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Woodall Rodgers Park: A Different Perspective

by Jerome Weeks 3 Feb 2009 3:38 PM

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 […]


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.

You know how big Woodall Rodgers Park will be? Five acres. That’s all.

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.

  • Greg Shelton

    I think WR will a great thing for Dallas… It is not supposed to be the end all be all but a lynch pin that will help solve many of the issues with the Arts district. I can’t tell you how many times i bring people from out of town to the Nasher and wish we had more to do in the area… this will provide a good reason to stroll around.

    I believe the DMA could do wonders for this area by opening up the spaces along Harwood street onto the street. One space would be for retail art supplies and classes. One would invite local artists and/or art galleries to present works from present day artists with the DMA currators providing comments on the works and references to DMA art on display in the museum. The Museum store would stay and the DMA restaurant would be upgraded and become a destination in itself. This would draw people along Harwood to the WR Park and make the DMA come more to life.

    / Love the idea of turning Main into a pedestrian mall but I don’t really see it as being easy to do… It would make a great connection with Fair Park and could spur development over time.

  • As I tried to indicate, I agree completely: The Woodall Woods will bring some badly needed features to the Arts District vicinity. But again, to give you some idea of how crammed together this ‘park’ will be. Can you visualize how (relatively) small the Nasher Sculpture Garden is? The Woodall park will be only about twice the size of that — yet it will have a dog park, a children’s playground, jogging trails, dining ‘options,’ a performance pavillion, etc. etc.

    Two things the Arts District seriously needs are retail — restaurants and shops — and housing for people other than multi-millionaires. Think of the West Village: lousy architecture but great civic liveliness because of the concentration of all these things.

    The great British theater director Peter Brook argues in his book, The Empty Space, that all lively public art centers around the world thrive with people flocking for the art but enjoying the dreck that usually happens to collect there as well, the t-shirt shops, hot dog vendors, cafes, gathering spots, etc. Merchants go where the people are and the money is, and people go where they can see things, eat things, buy things, and mingle. Without this combo, a commercial theater district like London’s West End or Broadway would be pretty sterile.

    But the Woodall Woods is not really adding anything commercial or residential to the Arts District mix. It’ll be just more city-bred attractions. As I wrote, I’m all for more shade, more places to sit and more things to look at. But debasing the Arts District’s pristine nature by letting in more crass, capitalistic outfits like the 7-11 in One Arts Plaza would give me hope for some real, sustained activity in the area — more than planting neat rows of trees or laying down jogging paths would, at any rate. The problem is, thanks to the city’s failure to control the land and thanks to the short-sighted, every-man-for-himself thinking of most of the developers and arts organizations in the district, retail has pretty much been priced out (or designed out) of almost the entire area between Ross and Woodall Rodgers. Our only hope for some retail life lies on the opposite side of Ross, where there are still some major lots left undeveloped.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • john

    the park as designed is over 5 acres. that is still a large park for Dallas. to go buy 5 acres today would cost over $22,000,000. if you look at Millenium park, they have inside that park their performing arts center. If only we in Dallas would think bigger than silo’s. if you add up and connect the DCPA, Wrp, nature and science musuem, nasher, dma etc, we have a collection that aggregates to a phenomenal world class place. we need something to rally behind and be proud of in dallas

  • Meofcourse

    The park is a bad idea and completely useless. I say create a tunnel and build a parking lot.

  • Bob Rodgers

    As the great nephew of Woodall Rodgers I know that he would have embraced the spirit of what the park embodies, a common space that enriches the lives of Dallas citizens and positions the city as a world class tourist destination.

    Bravo Dallas!