The fun thing about being a reporter, the payoff, is getting to talk to interesting people. Often I hang up after an interview and think, “I wish I could call that person back some day and just get him or her to ramble on about whatever. I bet it would be fascinating.”
So that’s what I have been doing lately — calling people up and getting them to talk without a specific agenda. I’m going to try out a few of those one-sided chats on you here and see if they work.
Please remember, this is a recording of somebody thinking out loud, not a written expression of measured thought, so maybe it’s a bit rough at times. I have stuck in a word or two here and here to get it around the corner, but for the most part, this is the raw material, straight from the source’s mouth.
Paul Sims is a 46-year-old digital marketing executive. Since 2013, he has been the District 14 member on the Dallas Park and Recreation Board representing East Dallas, downtown and parts of Uptown. His wife, Angela Hunt, is a former Dallas City Council member.
I had one question for him: “Parks?” He said:
“A couple of examples of things I am trying to push back against. One example is Griggs Park, the one that’s right there on the edge of downtown in Uptown. It used to be a black neighborhood. It’s over there by Booker T. [Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts]. It’s a nice park, and they just dedicated a very nice playground. Uptown Dallas [Inc.] helped pay for part of it.
“What happened with that park is, there used to be a baseball field and football field. But they removed both of those. They turned the park into this pastoral setting.
“It’s got an open space. But they were sure to make it so that the open space wasn’t flat. It’s got a nice rolling blah-blah-blah. So what they did was, they took out the soccer field, the football field and the baseball diamond because they didn’t want people coming into their neighborhood and playing.
“Look, they had kids coming in and playing soccer in the neighborhood, and they didn’t like it. They salted the earth by changing that topography. That park is never going to have recreational amenities like that anymore.
“It’s pretty to look at. When I first got on the park board, a guy talked to me. He said, ‘We were going to play kickball on the baseball diamond. What happened to the baseball field?’
“So what they turned that into is not what I think we need. There is a real need for recreation and recreational amenities. Removing them from such a dense area is a total mistake, an absolutely terrible mistake.
“There is an open space there for everyone’s dog. That’s good. But it frustrates me that they took out those recreational amenities because, look man, that park is named after Reverend Griggs [prominent black educator and clergyman Allen R. Griggs, 1850-1922, born a slave], and I have a sneaking suspicion that Reverend Griggs wouldn’t be too happy with what’s been done to that park.
“So that’s not what I think the park system in Dallas should be about. Absolutely not. It should be for users. There are examples of that all over the place.
“Another one is Carpenter Plaza. I am actually a big fan now of Robert Decherd [former CEO of A.H. Belo Corp., owner of The Dallas Morning News, now chairman of the Parks for Downtown Dallas foundation]. But there are two things at Carpenter Plaza that are problematic to me.
“They had a big section that had a bunch of flowers and a bunch of sitting or whatever. But I really feel that there is such a need to maximize all the space that we can for people and not just kind of sitting and looking at pretty things. Look, we need that, but I just don’t think we can afford that in downtown with such a limited amount of space.
“So I asked them to make that smaller, and they did. So that was good. The Klyde Warren [deck park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway] example shows that that’s not what people are looking for right now. They need the recreational spaces bigger and the open spaces bigger where you can kick a soccer ball around if you want to.
“Another problem: Carpenter Plaza has got that wall [Robert Irwin’s steel sculpture, Portal Park Piece (Slice), 700 feet long, a solid steel barrier protruding from the ground, installed in 1981].
“It’s an eyesore, a division. It’s terrible. I hate it. The [park department] staff agreed to take that wall out. They talked to the trusts. The artist agreed to decommission it. They were going to get rid of it. So all is well.
“Well, the new plan [for the park] comes back eight months later. Well, guess what? The wall’s back in, baby. Like, what happened? The staff certainly didn’t mention it to me.
“So some old ladies who are super-interested in art threw a fit that we were taking down this piece-of-shit metal wall masterpiece. So the wall’s back, and that wall is just nothing but a division that is going to wall off a significant portion of the park, in my opinion, and make it inaccessible.
“So people who will never set foot in that park other than the opening, cutting the ribbon and driving by, pointing at it, saying, ‘Look what I did,’ they will never set foot in this park, never use this park, and they are determining the use of it. That is a frustration.
“That is not what the parks need to be about in my opinion. You know what, if you like it so much, you take that wall. Take that wall up north. I just think that parks need to be used.
“There is a need to have open space and space that’s not programmed. It’s just that I don’t think downtown can afford those places right now. There are too many people and too few recreational opportunities.”
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