Wilonsky, Spare that Tree, Especially If It's Just for a Parking Garage

Categories: Schutze

AstonPark.jpg

Over the weekend I received a long, thoughtful email from Susan Cantrell Holloway, a downtown resident worried about a recent story in The Dallas Morning News by Robert Wilonsky. He was waxing rhapsodic about plans to tear down an old tower and eliminate a city park at the north end of downtown to make room for a gigantic new parking garage with a digital sign on the side.

I looked at his piece and thought, "Oh, that's just Robert. He loves digital." But my eye did stop at the same line that had stymied Cantrell Holloway. Wilonsky described the park to be decimated as "31-year-old Aston Park, a triangle of cracked concrete, desiccated tree trunks and dirt at Pacific Avenue, Harwood and Live Oak streets."

I thought, "Wait a minute. I know that park. What happened to it?" Last time I was there it was a charming deep-shaded copse with a perimeter wall that was one long bench all the way around. It had a bit of design to it -- a mentholated oasis in a part of downtown that otherwise has always been a merciless ant-burning hellscape. Walking around that end of downtown in August requires dodging a cross-fire of incinerating death-rays from reflector-lined battle towers. I always manage to make a course through Aston Park just to allow my skin a couple milliseconds of healing. And Robert wants to replace this with a parking garage with a digital sign on the side?

I read his piece a couple times and just got more confused. Part of the idea is for the parking garage to be built over Pacific Avenue forming an above-ground tunnel, which the developer seemed to be comparing to Klyde Warren Park, where a park was built on a deck above a depressed freeway. But one is a park over a thoroughfare. The other is a parking garage over a thoroughfare.

I mean, I get how both of them involve something being on top of something else. But the connection beyond that is eluding me. Somehow I don't think the lesson of Klyde Warren's success is that we should build a lot of stuff on top of a lot of other stuff. That concept may be missing at least a couple of important synapses.

The point is, I drove down to Jimmy Aston Park, and it's still there, just as I remembered it, which was a huge relief, because I was just there two weeks earlier. You never know in this town. Things desiccate in a hurry. But it's still the same lovely little oasis it has always been, named after a guy who was Dallas city manager at age 27, later president of a huge bank. My late mother-in-law knew his family in Farmersville, probably in the '30s. She always said, "Those Astons were doers." So anyway it's there, and it's sweet, and it commemorates a bit of history.

The story is more complicated than I have let on, so far, and there are arguments to be made in favor of the floating digital parking garage. The developer has suggested the money he would pay the city for Aston Park (surely he will pay, too, for air rights over Pacific) could go toward the development of the proposed "Pacific Plaza" park just across the street from Aston Park.

Right now Pacific Plaza, nearly an entire city block, cannot be developed for want of funds, supposedly. That's the story. But the area designated for the park, already in city hands, happens to be covered with black-top parking lots that the battle-towers don't want to lose, since apparently the nearby towers were developed without adequate provision for parking of their own. The plot tangles, you see.

And maybe building a parking garage with a digital sign on the side in the air over Pacific and on top of Aston Park is the way to untangle it, if that plan really produces enough cash to develop a large urban park across the street (Pacific Plaza) and provide an adequate endowment for its perpetual maintenance, which is the real fiscal challenge for the city. Sounds like a lot of really good questions that surely have really good answers.

But let's do talk. Let's hear all of it, so we can see how it will work. The price for the air rights, the price for Aston Park, the money for developing Pacific Plaza, the money for operating Pacific Plaza. Let's put all those cards on the table where we can all see them.

And then we need to put this card on the table. What is the value to the public of a unique little green copse in the middle of a bunch of death-rays? What's our price for that? Parks, especially parks downtown, are not just raw dirt. They have the unique added value of providing respite. We need to see some dollar values put on that, too.

Doesn't mean an airborne parking garage is a bad idea. It means we don't know yet what the idea is. Cantrell Holloway was right. This all needs a closer look.

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46 comments
Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Digital trees don't need water.

I call that a win-win.

hplindley
hplindley

That's not a park. It's a median.

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

So my understanding is that the developer's plans essentially call for trading Aston Park for a new Pacific Park, which would be about five times larger and (hopefully) far better designed for use by people other than grackles and the homeless.


Along the way, the developer gets a new parking garage, which would allow for the redevelopment of 1900 Pacific (which is currently empty) and the Tower Building (which is currently empty).


And this is somehow supposed to be objectionable? 

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

I know that park well.  It's one of the nicer little parks in downtown.  When I was homeless 15 years ago, my friends and I would go there to drink our 40s and maybe smoke a little weed, but it had always been a nice and shady haven for office workers looking for a little peace of mind away from Veal Fattening Pen Central, otherwise known as the white-collar world.  


