Dear Mayor: Go Global for a New Fair Park

Reporter Scott Parks had an excellent "get" Friday in The Dallas Morning News revealing that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has been running a secret task force to come up with ideas for the future of Fair Park.

Fair Park -- the 277-acre 1930s Art Deco exposition park in the heart of old South Dallas. We talked here a week ago about the $30 million summer amusement park project at Fair Park that lasted one season last summer and has now died for lack of interest. Fair Park -- the park that can eat $30 million in one bite and not even get indigestion.

See also: Fair Park's Summer Amusement Venture Is Dead. Is Anyone Surprised?

Normally we here in the media should be all in a swivet over the closed-door strategy Rawlings has taken so far in seeking new ideas. But you know what? When it comes to Fair Park, I can't really rally much outrage over doing it that way, at least as a start.

The real story here is that Rawlings appears to be taking a very fundamental root-and-branch approach to finding a better future for this enormous block of land in the center of the city, and, yeah, of course, that kind of flame can only be kindled behind some kind of shelter from the political winds.

A decade ago when Stephen Jones was meeting with then Mayor Laura Miller about putting the Dallas Cowboys in Fair Park, he held a kind of town hall meeting in Fair Park in which all of the so-called stakeholders were invited to express their opinions. I wasn't a stakeholder, but I sneaked in.

Oh, my God. It was like some kind of global expo for all of the world's worst ideas. Then all of the people who had terrible ideas got mad at the other people because they thought their ideas were even terrribler. Went from bad to worse. I remember sitting there thinking, "Maybe this is what happened to Atlantis."

So, sure, Rawlings is right to get the thing started in a sheltered environment where people at least have a chance to exchange ideas and fire each other's imaginations. And obviously the whole process will go public at some point. A piece of the city's soul as big and as deep-rooted as Fair Park is not going to be disposed of one way or the other without a hell of a lot of healthy public debate and maybe some unhealthy as well.


For some bizarre reason that I will never be able to fathom, Dallas has a tendency to look entirely inward when it's working a big problem like what to do with Fair Park. The best example I can offer is the Trinity River project, sold to voters in 1998 as the biggest urban park in America. So why, if it was going to be the biggest urban park in America, did Dallas not consult the world's best urban park designers? In fact why wasn't there an international competition?

Hey. City employees, elected officials and even newspaper columnists are not the people you want to have designing the nation's biggest and most innovative urban park. There are people who are globally recognized for their ability to do this stuff. If the Trinity River project was really all they cracked it up to be, then a chance to design that park should have been a high international honor for someone.

Now, the Trinity project is an anomalous case, because we now know that the park portion of the project was an elaborate public lie to camouflage the real intention, which was to build a highway. Presumably the liars behind the project didn't want some fancy-pants park-designer walking around in a beret smoking cigarettes in an ivory holder and proposing shit that would get in the way of their road.

But for now we do not have reason to suspect that what Rawlings is doing here is anything other than what it appears to be -- a major re-imagining of Fair Park. And assuming that is the case, then let's all hope that the parties to this effort will look outside the city, globally, to consult the very best and most imaginative thinkers and designers.

You know what? Even knowing how to find those people is a significant challenge. It's not too early to begin working on that piece of the puzzle.

For now, let's at least start out by giving the mayor serious credit for taking this on, for recognizing the need for a big new vision. Let's hope for now that this isn't a cover story so the six families who control everything in Dallas can build an elevated concertina-wire tollway to their lake houses. Let's be a tad patient about the moment when we get to see what's going on.

And let's say this. Rawlings is right. Fair Park is too important to waste, too wonderful to abandon. Somebody needed to do this. Great that he did.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze