Children’s Park at Klyde Warren Park

Entry into Children’s Park image: Lisa Horne
Entry into Children’s Park
image: Lisa Horne

On a beautiful October day, Klyde Warren Park opened to the public in 2012 after years of planning and hard work. The 5.2-acre park spans Woodall Rodgers Freeway between St. Paul Street and Pearl Street in Dallas, Texas. It effectively created new real estate over the sunken highway and reunited downtown Dallas and the burgeoning Uptown with its trendy restaurants, offices, and multifamily development.

Within the highly programmed park, the corner at St. Paul Street and the westbound access road is dedicated to the Children’s Park. Between the Botanical Garden and Reading Room and across from the Great Lawn, this space of less than half an acre is fenced. Closely aligned steel poles, which are similar to the Nasher Sculpture Center bollards less than a block away, allow visual access, but block movement. The entry is an elaborate white portal that can be locked at night. Signage provides additional guidelines for visitors entering the Children’s Park.

Circulation is in a circle to the west of the entrance with a smaller open space to the east. The playful water feature with amphitheater-style seating is the first element that draws visitors through the portal. Springy, colorful paths weave through the dramatic topography of berms covered in artificial turf. The heavily padded paths cushion any rough landings from climbing the berms. Although river birch does not always perform well in Dallas, these trees are healthy and their exfoliating bark and animated foliage contribute to the excitement of the space.

Playful water feature sweeps through berms image: Lisa Horne
A playful water feature sweeps through berms
image: Lisa Horne

The tree house and wood deck to the immediate left of the entrance provide a lovely view of the Great Lawn. Further down the path at the westernmost edge of the Children’s Park is a piece of Berliner climbing equipment. This play manufacturer has recently been introduced into the United States and this is the first instance that I have seen of it installed. Children climbed comfortably to the top and intuitively understood how to use the bannister slide. It is always a delight to see progressive play equipment that encourages risk taking and exploration in a safe context.

Climbing play equipment with a challenge image: Lisa Horne
Climbing play equipment with a challenge
image: Lisa Horne

On the north side and opposite the tree house is a walk running the length of the water feature and berm. An artful tunnel with holes provides connection between the water feature and walk, but also a hideaway for children that parents can easily observe.

Easily monitored hideaway for young explorers image: Lisa Horne
Easily monitored hideaway for young explorers
image: Lisa Horne
Detailing of public restroom in Children’s Park image: Lisa Horne
Detailing of public restroom in Children’s Park
image: Lisa Horne

Colorful public restrooms end the circuit and are generally north of the entry portal. The area east of the restrooms and entry portal is an open area with a modern take on more traditional types of play equipment. These include a merry-go-round, individual spinners, and outdoor musical equipment.

Open space with musical play equipment and spinners image: Lisa Horne
Open space with musical play equipment and spinners
image: Lisa Horne

The Children’s Park stands out for play in public places. It combines most of the important pieces so absent from typical public play spaces – water, challenging climbing equipment, hideaways, etc. It supports creative, unstructured play and is safe with thoughtful detailing of the fencing and the springy pathway to minimize falls.

Klyde Warren Park presents a hybrid that may be a growing trend for future park projects. Like Discovery Green in Houston, it is programmed and managed by a non-profit organization distinct from the local government. John Reynolds, a landscape architect with the City of Dallas, represented the City on the project, but explained that their scope and involvement was within certain parameters.

Security includes friendly park staff during the day and discreet cameras and security personnel at night. The Children’s Park was closed earlier this spring when I visited. A friendly staffperson was standing in front of the closed gate and answering questions. Construction work was underway to repair the damaged walkway after some wear and tear within a year’s time. This level of care will keep the space thriving for a long time to come.

Have you seen a similar instance of successful public-private partnership for a children’s park? If so, please contact me so we can continue the discussion.

by Lisa Horne, ASLA, a senior associate at Kevin Sloan Studio in Dallas, Texas, and co-chair of the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environment PPN. She may be reached at: lh@kevinsloanstudio.com.

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