by Taner R. Özdil, Ph.D., ASLA
Vision is Green in Urban Design: Reclaiming Land for Downtown Parks in Dallas
21st century cities are being challenged by significant land and resource allocation and optimization issues requiring balance between the natural and built environment especially in high-density urban areas. Concerns such as population growth, rapid urbanization, climate change, natural resource depletion, extraneous consumption behaviors, and hasty ecological and environmental degradation are increasing new urbanites’ appreciation of the value of nature, land, and open and green space within cities. Recent population trends show that cities now house more than 82% of the population in the United States (The World Bank, 2017). Integrating parks in 21st century downtowns, as part of urban design practice, has become highly desirable, but is often contested by stakeholders. However, it is perhaps the most valuable strategy for reshaping the built environment in urban areas.
Since the turn of the century, increasing environmental awareness coupled with social and economic trends has dramatically affected where people choose to live, work, and play in United States. Downtowns, after half a century of neglect, have become more attractive to members of the aging Baby-Boomers, Gen X, and Millennial generations and young families. There is a growing interest (at least for some segments of the population) and need to return to the traditional centers with smaller housing units and compact environments that have architectural character, pedestrian friendly walkable streets, and the essential elements of a livable community. More importantly, today’s urbanites seem to want both “access to nature” and a “room with a view” within walking distance of employment, housing, and essential services such as parks, grocery stores, schools, and “third places” like restaurants and coffee houses (Reconnecting America, 2017; Florida, 2002).
Even cities like Dallas, the fifth best economically performing large city in US (Jackson et.al., 2019), are not immune to these changes and challenges as available land to provide such amenities and services for future residents is rapidly becoming a scarce commodity. Indeed, the City of Dallas is ranked a dismal 49th out of 100 in the US for park availability/access (Trust for Public Land, 2018). Up until 2013, its downtown has offered only about 8.3 acres of park land per 1,000 residents, whereas the greater city of Dallas offers 22.6 acres of park land for every 1,000 residents (EPS, 2015; Hargreaves Associates, 2013).