Before We Get (Another) Plan for Downtown's Parks, the Bridge Club Should Get a Clue
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.
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.
Bridge kids agree: It's fun to stay at the YMCA.
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 ...
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.