On any given day, members of the exclusive City Club can look down from the the 69th floor of the Bank of America Plaza, Dallas’ tallest building, and glimpse the Trinity River as it exists today: a rigid trickle of water confined by a straitjacket of levees, a denuded floodplain giving way to a hulking eyesores of a jail and a vacant state prison and all the other urban detritus Dallas has seen fit to stick along the river over the years.
On Friday morning, visitors to the 69th floor could glimpse the river as Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings hopes it will someday become – the gently snaking backdrop for a public park as enormous as it is idyllic, filling floodplain between the Margaret Hunt Hill and Margaret McDermott bridges and generating billions of dollars of economic development.
The watercolor renderings on the folding partition – a racially diverse group of kindergartners being guided by their teacher down an unpaved path while a canoe navigates the sinuous river beyond; a pedestrian pausing at an overlook to gaze down at tamed wilderness – were just a taste. For when the partition was whisked away, there was Rawling’s vision in miniature, complete with scale models of the two Calatrava bridges.
“We want to be a city of nature and of parks,” Rawlings said as he unveiled the model to the assembled crowd of reporters, philanthropists and half of the City Council. Of the big-ticket projects the city undertakes, it’s those that are focused around nature, like Klyde Warren Park and the Katy Trail, that “generate the most value and greatest benefit for our citizens,” he said.
The park looked quite lovely. Matthew Urbanski, a prominent landscape architect brought in to help design the park, spoke of how the park would “robustly connect” the city with the river through a series of five carefully manicured entry parks, elevated to protect them from flooding, that would provide access to a more wild landscape below. “This park will enjoy a flood,” he said. A New York-based landscape architect also involved in the design called it a “once-in-a-century opportunity” to build a “new heart” for the city, much as Central Park did for New York a century and a half ago.
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There’s plenty of reason to be cynical. Former City Councilwoman Angela Hunt, tweeting skeptically throughout the presentation, put her skepticism level at 11 on a 1-10 scale. “I’ve seen so many water colors, I’ve lost count.” Indeed, the story of the Trinity River over the past two decades has been one unrealized watercolor vision after another: never-built solar water taxis floating on nonexistent lakes, a juggler who will probably never find his way beneath the overpass.
Then there’s the matter of the Trinity Parkway, which was depicted on the model as a narrow strand of road mostly canopied by trees. It was unobtrusive to the point of invisibility – a dubious depiction of reality if the road is turned into a high-speed expressway as plans still allow for.
But Rawlings, as always, was the consummate salesman. He expressed optimism that private donors would be willing to cover the vast majority of the estimated $250 million price tag and predicted that construction of the parks could begin within five years. He stressed that this vision was different from whatever plans may have been hatched in the past, describing the plan as “2.0 and tak[ing] it to the next level.”
And he cheerfully batted away questions about how he felt about recent news that Dallas had lost its longshot bid to lure the Rangers downtown. The park, he said, has “a much better ROI than spending $900 million on a baseball stadium.”