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Be Glad Klyde Warren Park Is There to Enjoy—Or Ignore

photo by Dillon Diers
photo by Dillon Diers
One of my earliest observations about Klyde Warren Park was remarking upon how over-programmed the place was. Did we really need to fill every minute with activities? Yoga, boot camps, a small library of reading material, board games, a putting green, music, a restaurant — why couldn’t the park focus on being a nice place to just sit and be?

This preoccupation with occupation reached ludicrous new heights with the announcement last year that an ice rink would be installed on the great lawn. Despite the fact that most pleasant-weather days the lawn is already overcrowded with people, the powers behind the park thought it a good idea to take up a significant portion of that precious area with a ice rink — and a synthetic ice rink at that.

(There is no greater cheerleader for the city of Dallas and its big ideas than our own Zac Crain, so he gamely got on board with the ice rink concept and went the park crowd one better: they weren’t thinking big enough. Wasn’t it high time we built a deck park on top of our deck park?)

Point is, yeah, it all seemed like overkill. Still does, but the park is also undeniably a success. I don’t myself often go over there for lunch anymore, mostly because the food trucks are an inefficient source of midday sustenance (both in terms of time and money). And because I don’t much enjoy being surrounded by crowds — the crowds serving as fairly strong evidence that people like the place just the way it’s been operated.

I got thinking about all this again after reading a new piece on the Awl by Mike Nagel, a copywriter who works downtown. Nagel writes about hanging out for a little while with the fellow who checks out checkers and chess sets for people to play:

I didn’t ask him what his name was but he looked like a Walter. He was wearing a beige, brandless baseball cap and a blue Klyde Warren polo shirt. I asked him which games were the most popular and he said Checkers then Chess then Scrabble, which I probably could have guessed. We were sitting on the green metal chairs next to his rolling cart and not a single person came by all day. Walter just sat there looking out at the grass, and past the grass, the skyscrapers. I thought I was probably bothering him. It was cold and cloudy and the park was practically empty.

Why was this game rental cart even here?

I asked Walter if he liked his job and he said he liked his job fine. I asked him how he’d gotten his job and he said, I applied for it. And the more I thought about this cart the more I wondered if its function was more to be here than to be used, if it was more important for people to have the option to play games than it was for them to play games. People just like knowing it’s here.

“Choice should be built into the basic design,” William Whyte wrote in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, a thin little book about plaza usage in Manhattan. The game cart was here for people to say no to.

That’s exactly right. Same reason you’d be pissed off if you bought a newspaper and all that was in it was the Sports section and the Business section, even if all you ever read is the Sports section and the Business section. Same reason you’d be up in arms if Time Warner Cable decided to charge you the same amount each month but only give you the 10-15 channels you ever watch. We like having the options, even when we make fun of options like skating on top of plastic sheets.

6 comments on “Be Glad Klyde Warren Park Is There to Enjoy—Or Ignore

  1. Last week when I walked through the park, the entire lawn was roped off so that the turf can grow back in. This rain should help. Watch, though. It’ll all be dead again by the end of the summer. Simply too many feet (and bottoms and blankets). I don’t see how the park operators are going to avoid having to replant the entire lawn every year. I wonder if that was in the operating budget when it opened.

  2. That skating rink was absolutely horrible and I hope they don’t bring it back next year. It was very tacky they way it was constructed, took up way too much valuable room even though it was very small, and the surface was made out of some kind of plastic that they apparently sprayed with some kind of oil to make it slippery. And boy was it ever, most folks couldn’t even make it around one time without falling.

  3. My first trip to KWP last weekend. Just like the Truck Yard appears designed by my eccentric uncle, KWP appears designed by my rich eccentric uncle. There is so much crap stuck in every nook and cranny that it truly tilts to the absurd. Of course the grass is dying, that little bit of grass cannot stand up to that much foot traffic.

  4. If the park is that crowded, then it means we need more green space in Uptown & Downtown as density increases.

  5. It would be interesting to see how many people are local and how many drive in from the rest of Dallas and the suburbs. Not that those people aren’t welcome, but it may be that we need better parks in the rest of the city. Sometimes an area that should be (is designed to be) a local attraction ends up as a regional draw (like Knox Henderson). The infrastructure gets overwhelmed.

    We don’t necessarily need to change KWP, or Knox Henderson, we just need more of those kinds of places spread out to sate the obvious demand for local neighborhoods. Zoning and parking regulations, though boring, are more important to the city than high dollar amenities like KWP or signature bridges.