What a Woonerful World

Ed Oakley gets himself a Dutch treat

And then last week, the gentleman from the city staff mentioned the woonerfs. And I woke up. Woonerf? What in God's name is a woonerf?

Several members of the Plan Commission had similar questions. In the days since this PowerPoint awakening, I have done a bit of research, enough to learn that the concept of the woonerf is the invention of the one Niek De Boer, professor of urban planning at Delft University of Technology and the University of Emmen in the Netherlands, known far and wide as the "father of traffic calming."

You knew all about this, right? I just assumed you were in that huge mob of people who have been massing day after day outside Dallas City Hall chanting, "WE WANT WOONERFS! WE WANT WOONERFS!" and "WOONERFS NOW! WOONERFS NOW!"

This is a little scene from a woonerf in the Netherlands. Doesn't look very Dallas, does it?
This is a little scene from a woonerf in the Netherlands. Doesn't look very Dallas, does it?

No? Woonerfs new to you? Well, I have to admit frankly, even though I am terribly embarrassed about it, that I had never ever once heard of a son-of-a-bitching woonerf before in all my born days.

It's something about creating little areas where people can drive very slowly and park their cars but kids can also play soccer and you can have planters with tulips in them and play bocce ball and listen to accordion music—you know, the kind of thing you can see going over really big in Dallas, Texas. Myself, I have a vision of some cowboy gunning through the woonerf in his 350 dually at about 70 mph squirting bocce balls out from under his all-terrain tires like grenades, but that's just me. I lack vision.

Not Ed Oakley. He's got vision. Incredible 20/20 vision with a telescope.

Just when the whole woonerf thing is about to take off, Oakley happens to own four little woonerfian properties inside the design district—four that I was able to find.

I looked up the woonerfs in the part of the city code that was written just for this area, and guess what. If you have a woonerf, you can trade your little ragged scrap of land for federal subsidies to renovate your building. And if you have a woonerf you can also apply to be excused from some of the parking requirements! Wow!

Woonerfs are just so...woonerful!

Also in the days since this briefing, I have been able to chat with people who know some of the nitty-gritty history of the district. From the beginning, parking has been a key concern. By changing the zoning for the area—changing the "uses" or types of businesses that could be there—the city was subjecting property owners to a raft of new, more onerous parking requirements.

Many of the buildings cover the entire lots. Without some kind of break on parking, the owners could be forced to tear down their buildings to provide parking spaces. Hence, the idea of using the old rail spurs for parking.

I spoke to Oakley about this a couple times. He went through a very detailed description of each bit and piece of woonerf he owned and told me why he owned it. For example: "There's a little bitty curve that I bought to keep...I bought it because there was going to be a massage parlor going in at 110 Express. I bought it. I would like to sell it because it doesn't really do me...I have to mow it...the only reason I have it, it's just a curve, you can't do anything with it except park it. And the person who owned the lot next to it was trying to sell the property off as a massage parlor."

Yeah. Ed Oakley, out there buying woonerfs to save the world from massage parlors. What a guy.

Let me suggest something to you about the whole claque that's out there banging away so hard against Angela Hunt and her call for a referendum on the toll road. I think council member Oakley and his cleverness on the woonerfs is the least of what we're up against.

We've got hundreds of speculators, most of them way richer than Oakley, who are way ahead of the curve on all this stuff. They all have their little woonerfian scams going, and they all want to tell you and me why we shouldn't be able to vote on taking that stupid toll road out of our park.

There's only one answer. Keep it simple. If you didn't vote for a toll road down there in 1998, go to trinityvote.com and volunteer or kick in money for a chance to vote on it now.

Or you could go the other way and invest in woonerfs. Like Oakley. Maybe you'll cash in big. Woonerf it be woonerful?

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