Last January I was a member of a student team at the University of Maryland that entered the Urban Land Institute Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition. Interdisciplinary teams of students were given two weeks to create a master land use plan and proposed ten-block development for a neighborhood just south of downtown Dallas, known as Cedars.
This year 96 teams from 34 universities entered the competition. Our team selected the number 1856, the year of the founding of the University of Maryland. The team was composed of Dorien Couch (real estate), myself (planning), Nandor Mitrocsak (architecture), Eric Raasch (real estate), and Elizabeth Vetne (architecture). Our entry, mounted on seven 11 by 17 sheets, looked like this:
We also had to work up a full financial proforma on the project to prove it was financially viable:
Although developed at the turn of the century as a residential neighborhood, today very few people call Cedars home. The neighborhood is home to an eclectic combination of light industrial uses, a community college, a few residences, a city park, and even a honky-tonk. I had the opportunity to drive through the neighborhood during a subsequent trip to Dallas, and here’s a few views of what it looks like.
We conducted research into demographics, infrastructure, and the natural context of the site. In these diagrams, the entire site is designated in lime green. Downtown is just to the north of the site, and contains many high rise office buildings and new housing. (See this Google Map for more context.)
Although separated from downtown Dallas by a sunken freeway known as “the canyon,” the site has excellent access to downtown, features a station on the city’s rapidly expanding light rail system, and features a unique eclectic character. Calling our plan Transistasis (the property of a system to reform its functions to maintain a meaningful existence), we organized our proposal around the themes of reconnecting, rethinking, and renewing the neighborhood. We proposed extending the M-Line historic streetcar from the city’s main arts district north of downtown (where the art museum and symphony are located), and develop Cedars into an alternative arts district as a counterpoint to this formal arts activity. We allowed artist studios by-right, and allowed a density bonus for the creation of new arts venues along Lamar Street. Instead of adopting an unrealistic decking plan, we focused on creating an activity spine extending from city hall into the Cedars neighborhood, and along Lamar Street from the convention center into the neighborhood. Our development, outlined in purple on this map, proposed mixed-use urban development near the DART station.
Our plan proposed three major anchors for the neighborhood. We proposed creating a new amphitheater in the Old City Park, providing a venue featuring a dramatic Dallas skyline. The visitors will spill out onto Cedars streets, investigating artist studios and galleries, and passing through our development on Belleview street on the way to the light rail station and parking. The second anchor, a magnet arts middle school, would be just a short ride from the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, now under construction in the arts district north of downtown. The third anchor, a restaurant and craft brewpub would serve as a hub of activity at the Cedars DART Station. The Belleview Redevelopment plan also includes a new supermarket, housing, and retail space.
Although we were not a finalist, the judge’s comments we received back were generally favorable. The finalists’ plans, and the plan created by the competition winner, a University of Pennsylvania team, are available on the competition website.
Nonetheless, we are proud of our plan. In the course of our research, we found that the tree for which the neighborhood is named, the Eastern Red Cedar, is known as a pioneer species often found on damaged land. Early in Cedars’ history it was home to pioneering forms of urban life — Belleview Place, Dallas’ first apartment building, was constructed in 1890 at the corner of Sullivan and Browder streets. Redevelopment of the neighborhood (whether according to our plan or another) could return the pioneering Red Cedar and pioneering new forms of sustainable living to Cedar’s streets, a good thing for the city of Dallas.