Construction began two weeks ago on Woodall Rodgers Park, the new green space that’s going to cover a stretch of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway alongside the Arts District. Groundbreaking is scheduled for this fall with completion in 2011.
As you probably know, the park will 1) turn part of the freeway into a tunnel, something that happens with, for instance, Interstate 5 in Seattle as it goes under the city’s convention center. For those who think this is an idiot idea (see readers’ comments on Robert Wilonsky’s post about the park’s construction in Unfair Park), Seattle wound up with Freeway Park as a gracious and acclaimed addition to its urban landscape.
But the Woodall Park is also intended 2) to link the Arts District with all the monied, young people and their happenin’ restaurants in the Uptown area. This, it’s hoped, will provide the Arts District, at last, with some nightlife and some eateries. Nightlife and eateries, that is, outside what the arts venues themselves already supply inside their own facilities.
In short, we’ll finally be given some reasons to hang around the Arts District after the fat lady sings.
As part of that linkage and those entertainment attractions, the WR Park (or, as I’ve taken to calling it, ‘the Woodall Woods’) will also feature 3) “jogging trails, a dog park, a children’s playground, dining options, a performance pavillion, water sculpture, an area for games and much more,” according to the latest press release. Somehow, it will also manage to “connect the Katy Trail and the McKinney Avenue Trolley.”
What — no carousel, carnival midway, water slide, NASCAR speedway and lookout mountain?
Actually, I just hope someone might think to open a good bar in the vicinity.
To give you give an idea of what all this means, I’ve posted (above) the kind of glorious rendering of the park that’s often featured in stories about it. You’ll notice that the drawing doesn’t provide much in the way of scale, especially any comparison to nearby landmarks. And it seems to taper off into infinity up at the top.
Below the fold, you’ll find a different view of the size and scale of the Woodall Woods.
This is a picture of Woodall Rodgers Freeway, looking east. That little cluster of bridges across the freeway in the middle of the picture comprises the entire length and breadth of the park.
For comparison’s sake, Central Park is 843 acres. The under-utilized Reverchon Park, along Turtle Creek, is 46 acres, nine times its size. Even Sammons Park, the tiny grassland that will be tucked between the Winspear Opera House and the Wyly Theater is twice the size of Woodall Rodgers.
Perhaps a more accurate comparison would be to Millennium Park in Chicago, which was supposedly one of the inspirations for the Woodall Woods. Yet the Millennium is 24.5 acres, almost five times Woodall’s size. Even so, Woodall Park will boast just about everything Millennium does — except, perhaps, an outdoor ice skating rink. And it may well lack any real green space. Or “woods.”
I don’t mean to bad-mouth the Woodall Woods. If it gives Dallas half of what Freeway Park did for Seattle, it’ll count as a success. And any sliver of shade or greenery in this sun-bleached, concrete-crazed, empty-by-sunset downtown would be welcome. But in public discussions about the future of the Arts District, Woodall Rodgers Park is often held up as a cure-all for what ails the district: the lack of pedestrian-friendly design, the lack of shade, the lack of appealing outdoor activities, the lack of retail shopping and dining.
So we’re cramming into that narrow little stretch a lot of expectations that the park may never be able to fulfill. Hell, if it provides even just a pleasant stroll — and less of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway to look at — it’ll be adding something that downtown Dallas currently doesn’t have: relief.