Thinking Beyond the Square: Denton’s Future Hubs of Creativity, Commerce, and Culture
I grabbed a glorious cappuccino from Shift Coffee this afternoon after dining on a Nopales platter from Taqueria Guanajuato on East McKinney Street. Some of the best tacos in town are found on a virtually unwalkable street void of any vision or investment, tucked in among bail bond storefronts and car repair shops. Arguably the best coffee in town is found in a strange 70s looking strip mall along a one-way road going the opposite direction from where I live. Yet both places were packed. In the case of Shift, my short 20 minute stint in the shop had me mingling with a web developer, a filmmaker, a rising star in the local Realtor scene, a Midlake guitarist, a prominent pianist, and many others – literally a concentration of culture and creativity. This got me reflecting…
The revitalization of the square and its obvious continued success is the result of vision from several years ago. Somebody had the vision to preserve the courthouse despite a push in 1956 by the Denton Record-Chronicle and local business leaders to tear it down to build a parking lot. Somebody had the vision to do away with a rule prohibiting residential living on the second floors of downtown buildings, thus paving the way for what we now see in downtown living. Some business owners had the vision and gumption to take a risk on an area that many believed was a relic of the past, replaced with the modern glories of things like Golden Triangle Mall. Somebody had the vision to bring a commuter rail line to Denton from Dallas and set-up a stop in the downtown area.
And it worked. Now what?
If we learn from other cities, a growing, ambitious and continually restless creative class of young, educated professionals, entrepreneurs, and artists will eventually look for new organic, authentic, and affordable spaces to work, live, connect, and create.
You already see this happening. While city, developer, and business leaders are spending millions on already successful areas of downtown like the Hickory Street corridor (a good project, to be sure), the hottest businesses in town are popping up off the grid in places with little to no attention, investment or planning: see, for example, East Oak Street (OSDH, ESSC, and the coming food truck park), South Square (Shift Coffee, the DIME Store, Viet Bites), and Congress Street (Greenhouse, Loco Cafe, Cupboard, and Seven Mile).
This activity alone should be instructive and should give us pause to reflect on the relationship between top-down, centralized planning and organic, authentic space-making. If you’d rather hang out in the Bishop Arts District over Uptown in Dallas, you get what I’m talking about here.
So how does a city get in the mix of this and look to the future beyond the Denton Square? Cast vision, find out what makes these areas work, invest in smart infrastructure projects to make those areas more walkable/bikable/livable, figure out what bad policies are in place that keep them from flourishing, and get out of the way.
Here’s my take on 12 areas to keep an eye on – 12 areas of potential as future hubs of creativity, commerce, and culture in Denton. We need to continue encouraging the success of the square, but we also need to make more places like it around town.
Click on the full-screen button on the upper right of the map below. Then explore my thoughts on each of these areas by clicking each highlighted spot. Chime in and let me know your thoughts.