Ultramodern Underground Dallas: Vincent Ponte's Pedestrian-Way as Systematic Solution to the Declining Downtown

By Terranova, Charissa N. | Urban History Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Ultramodern Underground Dallas: Vincent Ponte's Pedestrian-Way as Systematic Solution to the Declining Downtown


Terranova, Charissa N., Urban History Review


Mid last century, North American civil servants and urban planners and developers proffered inventive solutions to the problem of the declining downtown core. Robert Moses looked to super-block development and Title of the US Housing Act of 1949 to funnel federal dollars into urban renewal projects in New York City, Because it had been successful in the suburbs, Victor Gruen sought retail development in the form of downtown shopping centres. The Montreal-based planner Vincent Ponte focused his attention on the "multi-level city centre." Similar to the solutions proffered by Gruen and Moses, Ponte's multi-level centres were large-scale and multi use. However, unlike his colleagues' tabula rasa interventions, Ponte's multi-level centre was incremental. This essay focuses on Ponte's little-known 1969 multi-level pedestrian-way plan for downtown Dallas. I argue that Ponte's project for the centre of Dallas is unique in Ponte's oeuvre because, departing from his own espousal of super-block development, it was not built in one fell swoop within a super-block. The multi-level megastructural pedestrain-way in Dallas was fluid and incremental in its original planning and subsequent evolution. It is best understood according to Ponte's instrumentalization of systems theory.

Au milieu du siecle dernier, les fonctionnaries ainsi que les urbanistes etpromoteui ord ontpresentediverses solutions novatrices en vue de resoudre le declin du centre-ville. Robert Moses s'est tourne vers l'amenagement de mega-Hots de meme que vers le Titre I de la US Housing Act de 1949, afin de canaliser desfonds dugouvernementfederal dans desprojets de renovation urbain a New York. Par suite du succes de laformule dans les banlieues, Victor Gruen a vise I'essor du secteur de la vente au detail au moyen de la construction de centres commerciaux au centre-ville. Pour sapart, le planificateur montrealasis Vincent Ponte a axe ses efforts sur les centres de ville aux multiples niveaux. Similaires aux solutions offertes par Gruen et Moses, Les centres multiniveaux de Ponte etaient d'envergure et a usages multiples. Toutefois, contrai-rement a l'approche de la table rase de ses confreres, le centre multiniveau de Ponte etait de nature incrementale. Le present article porte sur un projet peu connu de Ponte, elabore en 1969, pour une voie pietonne multiniveau destinee au centre-ville de Dallas, Je soutiens que ce project est unique dans l' oeuvre de Ponte en ce qu'il de'laisse sa propre notion de mega-ilot et que la structure n'a pas 'ete' construite en une seule fois. Lavoie pietonne a multiple niveaux a Dallas a beneficie, des l'origine, d' une conception pour une construction et une evolution par etapes. Le projet s analyses le mieux selon l'instrumentalisation qu'a fait Ponte de la theorie des systemes.

Imaging Dallas: The Legacy of Vincent Ponte's Plan for a Grade-Separated Pedestrian Network in Dallas, Texas

The grade-separated pedestrian network in downtown Dallas is a warren of underground tunnels, bridges, and interstitial walkthroughs covering thirty-six city blocks. (1) A public-private venture and accretive effort with its first component opened in 1965 and last 1986, the downtown pedestrian-way in Dallas is, though consistently efficient in providing walkers quick passage to lunch or between buildings in a temperate climate, unpredictable in aesthetic experience. In wandering through, pedestrians experience a melange of surfaces, volumes, and lighting. The walk is a contrapuntal affair. The shops and interior architecture along the descent into the system at Pacific Avenue and Ervay Streets are new and well maintained. Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and local Chinese and Indian restaurants line a well-lit dining area with colourful modern furniture. Exit the large, modern, communal dining area and walk down the tunnel toward Thanksgiving Tower, and one passes under harsh fluorescent lighting, before walls of curving grey panels a la the science fiction movie Logan's Run, in front of a lone Indian restaurant with a faux red brick facade, through a poorly lit and maintained passage, in front of a lone Mexican restaurant with a faux yellow brick facade, and up an escalator to the entrance of a derelict tower.

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