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Fair Park Proposals Not Dramatic, But Headed in the Right Direction

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin
Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

As Zac mentioned in Leading Off, the Mayor’s task force on Fair Park unveiled some of its recommendations for transforming the city’s most valuable, neglected resource. Sure, there are no art schools, Mexican soccer teams, or any of the other ideas I laid out in my suggestions for the task force back in February. But the ideas are poking, if somewhat hesitantly, in the right direction.

The big idea is the idea to privatize the park. This should help if it is done right. The danger is that the privatization becomes a way for the city to shirk funding of the park, or that it turns into a patron society takeover of a vital public asset. That said, what privatization might ensure is that plans for the park are actually implemented. For example, the 2003 Comprehensive Development Plan is not entirely off the mark as a first step in terms of its vision of improving Fair Park, it’s just that – like so many Dallas plans – it has never been fully implemented.

The task force is also rightly focused on connectivity, though the early ideas aren’t exactly ideal. Their proposals for reclaiming some parking lots for green space and moving the fence captures the spirit, if not the substance of the greening idea. I don’t like how a proposed rendering of new parking structures included in the briefing places the garages in positions where they block access and connectivity between the neighborhoods and the park. And the reclaimed green space isn’t exactly significant in scale. Turning the lot behind the Music Hall green is a no brainer, but the question of what to do with the acres of parking on the back end of the park by Gexa Energy Pavilion is the real challenge. There’s talk of creating a community park, but few details. The key point is this: in order for Fair Park to become useful, it must have uses, particularly those that are improvisational, like sports fields, playgrounds, etc. A bolder idea would be to try to get a youth soccer organization to turn part of the back end of the park into a year-round facility. Maybe those are ideas a private non-profit overseeing the park could be more effectively implement.

But back to the parking. The parking challenge at Fair Park is that there is a massive surge of demand during the fair, but meeting that demand has created facilities that ruin the park during the rest of the year. Rather than trying to come up with a different way to incorporate that parking capacity into the park, I would rather see the task force focused on alternative solutions, like creating temporary parking during the fair or overflow parking facilities off site. At the very least, don’t say you’re going to increase connectivity between the neighborhoods and the park and then stick a rendering in the briefing that shows parking garages shoved between the neighborhood and the park.

There needs to be significant perforation between the park and the neighborhoods. Just look at Balboa Park in San Diego, the closest thing to a Fair Park in another American city, and whose head the Fair Park Task Force spoke to during their research. At Balboa, the adjacent neighborhoods come right up to the border of the park and parking for the intermittent uses is tucked into discrete lots located within the confines of the park. Parking for the park’s big draw – the San Diego Zoo – is shoved in the far back of the park. At Fair Park, the moats of concrete that currently disconnect the park from the neighborhoods should be filled in, not with a parking structures (however “signature” — whatever that means) but with neighborhood. Make it dense and affordable. Make the distinction between where Fair Park ends and Dallas begins really difficult to pin down.