For the July issue of D Magazine, on newsstands now, I wrote about the park-building boom downtown Dallas has enjoyed over the last decade. There’s Main Street Garden, Civic Garden (formerly known as Belo Garden), Pacific Plaza, and West End Square. Carpenter Park and Harwood Park are on the way. There’s Klyde Warren Park, of course, the 5.2-acre deck park built over Woodall Rodgers and opened in 2012.
As a rule, people like parks, and people really like Klyde Warren Park. Kids like the fountains and playgrounds, adults like the food trucks and public space and yoga classes. Downtown pedestrians like how it stitches together—over a highway—the Arts District and Uptown. The city and developers like how it drives up neighboring property values. On Thursday afternoon, I left the office and walked over to the park to sit at a shaded table, eat a cookie, and watch people go by. It was the best 30 minutes of my week.
So why doesn’t everyone like the coming 1.7-acre expansion of Klyde Warren, which was in the news again this week after the Dallas City Council approved the finances for its side of the bargain? (Much of the money for the $100 million expansion is coming from TxDOT, private donors, and possibly federal grants.) More park can’t be a bad thing, right?
Grade the relative success of each of downtown’s newest parks individually, and you’ll find some nits to pick. But overall, park-building is a potential boon for the city center because it gives downtown something it badly needs: greenery, walkable public space, and a break from the monotony of car traffic on one-way city streets. Many of these parks have literally supplanted parking lots, as clear a symbol as you could ask for of Dallas turning away from the auto-centric mindset that has often kept downtown from being what it should be. These are shared, open spaces where anyone is welcome.
Maybe that’s why Klyde Warren Park’s expansion feels like Dallas could be screwing up the good thing we’ve got going. The plans for the expansion prominently feature a parking garage and a new building that will house VisitDallas, the city’s recently beleaguered visitors bureau. That’s a lot of closed-off space, although the plans do call for some new greenspace in the form of the Jacobs Lawn. The expansion would grow the children’s park while adding an ice skating rink that would be in use in the winter. Better street connections in the direction of the Perot Museum are also part of the deal. (All of which would complement the similarly controversial “super fountain” that is in the park’s future.)
Still, a parking garage? VisitDallas?
“Klyde Warren Park demonstrated that Dallasites want more places to come together and an urban core that enhances walkability,” the Dallas Morning News’ Mark Lamster wrote in 2018. “But this new expansion proposes the opposite: It is a garage with a private event space, and public amenities are the afterthoughts. More to the point, there’s almost no park in this park — the additional space there would be is cut off from the rest of the park by the new structure.”
Boosters have said the parking garage is necessary, and that renting out the enclosed pavilion included in the new construction will help fund the park’s operations. The park is owned by the city, but managed by a private foundation that pays for its upkeep. Renderings do make the expansion look like a great spot for your company’s next corporate retreat. But is that what Dallas needs from its parks?