leverage cost-effective design interventions to create the maximum impact on the selected block of Crowdus.
This entire process is very encouraging, demonstrating that impassioned individuals and organizations can create real impact on their city. It is this infusion of new ideas that can be architecture’s greatest contribution to the urban dialogue. While drawings and renderings convey concepts and inspire further thought, physical intervention helps bridge the gap between proposal and reality.
If you have a question or opinion, or are interested in learning more about Crowdus Street, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Barnes, AIA, is with Oglesby Greene Architects in Dallas.