Sunday, July 12, 2009

Re:Vision Dallas—Not Everybody Likes Us

At last, just when our heads were about to swell up and explode from all the praise we’ve been getting for the Re:Vision Dallas competition, somebody doesn’t like us:

“So, we have our winning entries for the Re:Vision Dallas competition. And the results are as predictable, superficial, and cliche as the competition title itself.”

Well, fair enough if that’s what the writer at the Living Car Free in Big D thinks. The picture the winning designs bring to the writer’s mind is pretty dang funny:

“From simply a graphic rendering and architectural standpoint, all of these remind me more of this than anything I would really like to see happen in the city:”

I wish the writer had called me to talk about what we are doing before writing this piece, though, because I agree with much of what he had to say (we both participate on the Dallas Fort Worth Urban Forum [always a place for interesting discussion which you can find here:], so it wouldn’t have been difficult to pm me.

I’m going to quote the Living Car Free in Big D blog at a little length here, to give the writer a fair chance to make his point, because it’s an important point:

“I advised two groups that competed for this, suggesting to both that the constraints of this site were ALL beyond the boundaries of the actual project, not all of which are physical. No developer would look at this area. It had(has) no context. The freeway has gutted and bombed out both sides of it.

While in the mean time, the country is in deep and transformative recession. Rather than seeing something that addresses in an economically and physically sustainable manner a solution for job losses and failing industries, I still see highways and clover leafs. The two teams I consulted with ended up with solutions looking at how to reuse plain fuselages and the concrete road building industry as structural elements for prefab housing units. Taking one dying industry void of demand and repositioning them into areas of need, in town affordable housing.”

I remember both the designs he’s talking about, they were extremely interesting, but the jury concluded that they weren’t practical and buildable (I lack the expertise to know if that’s correct.). The project using plane fuselages as the building blocks for a residential tower received a significant amount of attention from the jury. It’s my memory that the jury had two issues that prevented that proposal from rising to the top: the jury was worried that there would not be enough surplus plane fuselages available at a reasonable cost to build the project and that the shape and dimensions of the fuselages wouldn’t make comfortable living quarters.

Leaving those issues aside, the writer is absolutely correct about the necessity to deal with the urban context the block is emerged in. The only quarrel I have with this blog is that it overestimates what it might be possible for us to do. Central Dallas CDC has 3.5 ftes and a total operating budget of about $250,000 per year. Rebuilding one city block in a sustainable fashion is going to be challenging enough for us—there is no way in the world that we could take on the problems of “job losses and failing industries”.

Tasks of that scale need to be addressed by a governmental entity, or perhaps a consortium of private companies. You might have noticed that neither the Bush Administration nor the Obama Administration (at least so far) has managed to make any headway on those problems. When you run one relatively small nonprofit, then there are limits to the size and difficulty of the projects that you can take on. We long ago made the decision that we would do as much as we could, but that our primary goal was to at least do something, even if it was far from all that needed to be done.

I think this is the first time we’ve been accused of not being ambitious enough. It’s almost refreshing.

1 comment:

  1. I just came across this looking for links back to the ReVision comp. When I write, I tend to look at issues broadly.

    In no way was I suggesting that your organization take on the monumental task of required of this site, or of the entire issue of affordable housing.

    What I was suggesting (if I remember correctly) was that the competition's entries should have been thinking as broadly: to arrive at ideas that all individuals and organizations interested in affordable housing, revitalizing cities, and community development can borrow. As we're shedding one economy for another, how do we repurpose the infrastucture that we have in industry and in the city, for a new, more useful economy?

    Ambition is good. I think the ambition of the chosen contestants was misguided. It made green expensive, when the ambition should've been to make green/community affordable.

    Now THAT would be ambitious.