Sunday, June 14, 2009

Greening Dallas?

Dallas used to look like the future. Parts of it did, anyway. Logan's Run (released in 1976) was filmed there (also in Fort Worth, Houston, a sewage treatment plant in El Segundo, CA, and other locations). The 1980 PBS TV movie based on Ursula K. Leguin's excellent novel The Lathe of Heaven was shot largely in Dallas, as well. Something about Dallas' sun-baked, concrete public spaces and impersonal, corporatist architecture appealed to filmmakers of the time when it came to imagining, say, the 23rd century. This likely says a lot more about the filmmakers and their audiences than it says about the 23rd century.

It certainly says a lot about Dallas, where the future used to go to get strange.

Another future Dallas was revealed near the end of last month when the winners of the Re:Vision Dallas architecture/urban design competition were announced. The contest invited architects and collaborators in the fields of urban farming, sustainable land use, etc. to create a city block that:
encourage[s] and value[s] relationships, while fostering respect for nature and our neighbors, privacy and resources, economy and consumption.
One of the three winning designs came from the San Francisco-based firm of David Baker and Partners. It looks like this:

The image is via the architect's Web site, where several others are available, as are some words which expand on the images:
Rather than simply placing a single building in the middle of a neglected space, the design team's conceptual reach extends beyond the property line into the larger city. The team proposes creating intersecting greenways pieced together from open space and disused lots to set up a framework for future development and to connect existing but disparate public amenities, such as the Farmer's Market and the Trinity River.
At the center of the greenways’ "X", Lone Star Square will function as the public heart of the new food/agriculture district, with orchards, garden plots, and historical elements from the city's past. Running through the system of greenways are a series of water features that filter harvested rainwater and convey it in a stream to the agricultural fields to be used for irrigation.
It's good that people in Dallas and elsewhere are looking into future green buildings and alternatives to the dystopic present in which a paucity of shops and amenities, multiple days of unsafe air quality, and oppressive summer heat make the urban experience just plain bad. Like the impossibly strange Dragonfly Building proposed for New York, the project arises from a good heart and good intentions, even if it is a latter day Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And I'm most hopeful for the idea of harvesting rainwater, even though we're now at the beginning of the dry season in this part of Texas, and some parts of the state to our south are well into a drought. But somehow the whole bigass shebang strikes me as just so very Dallas in its scale and structure and attitude. Consultants and experts and government workers decide solutions to problems that earlier consultants and experts and government workers inadvertently created via their solutions to earlier problems.

Meanwhile, up in Milwaukee, a guy named Will Allen -- who last winter was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Grant -- has worked patiently and persistently to create an urban farm in a blighted neighborhood. He's featured in the trailer below.

(The trailer is from the film Fresh, the Movie, which I have not seen) What I find admirable and encouraging about his project is that it is not the work of designers, but of a man and his compadres who want to make a place to live and live well. There is a connectedness both to a community and to an idea of living with the means of feeding ourselves that really good designers sometimes miss and Dallas implementers of designs have consistently missed.

I mean he's the author of the sentence "And believe in what the worms will do for you."

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