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A Trinity Forest Park Could Be Wonderful If We Talk to the Right People

I have a column in tomorrow's paper wailing about the city's failure ever to generate a true high-concept vision for the park we're supposed to be building on the Trinity River.

We've seen bits and pieces of ideas come and go -- good, bad and ugly. Audubon Center, good. Horse Park, iffy. Amusement Park, nightmare.

But no one has even suggested doing a competition or an international search for the best and brightest people in this field to help us come up with an overall concept for an urban forest park. I say in the column tomorrow that one problem is the idea itself -- an urban forest. It's too new. The people who could do it are few and far between.

Wouldn't you know, this morning -- too late for my deadline on the column -- I finally landed an interview with one of those people. Christopher Marcinkoski is a founder of Port Architecture + Urbanism, a Chicago firm. He has been involved in the design of major public realm projects in China, Sweden and this country, especially in New York and Atlanta.

The one that caught my eye, however, was a proposal Marcinkoski's firm is pitching to Cleveland for repurposing 8,200 acres of disused industrial land in the Lower Cuyahoga River Valley. It's a fascinating concept that would take a vast body of poisoned rust-belt barrens and reuse that land to make Cleveland an extremely cool place to live.

What's parallel between Cleveland and Dallas? Well, mainly the sheer volume of land. They have more than 8,000 acres of land to work with. In the Trinity River project we have 10,000 acres. The other is location, location, location. Both land masses are in the centers of their cities.

Several things jumped out at me as I listened to Marcinkoski on the phone and looked at his project online. One is that you don't just say "park" and leave it at that. The Cleveland project incorporates a number of what they're calling "planning floors," envisioning multiple uses from residential to waste-water treatment.

Another idea he touched on is that you don't just say "green" and expect people to go for it. There's another kind of green you have to deal with first. You have to show the money. His firm works with economists who generate dollar projections for the value of this kind of public investment as a magnet for private investment.

I'm going to write more about this guy, his projects and some others around the country. But the last thing that jumped out at me was this: I asked who cared.

Who were they talking to? Who wanted to convert an 8,200-acre rust farm into a world-class urban forest park?

He said there was serious interest among corporate leadership with international experience. Those people know, he said, that this is the kind of project that will attract young knowledge-workers to Cleveland and thereby endow the city with a strong future.

That's where we have been stuck in the mud in Dallas. The Trinity River project has been domineered from the beginning by aging mid-century provincials who think the way to create success is to buy a bridge from a famous European architect and then build an expressway on top of the river.

We gotta get smarter. But smarter is out there. We've just been talking to the wrong people. We need architects, not decorators. More on this soon.

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