Creating paradise out of a paved parking lot -- that's what's happening in downtown Dallas.
On Tuesday, the city of Dallas and a local nonprofit, Parks for Downtown Dallas, are breaking ground on a brand new park just blocks from the Dallas Farmers Market.
The area around what will soon be Harwood Park currently looks like a concrete jungle, with vacant buildings and an empty, crumbling parking lot.
But the goal is to reclaim the land to transform it into a beautiful green space.
“It’s an exciting time. The result is going to make a significant impact on the life of the center city,” said Robert Decherd, chairman of Parks for Downtown Dallas.
Harwood Park will be the final park in the four priority parks program, which is part of a bigger master plan that Parks for Downtown Dallas has been working on with the City of Dallas for nearly 20 years.
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“These are four parks that were identified in the 2013 update of the downtown parks master plan. But really they’re part of a 20-year effort that began with the realization in the early 2000s that we had a porosity of green space in downtown Dallas. And there was no plan for addressing that challenge,” said Decherd.
Decherd, a longtime owner of the Dallas Morning News, comes from a family with a long-rooted history with the city. They have witnessed decades of transformation in Dallas and now, the rest of us will be witnessing more of this park's plan.
“There was never a plan for parks in center city. So, when the first master plan or city plan was done in the 1910s and 1920s, most of the parks in Dallas were built outside of the center. The center was so densely developed, you couldn’t find a place to build park and you couldn’t afford it because you would be displacing active commercial interest,” he said.
In the early 2000s, city leaders at the time took a look at what the city plan to build or develop parks in downtown Dallas. They were surprised to see there wasn’t one.
“One thing that honestly was an advantage, was the real estate decline in the 1980s and 1990s. It made the land affordable," explained Decherd. “What had been buildings was, as you know, parking lots. So we invoked the inverse of the Joni Mitchell line and said, we can take these parking lots and convert them into beautiful green spaces that are what we call Urban Neighborhood Parks.”
Hardwood Park will be nearly 4 acres. It will feature a playground with mammoth sculptures, a rain garden, and other natural features meant to pay homage to what the land used to look like before Dallas was Dallas.
“It is a return to original condition if you will. These were prairies. But when Dallas was first built in the 19th century, it was a collection of commercial and business ventures all packed together with railroad tracks and roads transacting center in the city as it was growing,” said Decherd.
While Harwood Park breaks ground on Tuesday, another park nearby has been under construction for the past year as part of the same plan.
Carpenter Park will transform into a key connection between downtown, Deep Ellum and East Dallas – featuring gardens, a dog park, a kids play area, basketball court, and interactive water fountain.
The other parks that are part of the plan include Pacific Plaza and West End Square, which both opened up in the last couple of years.
“When we look at where we began in 2002 -- which led up to the first parks master plan for downtown in 2004 -- in total, we collectively will have built 23 acres of new parks within the freeway loop. That's what is so unusual. That's what no other city has done,” said Decherd. “It’s a program that’s highly unusual. There’s not another city in the United States of our size and density that has successfully implemented a parks program like this."
Once construction is complete on the remaining parks, the spaces will be owned and operated by the city.
Parks for Downtown Dallas said they have plans to be a steward for downtown parks for the long term.
“We’re raising money to create permanent endowments that supplement the maintenance and care of these parks so that they will be as beautiful and welcoming 10, 15 and 50 years from now,” said Decherd.
Here's where you can learn more about the effort.