Eighteen trees are flourishing in the award-winning, multi-use downtown plaza
Part of a 35-block neighborhood restoration initiative, Sundance Square is now — a decade after its unveiling in 2013 — the center of a newly vibrant downtown Fort Worth. The plaza between East 3rd Street and East 4th Street serves as the area’s “heart”: a two-acre, multi-use space that, from the beginning, prioritized connectiveness and sustainability into its design plans. Eighteen trees surround the plaza perimeter, each one planted in the DeepRoot Silva Cell system to provide quality soil volume for mature growth — and thus, a shady and welcoming canopy for plaza visitors. Sundance Square Plaza has revitalized commerce and event-gathering in Downtown Fort Worth, winning numerous awards for its design and eco-friendly features.
Number of Silva Cells: 960 (1x)
Amount of Soil Volume Per Tree: 533 ft3
Number of Trees: 18 (Cedar Elm and Shumard Oak)
Type of Project: Plaza
Project Designer: Michael Vergason Landscape Architects
Project Contractor: Greenleaf Professional Tree Service
Installation Date of Silva Cells: Fall 2013
Preserving the historic architecture and Old West ambiance of Downtown Fort Worth was a top priority during the development of Sundance Square: a 35-block collection of restored and replicated turn-of-the-century storefronts with dynamic landscaping and brick-paved streets. Named after the Sundance Kid of Butch Cassidy fame, this improvement initiative had been in discussion for decades, as city planners strove to maintain the area’s rich and colorful history as an entertainment, commercial, and recreational hotbed for tourists, workers, and residents alike.
Sundance Square Plaza — positioned between East 3rd Street and East 4th Street with Main Street, closed to vehicular traffic, providing a central walking corridor — was one of the most important elements of the project, officially opening in November 2013. Converted from two old concrete parking lots, Sundance Square Plaza boasts many attractions including a permanent, multi-purpose stage, decorative water fountains (with ever-changing waterfalls and cascades), and two rows of trees framing the plaza’s perimeter.
Mitigating the Texas heat was among the top concerns for designers at Michael Vergason Landscape Architects. Planting trees around the plaza perimeter would help address heat-island concerns — as Kameron Aroom, leader of the design team, described their objectives for the new downtown plaza: “Our biggest goals were to provide a volume of soil that would encourage the trees shading the plaza to grow and form a solid canopy while preventing compaction of the amended soil panel below due to large crowds during events.”
The DeepRoot Silva Cell system provided project planners with the perfect solution.
In order to achieve sustainable, long-lasting shade for Sundance Square Plaza visitors, project planners knew it was crucial to provide the newly planted trees with access to adequate soil volume, thus ensuring robust and healthy canopy growth. A total of 960 Silva Cells were installed in the fall of 2013 — each of the 18 Cedar Elm or Shumard Oak trees receive access to 533 cubic feet of quality, uncompacted soil.
Given the often-arid Texas climate, the design team wanted to engage innovative and efficient irrigation techniques to guarantee the trees have access to all the resources they need year-round. The flexibility of the Silva Cell system was conducive to the design team’s goals, able to work around the underground irrigation network. Aroom observes that “Grading in the plaza was designed to slowly sheet water into the allée, and decomposed granite was used to prevent runoff. Water efficient irrigation techniques were used in the allée to help sustain the trees during the hot Texas summer months.” Indeed, the tree species were chosen for their adaptability to the climate, being drought-resistant and able to withstand ninety-degree days.
Kameron Aroom goes on to discuss the specific reasons why Silva Cells were a great option for this project: “The trees at Sundance benefit from the dedicated soil panel that improves the quality of conditions surrounding them. We chose Silva Cells to prevent the compaction of planting medium from the intense event and daily impact pedestrian foot traffic. We intentionally pitched the plaza pavement to drain to filter through a decomposed granite surface into the engineered soil allowing the water to slowly infiltrate into the under drained soil below. This and other considerations have lessened the peak stormwater flow rate for the surrounding plaza and have allowed the trees to thrive and bring a strong shaded canopy for visitors.”
A decade since its inception, Sundance Square Plaza has received much national attention and industry accolades — including being featured in publications like the Wall Street Journal, Town & Country, Southern Living, and Historic Preservation. The project also received a 2019 ASLA Honor Award for General Design, with officials noting: “This beloved and well-used plaza in the heart of downtown Fort Worth replaced a pair of surface parking lots with an animated and engaging space that has become the city’s living room. Designed for flexibility and a multitude of uses, this energetic project has become a catalyst for change in the city’s core.” The plaza is truly the “heart” of Fort Worth, serving as a central gathering spot for locals and tourists alike, while playing host to numerous well-attended city events.
-2019 ASLA Jury Award: Honor Award for General Design
-National League of Cities James Howland Award for Urban Enrichment