**Interesting update: I met with my city councilman today and he told me that I a very well-known real estate developer in Tyler bought the location of the “Urban Valley” and he wants to turn it in to an outdoor movie theater. Apparently, one of the business owners nearby did see the potential value (July 21,2011).
Tyler needs an urban valley. Desperately. We need to feel like we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves: Our city. We need a public place to congregate that doesn’t require buying something. We need to reimagine our downtown spaces (I know it’s cliche, America, but it’s still true) and appreciate the value of city grit. To do this, I propose we transform an existing parking lot bordered by buildings into a brick plaza bordered by restaurants and accesible to all.
“The Valley” is my name for this concept (pictured) I’ve been dreaming about for over five years. One day while I was walking through downtown Tyler I saw this parking lot (check it out on Google maps here) and realized: This is one of my favorite spaces in Tyler. From Broadway, you can see that this space is sort of a large pocket within the Tyler downtown grid. This pocket is surrounded by buildings on all sides except for this large entrance on broadway and a smaller “serendipitous entrance” on Elm.
Unfortunately, according to the Smith County Map Site, the property extending into the parking lot is all privately held by the surrounding buildings (thanks to @calebc for the tip). Hopefully, these business owners would see that the potential value of the space far outweighs that of another parking lot. To me, the potential of this location potential is particularly impressive because of it’s unique combination of elements: Nostalgia, drama, and proximity.
First, the drama of this urban valley is unprecedented (to my knowledge) in Tyler and perhaps East Texas. From Broadway, the entirety of The Valley can be seen and its grand potential can be felt.
There is something urbane about visiting a public space surrounded by buildings and this is the perfect spot for such an experience in Tyler. This drama is not matched anywhere else in Tyler because the majority of new construction in Tyler is a typical suburban style: low-density and surrounded by parking.
There is nothing dramatic about going from a low-density area to another low-density area. But the drama of The Valley is in walking from small spaces to large spaces and vice versa. Add the variety of different building heights and a background of skyscrapers and you can imagine the full experience of the drama of an urban valley. A perfect example of this drama is seen in the “serendipitous entrance” from the south. While walking east down Elm, you might notice an alley leading north just before you hit Broadway. This alley leads to the valley through a much smaller space with very high walls on either side. As you venture north, you gradually get a sense of the cavernous space ahead and as soon as you enter you are able to stumble into the incredible size, diversity, sights, and sounds of the valley.
Second, the significance of nostalgia cannot be overlooked. In the present era, many people are finding an insatiable desire to spend time in spaces that have
stories to tell. This space, with its old theater and historic buildings, invites people into another era of Tyler life: The era of urbanism. This is the “heyday” era and the era in which many believe Tyler was most beautiful, profitable and social. The Rose Festival was started in this era (1933), oil was discovered (1930), the old courthouse still graced the square, and the people celebrated in the streets. Today, it’s difficult to re-enter this era as you might if you walked into the “old town” of cities in Europe because much of it was torn down or lost. This valley would be an excellent way to recreate an old space that is both historic and contemporary.
Third, the proximity of this space is paramount. It’s within a block of Don Juan’s, Rick’s, Jake’s, The Downtown Coffee Lounge, Balance, banks, the jail and of course the courthouse. Today, the valley is blocked off from the square by a row a businesses that would benefit from a backdoor. Let’s take Rick’s on the Square for example. The back side of Rick’s (pictured) opens directly onto the valley.
In three steps, this side could become the most profitable side of the restaurant: Replace the parking lot with a plaza, paint a mural, add a canopy of lights, and put in some street trees as a buffer from Broadway. All of these changes would make the drama of the space more appealing to visitors and residents. Rick’s could turn all of it’s roof space into dining space for people watching, patrons could get a front row seat to outdoor concerts (“Live at The Valley!”), and a chance to experience the city from above.
All in all, The Valley would be a new way to experience Tyler. The protected nature of the space would encourage a wide variety of people to gather and enjoy the plaza, outdoor restaurant seating, potential for concerts and plays, city skyline, and old Tyler amenities. It would be grand, public, urban and, above all, it would be Tyler.
Check out my other Tyler projects at my Tyler, TX page.