City Hall

The I-35 Deck Park Idea Is Just a Fledgling, So At Least Give It a Worm

Carolyn King Arnold is the city council representative from District 4 in central Oak Cliff. She and I have three things in common. We’re both skeptical of anything North Dallas likes. So we’re against deck parks. And we’re both dead wrong.

I learned this one the hard way. Beginning in 2008 when the Woodall Rodgers deck park, now called Klyde Warren, first came up for discussion, I found all sorts reasons why it was a con job and a fool’s errand.

I like to think that the work of intelligent supporters including then city council member Angela Hunt and a host of keen-eyed activists helped shear the concept of some wooly protrusions and sharpen it into what it is today.

But I was just flat against it. I was against it the same way Councilmember Arnold was flat against a deck park over I-35 bordering her district in Wednesday’s city council meeting.

She lost. The council voted up the deck idea, with strong support from Councilmember Scott Griggs of District 1 in North Oak Cliff. His district is on the north side of the freeway where the park would be built. Arnold’s is on the south side by the Dallas Zoo.

The deck park concept was championed and stewarded through the process mainly by Councilmember Lee Kleinman, who represents District 11 in far North Dallas by I-635 and the Dallas North Tollway.

I-35 through Oak Cliff is up for a major rebuilding by the state. The council Wednesday was being asked to tell state authorities if Dallas might want to see I-35 depressed below ground, the way Central Expressway was in the '80s to please the Park Cities and East Dallas.

If so, the state wants to know, does Dallas think it might want to build a deck park over I-35 next to the zoo some day in imitation of the very successful Klyde Warren deck park over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway on the northern edge of downtown.

The state wants to know so it can put the right support system in place now to carry a deck park, rather than having to tear up the expressway later for a retrofit the way they had to do for Klyde Warren. That’s the one I said was a complete loser of an idea.

Not that I am a stubborn person, but I guess it’s true – my wife tells me it’s true, so it’s true – that, for some months after Klyde Warren opened in 2012, I sort of somewhat unconsciously took evasive routes driving through downtown so I wouldn’t have to see it.

Finally she and my son conspired somehow to trick me into going there one day. No violence was done, as I recall, no aspects of kidnapping or other actionable offenses, but one way or another they got me to go.

And it was just so marvelous. The scene that unfolded before my eyes was everything I could ever have hoped to see in Dallas – the kind of easy, civilized, wonderfully diverse sharing of space that I had always associated with other places but never Dallas.
Look, I still say if you went back in time and teased out every pitfall, every half-truth, every deliberate misrepresentation and half-baked idea, you could make an excellent case for Klyde Warren being a DOA catastrophe. And, of course, if you went back and tallied only the positive factors, you’d have a great argument why Klyde Warren couldn’t fail.

The fact is that it was sort of balanced on a knife-edge between potential failure and potential success. It was never a clear-cut case for waste and depredation the way the proposed Trinity River Toll Road is. You didn’t have to ruin a river to build it.

So if it was the tip of a feather balanced on a blade of grass, subject to this breeze and that, what coaxed it over to the side of wonderful? When I go there now and look for that factor, I think it’s the one thing I did not look for and therefore did not see before it was built. Magic.

Oh, I kind of hate that word. Every straw-hat real estate promoter with a candy-striped walking stick in his hand says his or her project is going to be magic. Magic is maybe the most over-worked and abused word in the dictionary.

But Klyde Warren is magic. Something in the air, something in the light and in the voices of children at play, in the delicious scents from the food trucks: is it the simple fact that in this horrifically divided and fearful world we’re all out there together enjoying each others’ company? It is a magical place.

Councilmember Arnold has her reasons for opposing the proposed deck park in her district. I’m not going to talk her out of them, any more than anybody talked me out of mine before my family slipped me a roofie or something and got me to go see Klyde Warren.

But she’s wrong. I was wrong. Actual construction of the I-35 deck park project is still way off in the future, maybe ten or fifteen years out, leaving lots of time for modification before anything is set in stone. This far ahead, this early in the game, the right bet is on optimism.

Things could change. It could take a wrong turn. Let’s all watch carefully. But right now, this early on, while it’s still in the nest and barely has feathers, the council was right to give the little bird a worm.

Correction: an earlier version of this story mistakenly attributed a 2008 Dallas Observer story critical of Klyde Warren to Robert Wilonsky. The critical Observer story linked in the reference was written by Jim Schutze.