Dallas Morning News November 6, 2009

The Wyly Theatre and  Winspear Opera House have burst into being, bringing with them glamour, glory and great promise of things to come. Now Deedie Rose, one of the major movers of the performing arts center, and her husband, Rusty, have put up $2 million (from a gift of $5 million to the Trinity Trust) to create the Dallas City Design Studio, an essential effort if Dallas is to build on the brilliant beginning in the Arts District.

After the Berlin Wall fell, some of the best architects from all over the world went there and produced fantastic work. Among them were Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, Renzo Piano and I.M. Pei, all represented now in the Dallas Arts District. The great bonus for Berlin was this: local architects studied the elegant examples set before them and followed suit, rising to a whole new level of creativity.          

The same thing must happen now in Dallas, and the Design Studio offers genuine hope that the triumph of the Wyly, Winspear, Booker T. Washington, Nasher et al will not stop at the borders of the Arts District. Nobody understands this better than City Manager Mary Suhn, who responded, as did the Roses, to the skillful, persistent passion of Gail Thomas, president of the Trinity Trust. Because of her, and the convincing reconnaissance tours to Vancouver she led with city staff and members of the Council, renewal will rise from the water’s edge to echo the excitement several blocks away.

The Design Studio, housed on the mezzanine of City Hall where public financial support will be assumed, gradually, over five years, is intended to work with investors, developers, residents and companies along the Trinity River, to make sure it makes sense as a place to be. Director Brent Brown, achiever of small miracles on Congo Street in South Dallas, said he will begin his mission in West Dallas, which stretches the farthest along the river of any area in the city.

But Brent Brown won’t stop there. West Dallas is connected by Sylvan and Continental to the Design District, by Commerce to downtown, by Beckley and Sylvan to Oak Cliff and also by Beckley to Methodist Hospital, a big source of jobs. One thing will lead to another, and, in time, the Design Studio will spread its influence across a wide swath of the city. Critical to this venture will be planner and urban diplomat Larry Beasley, whose ideas have animated Vancouver, and now Abu Dhabi. He generated the magic that took Gail Thomas and her happy few, soon to grow, to Vancouver in the first place.

To really succeed, the Design Studio must attract adherents who share the same love of good design– people like architect  John Mullen, once a co-founder of Container Store, who is determined to persuade Willis Winters of the Parks Department to buy the long-empty high-rise at 211 North Ervay, tear it down and create a park, possibly with sculpture from the Nasher (Mr. Mullen’s thought only, at this point), and Chip McCarthy, who dreams of Flora as the flame of the city that never flickers. A developer and money manager (depending on the economy), Chip McCarthy sees crafts, fresh produce, small, covered  amphitheaters with shows — also news — on flat screens,  and people all day and night indulging in “a slow relaxing of repressive formality.”

Brent Brown must make common cause with them and many others, doing what he tells you he does best: listen, and then simplify the voices, accomplishing more little miracles that, taken together, one by one, can make Dallas, after much refinement from near and far, a city with a song of its own.