Before We Get (Another) Plan for Downtown's Parks, the Bridge Club Should Get a Clue

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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Tale of two cities on today's front pages: Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic at The New York Times, presents a big-canvas panoramic of Rio Park in Madrid, Spain, where they entombed a highway to bring a river back to life.

Linking Madrid's vast and wonderful new park to trends in Europe and America, Kimmelman writes: "All around the world, highways are being torn down and waterfronts reclaimed; decades of thinking about cars and cities reversed; new public spaces created."

On the other hand, the front page of The Dallas Morning News today brings us a story by Rudy Bush catching up on a story here two weeks ago that noted Dallas is about to redo its downtown parks master plan. Wilonsky quoted Willis Winters, the No. 2 in the Park Department, who said a "private partner" would be brought in to carry out the redo.

Rudy's scoop today is that Mr. Private, the apparent No. 1 in the new downtown Dallas parks plan, will be Bush's own boss, Robert Decherd, who is president, chairman and chief executive (Number 1-1-1) of the company that owns The Dallas Morning News, our city's only daily newspaper.

Bush presents some quotes from the reclusive Decherd, who apparently speaks in a style most people would reserve for important memos:

"I've always believed parks are the precursor of important development in the urban environment. The core can't succeed only as a result of commercial real estate development. For many years that was the mantra," Decherd said.
"Said," Rudy? "Said?" As in, you were talking to him? He said to you? Or, "said on the public address system this morning when we first got to school?" But let's not quibble journalism.

bridge kids.jpg
Bridge kids agree: It's fun to stay at the YMCA.
Everything Decherd says in Bush's piece about what he wants Dallas to do with parks downtown is great, all to the good. But it's all very small-bore, and it ignores the elephant in downtown Dallas, by which I mean the stubborn determination of city leaders to ruin what could be one of he world's most exciting urban parks by sticking an unneeded, unfunded, unwanted and unsafe expressway right on top of the Trinity River.

Kimmelman in The New York Times today talks about San Francisco, where they elected not to rebuild the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 earthquake, creating instead a space "which reconnected the city with its now glorious waterfront;" Seoul, South Korea, where they tore down five miles of freeway to create a new waterfront recreation area; and Chicago, where the strong leadership of Mayor Richard Daley gave birth to Millennium Park, a global landmark to endure the centuries.

It's not that what Decherd wants to do is wrong. It's right, and we're lucky to have top corporate people committed to our downtown. I have this heartache in my own life, you know: the rat-scuttling abandonment of my native Detroit in the '70s and '80s, from which the Motor City may not ever recover.

Hey. If a rich powerful businessman ever tells you he cares about your downtown, put a great big smile on your face and say, "Thank you."

But. We still suffer from a terrible lack of vision here. Sticking postage-stamp parks here and there around downtown while we maul the city's only waterfront adds up to a terrible sin against our city's future. Why put earrings and mascara on the pig if you intend to gut it anyway?

Madrid used local architects for its park, who came up with modest increments, sensitive to indigenous context, combining in a magnificent whole. Even in the little things we do here, like the deck park over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, our lack of self-confidence tricks us into hiring marquee architects from far away who know nothing about Dallas -- for example, not knowing that in Dallas in the summer you have to have shade or you die.

Don't tell me the stupid toll road on top of the river is dead. Deep in the catacombs of power beneath the Dallas Country Club, it turns restlessly in its rank-smelling coffin, determined to come back with the first full moon and bite us all in the neck. That's why we still have no master plan for the so-called Trinity Park we were told we were voting for in ...

1998.

Yup. 1998. Can you believe it? About to be 14 years ago. We voted for that damn thing in the previous century, and there still is no design, no vision, nothing but piecemeal junk. Why would we have multiple master plans for parks downtown and no master plan for THE PARK downtown?

I'll tell you why. Because the "bridge kids" at the Dallas County Club don't want a master plan along the river that might get in the way of the monstrosity they want to build down there -- a concrete vampire that will suck the life out of every two-bit postage-stamp park in a 15-mile radius.

Here's the dilemma. If you spend your resources doing a little bit of good on the edges and a great evil in the center, you just wind up with a great big sorta bad situation. Until somebody sticks a stake in the heart of that toll road for once and forever, that's what we have.

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45 comments
Parisrec
Parisrec

i don't mind standing aside for the benefit of the city but i'll be damned if i'm going to get knocked out of the box so that Nasher and Belo can make backroom secret deals to profit from their dubious " charity".. People, you have no idea what these clowns are capable of...

