A nonprofit launched in 2015, Parks for Downtown Dallas has played a pivotal role in creating four parks in the heart of the Texas city—revitalizing neighborhoods and boosting the community’s health.
This Q+A has been edited for clarity.
What’s the organization’s approach to architecture/the built environment?
Sanborn maps of Dallas from 1921 depict a downtown focused on commerce, manufacturing, railroad tracks, and virtually no public green space. Parks for Downtown Dallas has undertaken creating a network of urban neighborhood parks in partnership with the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, guided by a master plan commissioned by the city and approved unanimously by the City Council in 2004. The master plan was updated in 2013 and identified four priority park sites strategically chosen to provide a neighborhood park for each distinct district of Downtown Dallas. This has been accomplished by reimagining and repurposing parking lots and underutilized land into a dynamic collection of public spaces and amenities.
What have you learned over the years about the art of collaboration in architecture/the built environment?
Success is achieved by cultivating relationships with the public (i.e., park users), city staff, elected officials, and appointees, to name just a few. Understanding gaps and needs from the community is essential, along with seeking its buy-in throughout design and development. These are generational projects.
What is the greatest challenge facing architects and designers today, and how should they respond?
Many challenges we face in Dallas are commonplace across the country and internationally. The foremost one from our standpoint is the design and implementation of nature-based solutions to mitigate extreme heat, drought, fires, and flood events. Dallas is likely to experience a five-degree increase in temperature during summer months by 2050, according to the cCity’s 2020 Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan. The architecture and design community must envision and prioritize environmentally sensitive designs, and educate clients on the impacts certain design choices have. For example, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects converted one block of roadway into a bioswale and pedestrian promenade running through the center of Dallas' Harwood Park, which opens this fall.
What are you most proud of as an organization?
The palpable, positive changes to Downtown Dallas’ feel as a result of the work we’ve done with our city of Dallas partners. Over the last five years, we’ve completed four new parks comprising 14 acres despite the complexities of building in a dense urban environment, the COVID-19 pandemic, cost escalation, and supply chain issues. These parks make a real-time impact on Downtown Dallas. What was once a commercial-only district, populated primarily by office workers, now has a robust and growing residential community of nearly 15,000. Expansion of both residential and tourist populations, coupled with the addition of these new green spaces, has caused a significant uptick in pedestrian traffic throughout downtown. Only two decades ago, this vision for Downtown Dallas seemed quite improbable. Our team is inspired by the positive effect these parks are having on the environmental health of Dallas. Acres of concrete and asphalt have been removed and replaced with green infrastructure, making a genuine, measurable impact in reducing greenhouse gas effects, preventing flooding, and combating the urban heat island effect.
What role does the availability and accessibility of public outdoor space play in a city?
Public parks are vital to the health of any community, particularly in city centers where parks serve as front yards for residents. Parks are where you go to walk your dog and meet your neighbors—places to picnic, protest, exercise, and play. Places to just be and enjoy nature in the center of the city. Access to parks improves mental and physical health and quality of life in general.
What advice do you have for other organizations hoping to execute similar projects in their cities?
A private nonprofit partner that has capital upfront can accelerate the delivery of a project and increase cost efficiency because of its ability to procure services through the private sector. Government procurement processes are lengthy and complex, which increases costs and draws out the schedule of a project. Dedicated endowments held by organizations like Parks for Downtown Dallas are the ultimate means to ensure the quality and maintenance of public parks.
An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of ARCHITECT.