Thursday, August 28, 2008

Downtown Going Green

Scientists and poets have long described major cities as living, breathing organisms. Only ants live closer together than the people who live downtown. The bigger the population mass, apparently, the more efficient life becomes. People consume less energy and leave a smaller carbon footprint by parking the car and walking. More people, walking faster, encounter more people, and that encourages all kinds of interactive, cultural possibilities. The hectic, often frenetic pace of city life promotes creative and economic exuberance. And, then to stay sane, people like to go to the park to play and relax.

Great cities have great parks, New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and Chicago’s Millennium Park. Downtown Dallas is catching the wave and making a huge commitment to parks and greenspace. After all, a park is a people place, an urban oasis, a place to walk the dog, take a run, ride a bike, meet friends, enjoy nature, play with the kids, and let go of the stress induced during a 100 mile per hour existence. Whenever, I step into a park to recharge my battery, I take a deep breath and say, often out loud, “I’m free.”

“Parks enhance our lives, and they make up a huge portion of what we see changing, and what people are looking for in Downtown Dallas,” says John Crawford, President and CEO of DOWNTOWNDALLAS, an organization with a passion for greenspace.
DOWNTOWNDALLAS has contributed more than a million dollars tohelp renovate Founders Square Park, Cancer Survivors Park, Pegasus Plaza, Pioneer Plaza, Dealey Plaza, and Ferris Plaza, and will contribute close to another million to help fund the construction of Woodall Rodgers Park, Main Street Garden, Belo Garden, and Pacific Plaza. “It’s gratifying to see, and this is just the beginning,” says Crawford.
Construction will soon begin on the innovative Woodall Rodgers Park, an elevated 5.2 acre deck park, spanning the Woodall Rodgers Freeway between Pearl and St. Paul, creating a bridge between the Central Business District, Uptown, and Victory Park. It’ll have deep beams, capable of holding soil and tree roots, with an elaborate maze of pipes and conduits to support a dog park, playgrounds, cafes, gardens, performance stages, statues, and fountains.

Not far away, the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Performance Park, scheduled for completion in 2009, will be the first public park in the Dallas Arts District, 10 acres of mature trees, great lawns and gardens, a reflecting pool, promenades and walkways. It sounds a little like the National Mall which stretches between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

“Our park system suffered for so many years,” says Paul Dyer, Director of Dallas Park and Recreation. “Finally, we are creating these public/private partnerships. In 2002, the city got $100 million in matching grants from the private sector. In 2006, that amount grew to $342 million. If we want to be a city that speaks to the quality of life, embracing the parks is essential, and we’re doing it.”

By the end of 2009, Main Street Garden, adjacent to the Mercantile Place on Main will feature garden rooms for relaxing, a dog run, toddler play area, an interactive fountain, food and beverage kiosks, and a large lawn for special events.
Brad Davis with Office Equipment Company says, “From large scale projects such as the Trinity Bridges, Woodall Rodgers Deck Park and the Convention Center Hotel to smaller scale projects such as the adaptive reuse of 800 Jackson St. and the Santa Fe Warehouse; there is a sense of excitement and anticipation surrounding Downtown Dallas the likes of which I personally have never experienced.”

Belo Garden will be the third downtown park created by Belo, which first published the Dallas Morning News in 1885. The City of Dallas spent $6.5 million to acquire the land. The Belo Foundation is contributing $5.5 million for design and construction. And, Belo Chairman, Robert Decherd and his wife Maureen are chipping in $1 million of their own money, to convert a parking lot at Main and Griffin into an oasis in the heart of the city.

“We want to make Dallas more inviting, more livable, more enjoyable for residents, workers, and visitors,” says Dan Blizzard, a Senior VP with AH Belo Corp. “We want people to get out of the office, take a DART train downtown with their children and grand children, and get outside and play. You are beginning to feel a very lively, hip, diverse urban energy. People like it, the young professionals and the empty nesters, who are tired of messing with the house and the pool. The parks are redefining the very fabric of Downtown Dallas.”