Parisrec
Parisrec

who needs o.w.s. when you've got bob and the city parks dept. stealing anything they can get their hands on...

Jon Daniel
Jon Daniel

Why is this so hard to understand?  Parks that enhance the real estate value of big doners, and Real Estate titans on the Dallas Citizens Council get green lighted. Parks that have no commercial or residential real estate play never get built, and if they are already here, never get maintained. Only Dallas Citizens Council members get to compute the ROI of City money spent on anything. There is never, Ever, EVER thought of the public good, or enhancing the life of the average citizen.  And the cheerleaders at Belo just keep pumping up the projects to insure the unwashed masses are in the dark

Anonymous Too
Anonymous Too

Parks are great but how will they be maintained? Watering, trash pick-up, replacement of plants, security...The City budget is stagnet. The pie is not expanding and more and more goes to police and fire. All the other departments such as arts, streets, libraries will be slashed.

Jessica
Jessica

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Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

Jim, I truly respect all your efforts toward making people conscious of this disdained resource called the Trinity River.However, and obviously (after 14 years) we need another strategy. What else can be done to make people aware the Trinity River Corridor project? New alliances with educational institutions, religious groups, environmentalist, key business players (that will benefit from this project), artists, other politicos?

Rangers100
Rangers100

You probably wouldn't view Main Street Garden Park as a worthless "postage stamp park" if you cared about downtown enough to actually live there.

Ellum08
Ellum08

First and foremost, the Trinity is a floodplain, which means that the ultimate decision with what goes between the levees belongs to the Army Corp of Engineers. And if they had their way, there would be nothing, I repeat NOTHING, located between the levees. Remember, the Corps want all trees removed from the floodplain. Complain all you want about the City, but the Corps must shoulder some of the plain, plus everyone must realize what the Trinity really is.....a device to carry water from Point A to Point B without flooding downtown. The Trinity cannot nor will it ever be allowed to be something like Central Park or Millenium Park in Chicago.

RC
RC

JimSee if you can find out who will be in charge of maintenance, cleaning, planting,etc of each park. Who pays for this maintenance? Also, who provides security? Since DPD no longer has Park police, does this just give Dallas cops more to do? No one seems to be talking about it.

OakParkStudio
OakParkStudio

I'm sure Bush's piece was generated from what could be called a "Decherd Gram." It was a "talking points memo" with all his answers already scribed and I'm sure it came with the un-spoken make-it-look-like-a-newsstory subtext.

Jim, you're right to question the journalism or lack thereof.

To bad dictums from upstairs too oftentimes invade the newsrooms.

Augie
Augie

Postage stamp parks indeed!  at 5 acres, the deck park is the largest by far of those in the article.  The others are essentially unsellable lots, being turned into a park.  Those are great, we need more of em.  Where is Central Park?  The only chance for a major park is obviously the Trinity.  At a minimum it seems something like Lady Bird Lake in Austin could be constructed with biking, hiking, running paths.  It takes zero vision to come up with that one. Why can't a permanent body of water be created with dams that is also a flood control option, etc?   Sadly it does come down to follow the money.  

RTGolden
RTGolden

Don't give up on your beloved Detroit, Jim.  From what I gather, neighbors are getting together, buying up vacant or blighted lots and creating new green spaces in their neighborhoods.  Urban farms, backyard parks, or just returning the space to native plants, they're making a difference in little pockets of the city.

Larry
Larry

You hit the nail on the head, Jim. Thanks for being the only guy in town who continues to cover this story. I know Willis Winters knows what we should be doing. People like Decherd and Gail Thomas make me very, very nervous.

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

It took an earthquake in SF for transformative change - I have hope that the younger voters (Jason Roberts, et al) will prove as effective here.

Lakewooder
Lakewooder

The Trinity toll road will eventually die, but when it does, is the bond money necessary to build the park still there? Just wondering.

Lee
Lee

It is good to see parks going in anywhere in the downtown area. A real loss was the master planned, square block park in the middle of State Thomas. The City could not come up with the funds to buy the land. It is interesting to think how different Uptown would be with a very large park in the middle of it.

The same type of square block parks could be created in parts of Old East Dallas and Deep Ellum, to complement Exall Park. There are still large blocks of land that sit undeveloped.

NathanSE
NathanSE

The deck park will have plenty of shade.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Well said.There truly is never thought of public good or enhancing the life of the average citizen in Dallas.

