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MLK Food Park Is An Oasis In A Dallas Food Desert

by Therese Powell 20 Apr 2021 8:21 PM
A family of 4 sits a picnic table at a food park. The family is Black. There is a mother and a father and two children--a boy and a girl. All are smiling and waving at the camera.

The family-friendly MLK Food Park is open weekends through May 2. Photo: Better Block

You have two more weekends to check out the MLK Food Park, the temporary block transformation launched in the Forest District of South Dallas.

The family-friendly space features a variety of activities such as food trucks, vendors, musicians, entertainers, and even a children’s play area. 

MLK Food Park Weekends through May 2, 1611 Martin Luther King Blvd. Dallas, TX 75215, Details

All of the vendors participating in the event are owned by people of color, and over half of them are from the immediate Forest District neighborhood with the remaining being from the greater DFW area.

Entertainment and vendors are rotated out each week so you’re encouraged to make multiple trips for a different experience each time.

The event also features works by local artists.

Black man holds up the 8-foot tall letter K. The letter is yellow and has a painting of Big Tex on it.

Local artist Nathan Wright created the MLK signage for the Food Park. Photo: Better Block

Dallas-based artist Nathan Wright, who works under the name Great Black Century, created the MLK signage at the entrance to the park. The 8-foot tall letters incorporate images that illustrate the Forest District in South Dallas. Wright says the art represents the importance of green space, the residences of South Dallas and the indigenous tribes that use to live in this area.

Wright, whose family is from the area, says it feels good to it feels good to have a project like the MLK Food Park come to the Forest District.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything new here and so it’s just very cool to see this type of development and attention come through and embrace the neighborhood the way it is, and to be done, without coming in and excluding us.”

The experimental food park is a catalyst project of The Real Estate Council of Dallas and Better Block Foundation. The groups’ objective was to find a quick, community focused, community led event to kick off a much larger transformation in the neighborhood. The idea for a food park was sparked by the cancellation of last year’s State Fair of Texas.

Birds-eye view of MLK Food Park

Photo: Better Block

“We realized that many of the vendors who worked at the State Fair of Texas also lived in the Forest District community just down MLK from the park and suddenly there wasn’t an opportunity for them to make money at the fair anymore,” said said Kristin Leiber, senior project manager at the Better Block Foundation.

“There are not a lot of food parks in Dallas, so we thought, why don’t we put together a space where people can safely gather outside? It can feature vendors from the neighborhood,  food and non-food entrepreneurs, and it can also push some of this policy that affects the lack of food parks in Dallas and create some opportunities in the future for mobile food vendors.”

Although the MLK Food Park is a temporary installation with just a month-long run, organizers want visitors and vendors to feel like they’re in more than just a pop-up space. Pergolas were built for shade, shipping containers were brought in to serve as storefronts, and a variety of food trailers and food trucks were invited; all in an effort to bridge the gap between a temporary day-long event and a permanent building.

Fifty percent of the vendors participating at the MLK Food Park are from South Dallas’ Forest District neighborhood. Photo: Better Block

“We wanted people to experiment with what it could look like to have a storefront and to have customers come in to try their food,” said Lieber. “We saw things like West African food being served. We saw Cajun Creole fusion concepts with brunch. We saw lots of good barbecue–very cultural food and very beloved in South Dallas being shared with all sorts of people from all over DFW. So I think it just is a very uniting event that really celebrates diversity and and the history of the Forest District.”

In addition to providing much-needed community space for the Forest District neighborhood, the space also serves as a testing ground for Dallas policy change addressing low barrier, mobile food vending options.

Lieber says the goal of the project is to create conversation and create momentum.

“We start the conversations that help people envision their dreams with public space and then once they see them they can give their feedback. We collect all that feedback, harness that momentum and then we put all those people who are super passionate about it together so that once we leave they can go on to take that information, take those data points, take the vendors they met, and the permits they now know how to get and go on and do something amazing with it.”

The MLK Food Park operates Fridays 6-8 p.m., and Saturday and Sundays 11-2 p.m. through May 2.

Got a tip? Email Therese Powell at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @TheresePowell13

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