About a month ago we gave you the heads-up that Dallas City Hall would be overrun all day today with planners and politicians looking for a home in the heart of the 21st Century city. Fingers crossed a few of us'll have time enough to slip in and out during the day to report on what Joel Kotkin, Ignacio Bunster-Osso and Larry Beasley say about the city. I'm also interested in what Rutherford H. Platt (editor of The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21st Century City and Peter Harnik (author of Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities) have to offer.
Harnik especially: He authored the essay "The Excellent City Park System: What Makes It Great and How to Get There" that appears in Platt's latest collection, and though he doesn't have a lot to say about Dallas specifically in the short piece, he does offer this in regards to our increasing interest in the so-called urban park:
In fast-growing Sunbelt cities such as Charlotte, Dallas, and Phoenix, planners were belatedly trying to create vibrant downtowns and walkable neighborhoods for a more cohesive urban identity. In both old cities and new, there is rising interest in the use of parks to promote urban vitality, an interest that has been encouraged by the smart growth and New Urbanist movements since the mid-1990s.
Urban Green, however, contains a significant section about Dallas -- and the book, published in May, begins that very portion by reopening that old wound that is Boeing's decision to move to Chicago and not Dallas (or Denver, another contender) in 2001. An excerpt follows.
Even Dallas, which for years did not regularly invest in parks, found that it can suddenly shift gears. In the mid-1990s, for internal business reasons, the Boeing Corporation decided to move its headquarters and 500 of its top staff from Washington State to a more geographically central location. After exhausting analysis and negotiations, the choice was narrowed to the cities of Denver, Chicago, and Dallas. In 2001 Boeing chose Chicago. Among other reasons, the company believed that Chicago offered its executives a higher quality of life. Besides world-class music, art, theater, and food, of course, Chicago had been greening its lakefront for well over a century and had been building neighborhood parks and field houses throughout the city for decades.
The bad new hits Dallas like a bombshell. Park advocates, who had been complaining unsuccessfully about the quantity and quality of the city's downtown parks and about the lack of park spending, spun into action. They pressed the city's corporate and political leadership about the economic necessity of a serious investment in parks. The parks department, which for years had been squeezed, was suddenly given a generous budget for an ambitious "Renaissance Plan." For years later, in 2006, a referendum on a a huge park bond was held, and it overwhelmingly passed. The result was an infusion of $45 million for land acquisition (along with $55 million for a multitude of improvements to existing parks). Land that had been formerly been turned down as unaffordable and a waste of money was suddenly in play as an investment in a greater city -- three acres to create Pacific Plaza from former parking lots and rundown buildings ($9 million), a deck park on top of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway ($20 million, to be matched by twice as much from other sources), 100 acres of new parks and trails in residential neighborhoods; not to mention replacing 245 outdated playgrounds ($36 million) and restoring Fair Park to its former splendor ($100 million).
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Interviewed in the book, Park and Rec director Paul Dyer says that when city officials surveyed the parks and the users back then -- the "bad old days" -- the city came up short. As in, "The emperor had no clothes." After Boeing, he says, "everything changed." Here's a suggestion for those attending today: Take a shot every time someone says Boeing. Look for me. I've got a flask in my car.