Middle-class families are caught between high taxes these projects foist upon them and the private school tuition they must pay bc DISD, also used as a cash cow to benefit Dallas Citizens Council members, is not acceptable to the parents of 20,000 kids in private school.

The parks, the Trinity, the bridge, the schools--all symptoms of the same disease: naked greed on the part of a few.

Anonymous Too
Anonymous Too

Exactly! Where will the maintenance funds come from? Parks need to replace plants, trim,pick up trash, security, lighting etc.  The money will have to come from the ever shrinking general fund which mostly funds police and fire. The pie isn't getting bigger so other departments such as arts, libraries, streets will have to be slashed. Don't build things that you can't staff or maintain.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

The pie is not expanding bc the schools have driven off the revenue-gushing middle class.

Rangers100
Rangers100

Vibrant parks maintain and police themselves.

richard schumacher
richard schumacher

The thing is, there can't be a "Trinity River Corridor Project".  That door was nailed shut 90 years ago when the Trinity was channelized and made into a storm drain.  The only sensible project option left since then is to scrape the dirt and trees out of it at intervals and keep the levees in repair.  That, or abandon a few billion dollars worth of real estate and let nature take its course.

sincerelydowntown
sincerelydowntown

Yeah, Jim! If you cared for and actually loved me, you'd live here with me, instead of just frequenting my place for a quickie! Damn you, Jim Schutze! Damn you!

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Why does Ft. Worth have a cool park along its section of the Trinity River?

scottindallas
scottindallas

I think another issue is that the water in that lake won't be either potable nor safe for swimming.  That said, I think a downtown lake seems like an easy and obvious solution; though, I agree that isn;t the most inspired idea ever.

RTGolden
RTGolden

http://www.npr.org/2011/12/05/...NPR story on Blotting in Detroit.  There's another story, a lady on the NE side of Detroit with an urban farm in her old neighborhood.  Edith something or other.

stillw
stillw

Willis Winters is a gem.  He loves our city.

JimS
JimS

The road never funded anything. It's a question on an I.Q. test: how much extra money do you have if you're  a billion dollars in the red? Like that other I.Q. test question: what happens if you build a road where it floods? Pretend the levee system is a bathtub, and think of the toll road as toy cars. Put the toy cars on the bottom of the tub. Now fill the tub with water. The question is: what is your I.Q.? 

Tom L (No, Not That L)
Tom L (No, Not That L)

It seems to me that when the bond money runs out then and only then will the Trinity Floodway Highway die.

scottindallas
scottindallas

Almost all that money has already been spent.  Last I heard, here, $180 million has been spent.  I thought the bond was only $250 million.  Whatever, $180 million and nothing to show for it is shameful.

stillw
stillw

Good East Dallas park opportunities are at Live Oak and Garrett/Collett (recalling he original Munger Place Collett Circle) and connecting Woodrow Wilson and J. Long to the Santa Fe Trail buy buying up the homes on Covington and filling in the old train ditch with a pond. With more money, buying homes along Glasgow and connecting Randall Park to Tenison/Samuell/Grand Park would be possible.

scottindallas
scottindallas

I'm not sure trees on that deck will stand much of a chance.  The tale will be told in years 7-10

JimS
JimS

Yeah, because people like Winters got the original design fixed.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

The people stuck in traffic below it will be nice and cool.

stillw
stillw

You are throwing away money if you pay for private schools in the East Dallas/Lakewood area.  Of course the values are going up because of the good schools, so your property taxes may rise.

Jon Daniel
Jon Daniel

Sort of. The parks that sit in front of large real estate developments will look fine. The ones in residential areas will look bad. All city funds must have an ROI for the developers, or it is wasted spending

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Do they mow themselves too? Or do you suggest a friendly family of goats live there?

Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

It baffles me that cities like Madrid, Austin or even Monterrey Mexico (not to mention other thousands of cities around the world) can capitalize from a river and we cant. However way you want to call this, it can be done! I think we need to attract those "other" businessmen that can make this project happen. Yep those that can reap the benefits of a park. Them folks are the ones we need to lure in to this, so they can fight the main battles.

JimS
JimS

I could be attracted, or not. Is that the irresistible scent of ripe brie I smell coming from your building, or have we been incontinent again?

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Sub at Hill MIddle School or Truett Ele and then get back to me on that one.

Rangers100
Rangers100

Mowing parks isn't nearly as complicated as you might think.

Rangers100
Rangers100

Oh, you could definitely afford to live downtown.  It's just nicer to sprawl out into more space so you can chase people off your lawn and all that. 

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