Most of downtown's parks do have a problem: the starlings, grackles, cowbirds and blackbirds who rook there.  Even the bottle rockets the City used to shoot at dusk to scare them away has done no good.  The birds, like all animals, leave their smelly marks, but even the hawks the City has used to help cull the pigeon problem around City Hall don't like those birds.  Apparently they taste bad. 

Which brings-up a personal myth I like to tell my friends: The black starlings, black cowbirds, black grackles and black blackbirds are all reincarnations of Old Confederate widows.  We don't wanna kill that heritage, those sentinels, that avian renaissance, now do we? 

Nothing worse than being a lily-white little bigot only to die and come back as a bird that is black, is there?  There are much better places for good parking lots.  And that brings-up another story. 

I had a conservative friend--a real conservative from the University of Virginia just outside of Langley, not one of these typical Texas know-nothings--and we were working together in the South Tower at Plaza of the Americas.  Standing in the file room one afternoon, he shushed me over to take a look out the window. 

"What's all this?" he asked, pointing to those tawdry, mawkish, rubble and broken-glass strewn open lots on the East side of downtown. 

"Oh," I said, "that's Dallas.  D-A-L-L-A-S.  Kinda like that old song D, A, double-L, A, S."

"No...those vacant lots!  What's up with that?" 

"Part of the City's beautification projects.  Those lots are monuments to the great buildings of days gone by.  See that piece of foundation way on the South side, next to the one standing building?  That's what's left of Jack Ruby's Colony Club.  We don't wanna completely erase Dallas's fine history, do we?" 

Then we both had a good laugh and went to work.  Doubtless, the entire Eastern seaboard knows about the rubble-strewn eyesore called Eastern downtown Dallas.  With all the building into Uptown (I call it Upchuck), you'd think someone smart would do something about those nasty-assed lots.  But they don't. 

Because this is Dallas, dammit! 

Greg820
Greg820

I have to believe that the simultaneous building of the Trinity Toll road and the tearing down of I-345 will will completely solve this problem.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

You hit on the tower fix. Call it a free outdoor tanning salon.

lakewoodhobo
lakewoodhobo

Jim, I've spent a lot of time in this park (I believe I even saw you there on Monday), and I have to say it's terribly designed. What you call "one long bench" I call a lack of sidewalks except on one side out of the three.


This park is dead not because it's in a bad part of downtown. It's dead because it's designed to keep people out.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

If it's not paradise, pave it.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I had to look this park up.  Until now I didn't even realize it was a park, just figured it to be one the many vacant undesirable spaces scattered throughout downtown.

DOisDUMDUM
DOisDUMDUM

This article brought to you by the dope who wants to tear down Fair Park. 

JackJett
JackJett

I feel certain that Wilonsky is enough of a Mitchell head to understand......


They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum *
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot


So I trust he has given this proper Joni thought and thus I trust he decision. 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

That section of downtown is truly depressing.  Several streets tangle aimlessly around a deserted, derelict triangle of dirt and a few trees.  From any point in the triangle you're treated to the ugliest views of the city.  You will put your life in danger trying to cross the street due to very confusing traffic lights.  On one corner is a barb-wired, window-covered night club that has been the scene of shootings at late hours recently.


However, just two blocks down Harwood is a reborn part of the East End that is a triumph in urban redevelopment.  Main Street Park is a beautiful oasis of grass, trees, playgrounds and places to sit and enjoy the peace and calm.  Surrounding the park is the beaux-arts beauty, Dallas Municipal Building; the lovely little Indigo Hotel (first hotel to bear the Hilton name); the Renaissance Revival Titche-Goettinger Building; the soon-to-be re-developed Statler Hilton and Old Central Library; and the towering Art Deco Mercantile Building watching over the entire square.  Thank God for the preservationists and visionaries who won out over the wrecking ball.


But, time and neglect have been brutal to the blocks north of Main Street Park.  I'm hoping for the best possible outcome in its renewal.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

If the digital sign is to be a digital billboard, it's worth more than the parking garage.

The revenue off those things downtown is tremendous - a pumping oil well.

The ones on Main are worth millions.

rwilonsky
rwilonsky

Well, Jim, as I explained to Susan in a follow-up email, I wasn't talking about the trees ringing the "park," but the hollowed-out stumps occasionally sticking out of the dirt-and-cigarette-butt-filled holes inside the park, which isn't exactly the parkiest park in the history of parks in my experience, though, yes, it provides a nice bit of shade for the few folks who walk that part of downtown. Please, rhapsodize away.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@James_the_P3  

No, depending. He gets air rights over Pacific and actually a thin slice of Aston Park. So for that, is he going to pay the city enough money to develop a large park and endow it with a perpetual maintenance fund? Maybe he is. I'm just saying we need to see more detail before we give up a park.  Is that objectionable?

