A little over two years ago The Battery Conservancy, a nonprofit support group for Battery Park at the confluence of the Hudson and East rivers on the southern tip of Manhattan, decided that it needed a new chair. The conservancy wanted a new park chair that would be light enough to tote around, heavy enough not to blow away in heavy weather and beautifully wonderfully distinctively designed.
So The Battery Conservancy announced an international competition for best Battery chair design. From 15 nations 679 designers submitted sketches, which a panel of judges whittled to 50 finalists, then five, then one. The winner, Andrew Jones of Toronto, drew a chair described by The New York Times as, "a pale blue flower, its curving petals forming the outlines of the seat, back and arms. Its smooth surface is perforated with tiny, seemingly random holes that will allow the seat to dry quickly after it rains."
Here in Dallas decades of botched flood control, official neglect and simple happenstance have endowed us with an opportunity to create the largest urban park in the nation, vast enough to include huge recreational areas, a sprawling natural forest and a serious river. In short, this could be a park that truly redefines the destiny of a city, transforming Dallas from a jerry-built outback outpost to an American 21st century Mecca, a place where urban life and nature itself meld seamlessly at the city's heart.
So if New York needed a competition with 679 entries from 15 countries to get the right chair, do we think maybe Dallas should search the world, too, to get the best thinking and vision for an entire sprawling and complicated urban park unlike any other in the world? Apparently not.
Instead, the vision of the park that city staffers showed the City Council Monday was a tawdry gimcrack nightmare, cheap tricks from the midway, cheesy anachronistic graphics that looked less like a park than a set for an Austin Powers movie.
Half the stuff shown to a council committee would be illegal in a floodway -- a massive concrete pavilion beneath of jumble of masts and netting, for example. When I first saw it I thought, "This is what happens when shrimp boat captains drink and drive." It's the kind of mess the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spends millions of dollars cleaning out of floodways, not something you'd go out there and build on purpose.
In fact, the presentation to the council, under the cynical imprimatur of the Trinity Trust, was exactly the kind of vulgar bread and circuses we've seen all along from the people whose real aim is to build a super highway practically on top of the river, effectively cutting the throat of a park. The Trinity Trust, in my humble opinion, is a front group for those people.
In 1998 my former colleague, Laura Miller, was elected to the City Council. She had a serious interest in the Trinity River project and went to city staff to ask if she could see the engineering and design for the lakes and reverse-flow stretches of river and so on that were part of what were sold to voters in the 1998 Trinity River bond election.
She told me that city staffers told her all of that work had been handled by a consultant, Rob Allyn. Well, as luck would have it, Allyn was Miller's political consultant, so, easy to reach. But, of course, he was a political consultant, an ad agency owner, really, not a park designer and certainly not an engineer.
But she asked him what was the basis for the graphics shown to voters in the 1998 bond election depicting large lakes, sailboats, and reverse-flow river segments. What studies were done to show that such things were feasible?
She told me Allyn laughed. He told her the people running the bond campaign just asked him for some sailboat graphics and stuff like that, so he whipped some together for them. There was no study. There definitely was no international design competition.
The original vision for the Trinity River project, as far as the park was concerned, was a last-minute, slap-dash, schlock-ola toss-off from an ad agency cranking it out for an hourly fee. Sadly, as far as the bond election was concerned, Allyn's graphics were a success.
That was 16 years ago. Times have changed, thank God. This is not the same city it was then. The road whores, sensing that their beloved Trinity Toll Road project is in mortal threat of being cast aside and never built, are trying a 1998 trick on a 2014 city.
Give them zip lines. Give them a rock climbing course underneath a freeway. Give them a pavilion that looks like a three-way shrimp boat accident. Get them off our backs. Then build us that damned road.
The scary thing? Last time they pulled this, it worked.
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