Over the past five years, the Downtown Dallas 360 Plan has functioned as the blueprint for urban planning in the Central Business District and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Usually referred to simply as the “360 Plan,” this is a document that keeps evolving with the downtown area districts. The document came into being because stakeholders—residents, business owners and city officials—recognized a need to improve the area’s connectivity, culture and the urban lifestyle. Authored as a public-private partnership between Downtown Dallas Inc. (DDI), the City of Dallas, private interests and the community, the 360 Plan establishes a collective vision and implementation strategy.
Worthy of note in the history of the 360 Plan is the Klyde Warren Park, which opened in 2012 at a time when the plan was still very early in its progression. The park was built at street level after a downtown section of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway went underground. Klyde Warren’s impact and continuing success was a game changer in that it has been a constant affirmation of what smart urban planning can do to enhance livability in the urban core.
The various partners of the 360 Plan have been very active in keeping the community involved in the process of creating a unified vision, refining that vision and then executing actionable goals.
According to the 360 Plan, it starts with the recognition that Downtown Dallas is a “complete urban center composed of distinct yet interconnected districts linked by an accessible transit network, each offering a unique and diverse combination of places to live, refreshing open spaces, bustling street activity, successful business and retail, and dynamic urban experiences for residents, workers and visitors alike.”
The districts were categorized, with seven representing Core Districts, eight referred to as Supporting Districts and three at the outer perimeter known as Surrounding Districts.
The Core Districts are within the Central Business District and include the Dallas Arts District, Thanksgiving Commercial Center, Main Street District, West End Historic District, Civic Center, Reunion/Union Station District, and Dallas Farmers Market. The Support Districts encompass Cedars, South Side, Riverfront, Deep Ellum, Design District, Baylor, Uptown and Victory Park.
The Surrounding Districts include South Dallas/Fair Park east of Cedars, North Oak Cliff, and West Dallas. While the 360 Plan focuses primarily on the first 15 districts, it recognizes the symbiosis between these and the Surrounding Districts and considers them integral to the inner city’s development. Each of the 15 Core and Supporting Districts are understood to have their unique identity, with some more favorable for residential developments, others for commercial and still others for cultural and entertainment development.
Work on the 360 Plan began by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each district, and a list of eight “challenges” were defined. For example, the stakeholders noted there were many “unfriendly streets” that did not foster a pedestrian-oriented scene. The area was hampered by a series of one-way arteries that prioritized auto traffic flow.
Many of the buildings were seen to be “fortress-like” and hostile to pedestrian interaction. The downtown districts had an image problem; they lacked a cohesive identity, provided confusing circulation patterns, scattered retail and gave the general impression that downtown wasn’t a desirable place to go.
Another detriment to pedestrian traffic has been the development in years past of a “multi-level” pedestrian system. A decades-old system of tunnels and skywalks separated pedestrians from street level and retail on the streets vanished as it followed foot traffic to those alternate passages.
The “Freeway Loop” has been another problem. It has been a barrier to surrounding neighborhoods by severing streets, blocking views, interrupting connectivity, creating noise and voids in the urban landscape.
Parking access, design and management has been another major challenge. Being heavily automobile dependent, the CBD is pocked with unsightly blank facades, surface parking, entrance ramps to subsurface garages, and monolithic above-ground garages. Taken as a whole, they are an economic challenge and an obstacle to investment.
“Many office buildings are grossly ‘under-parked’ when compared to suburban counterparts, contributing to high vacancy rates … and much of the parking is unavailable to the public, resulting in a frustrating experience,” the 360 Plan stated.
To the south, the Trinity River Corridor presented another challenge. Access to the river had been next to impossible. Railroad tracks, freeways and frontage roads prevented any visual or physical connection to the region between the levees.
Finally, the 360 Plan saw a great need for affordable housing: “The vast majority of housing developed has been for the upper or upper-middle income brackets, the area does not boast the diversity of residents or housing choices more reflective of a large urban center.”
Sixty-seven action items came out of the 2011 plan. A majority of them have been completed. Key recommendations included adding public art in the Dallas Arts Districts, encouraging ground-floor conversions of office and hotel buildings in Thanksgiving Commercial Center to retail and restaurant uses, redeveloping the Statler Hilton site in Main Street District, and linking new development at Reunion/Union Station District with other downtown areas with pedestrian and street improvements, and a streetcar stop.
In 2015, the 360 Plan partners decided it was time to put their document through a major revision.
A series of steering committee meetings and public forums ensued and the plan was updated. There were also pop-up input galleries set up at more than 20 events last fall, as well as opportunities to contribute online through the 360 Plan website. In June of this year, Downtown Dallas and its cohorts formally launched the marketing and implementation of Phase 2.
Phase 2 is generally based on the findings reported last year in a 12-page document that lists a lengthy series of “Priority Actions.”
Some priorities have been well publicized. For instance, most Dallasites have heard of the $250 million Trinity Park project or the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s “D2,” a second light rail alignment that will provide an alternate east-west connection through the Central Business District.
The CBD and surrounding districts have experienced a major surge in new housing projects. However, Phase 2 is emphasizing yet more housing initiatives:
“For Downtown to emerge as a truly dynamic, 24-hour urban environment, additional housing is essential. In particular, housing oriented toward lower- and middle-income households is critical to establish a diverse residential base within the CBD and surrounding districts. This action calls for the development of a comprehensive strategy and set of guidelines and incentives that will result in significant new housing production.”
Shalissa Colwell Perry, vice president of marketing at Downtown Dallas, discussed progress on Phase 2 with Dallas Towers. Referring to the 360 Plan’s mobility priorities, she said the study goes beyond what DART is doing. It provides analysis and concept design of the entire street network.
“In addition, there will be focus on 40 catalyst blocks throughout the study area to be more specifically designed to improve multimodal access,” Perry said.
While 360 works closely with DART, 360 is more comprehensive within its jurisdiction and will build and test network design. This would include rethinking traffic directional alignments and parking strategies.
Promoting citizen involvement will be a top priority in the months to come. As it has since its inception, 360 Plan partners have worked tirelessly to get the various vested communities to buy-in to the plan.
“The 360 is managed by a project team consisting of DDI and the City of Dallas staff, along with consultants from MIG, Economic & Planning Systems Inc., and Fehr & Peers transportation consultants. This project team has guided large neighborhood public meetings, as well as focus groups, one on one stakeholder meetings and meetings with partner organizations—not to mention dozens of presentations to interested groups ranging from civic organizations to real estate associations,” Perry said.
Once the mobility study and Phase 2 of the 360 Plan are complete, Downtown Dallas will take the strategies to City Council in October for adoption. DDI will serve as steward of the plan, as it did in 2011, Perry said.