DOisDUMDUM
DOisDUMDUM

@gordonhilgers  Clearly the birds are the problem, and not the homeless bums drinking 40s and smoking weed. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@lakewoodhobo  

There are openings at every point you can walk to from across the street. This park is an island ringed on every side by traffic. If you walked out of the park at any other point, you would be walking headlong into traffic which I bet is why they built that perimeter that way. Without that perimeter, for example, it would be unsafe to allow a small child to run and play. This way it is safe. I say it's well designed. It's a shady serene oasis in a desert of noise and heat. I would call it a jewel in fact.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Joni had that burst of brilliance in the early Seventies with her For the Roses and Court and Spark albums.  I still listen to them today;  her talent for a unique folk-jazz fusion awes Myrna; it always has and always will.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@rwilonsky  

There are about 60 trees in the park, by my count. There may be half a dozen or fewer places where trees have been removed. Those trees were cut down to a little below the level of the pavement, I assume so people wouldn't stub their tootsies on the stumps. Honest and sincere question, Robert: at the time you first wrote about the park, how long had it been since you had last been there?

Joshstruckoutagain
Joshstruckoutagain

@rwilonsky Rank the parkiest parks in the history of parky parks Roberto?! 


Give me Yellowstone, Glacier and Fenway.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@rwilonsky  

We're gonna change your name from Fingers of Fury to Let-the-dirty-fly Wilonsky.

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

@DOisDUMDUM @gordonhilgersI suppose in this new "fascism with a smiley face" American meritocracy, homeless people, having no money, are our stand-in for the Jews.  Right? 

Actually, I sense a bit of a quaver in your voice, for after all, almost everyone in America is just "a punt, pass and a kick" away from homelessness.  Should the bottom of the bucket called an economy fall away, you too would become homeless, and the only ones to guide you through that implacably confusing situation would be, of course, the very people you seem to be sniveling at in your "resplendent" display of moral cynicism. 

While homeless, I was working in that south tower--at CNA's group insurance division--just as I worked at 1) Arthur Andersen; 2) Ernst & Young; 3) Barnes & Noble; 4) Greyhound corporate offices; 5) numerous law firms--all of which means one thing: You have an infantilized and stereotypical reaction formation that is blocking you from true self-actualization and may indeed be ready for the funny farm. 

Seventy percent of Dallas's homeless population blends into the mainstream, because, of course, they are the mainstream.  The hard-core homeless, the long-term homeless are often in a state in which structure has been absent from their lives for long enough for them to stick out like sore thumbs to the typical Dallasite, the type of person who needs to "compare and contrast" self with others in order to bolster self, self, self, self, self, self. 

Have fun with your self. 

lakewoodhobo
lakewoodhobo

@JimSX  That was the same argument made to justify the giant wall between Belo Garden and the Metropolitan. Guess what - that park is surrounded by sidewalks on the remaining 3 sides (and much heavier traffic than Aston Park) and no children have been run over to this date.


If you need another example of a walled-in plaza that gets zero traffic (except for the daily parade of dogs taking a shit) look no further than Thanks-Giving Square.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@JimSX

Is that the park's fault?

Build it, and they will come. Pave it, charge for space, they will go.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX @WhyDontYouJoinNAMBLA  Nor is it I-345's fault.

rwilonsky
rwilonsky

@JimSX @rwilonskyWhat dirt?


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p>.<a href="https://twitter.com/jeffstrater">@jeffstrater</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/marklamster">@marklamster</a> I don't think you can call Aston Park a "park." The garage wouldn't touch Pacific Plaza. <a href="http://t.co/2yLaKT0JxI">pic.twitter.com/2yLaKT0JxI</a></p>— Robert Wilonsky (@RobertWilonsky) <a href="https://twitter.com/RobertWilonsky/statuses/458641945430990848">April 22, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

JackJett
JackJett

@Daniel @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz The Circle Game is one of those songs that seems to become more special as more and more birthdays come to pass.   Now, I am going to have Joni songs on my mind all day.  

DOisDUMDUM
DOisDUMDUM

@JimSX @DOisDUMDUM  For some reason, I suspect it's been a long time since that wood has been polished without you paying for it. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@DOisDUMDUM  

By hiring people to polish my teak, I am a job creator.

DOisDUMDUM
DOisDUMDUM

@JimSX @DOisDUMDUM @WhyDontYouJoinNAMBLA  You're the one who is a member of a yacht club and works for a paper without a single black on it's staff.


But sure if you enjoy spending time in urine soaked parks full of drug addicts, by all means please prove it. 

codypritchard99
codypritchard99

I am enjoying this exchange gentlemen; please continue.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@rwilonsky @JimSX  

I don't expect to hit every one out of the park, Robert, just goin' for a good average.

Oh, and I do know you are not a park hater. You know that, right? I mean, you know that I know.

But do 'splain the Klyde Warren connection.

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