Monday, November 14, 2011
City leaders are hopeful about future of Dallas parks
With so much information made available to the community, the most disappointing part of a recent parks-related meeting was the attendance.
Dallas officials now have a plan to make the community more aware of the benefits or and future plans for the parks system, following the recent 2011 Dallas Parks Summit, themed "Moving the System Forward." The second annual summit focused on the current issues and projects pertinent to the sustainability and viability of the Dallas parks system.
Dallas citizens can certainly expect to see a lot more work (and money) being invested in the parks system in the near future. As highlighted by Mayor Rawlings, the city plans to concentrate on three key areas as park developments continue: keeping the parks clean; funding future projects; and the health and physical benefits of the parks system.
During the summit, Park Board President Joan Walne announced that Fair Park had been named one of the 10 best public spaces in America by the American Planning Association. It's this kind of national attention that makes city officials hopeful that Dallas can attract more of it, with investments being made in trails and the current construction of the Woodall Rodgers Park. Officials estimate that Woodall Rodgers Park will bring in $1 billion in surrounding development. This equates to increased revenues for the city.
The 2012 Capital Bond Program was introduced during the summit. Still well in the preliminary stages, Willis Winter, FAIA, assistant director of Planning, Design, Construction and Facility Services, discussed how the bond process would flow. Dedicated town hall meetings and other community meetings will be scheduled in order to give Dallas citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns and priorities regarding the parks system improvements. The actual size of the bond would be determined by the amount of debt, the bond rating for the city, and the size of any necessary tax increase. When deciding which projects to fund, the city will first consider projects that are leveraged with private funding.
On the health and physical fitness front, the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute (DHWI) takes center stage. A collaborative effort with Baylor Hospital and only open for two years, the institute has been an integral part of improving the quality of life for the community. The center is a part of a push to focus on how the parks system impacts community health and wellness; as well it is located at one of the parks system's community recreation centers.
“We try to meet the needs of the people,” says director Esteria Miller. With a population median annual income of only $9,000 (well below the national average of $22,350 for a family of four), the institute's free physical fitness programs and medical checkups go a long way in making this community more healthy. Investments in the DHWI and similar programs can have fiscal benefits for cities and communities, too. As guest speaker Dr. Jamie Rae Walker, assistant professor at Texas A & M, pointed out, similar investments resulted in $19.9 million medical savings for Sacramento, California.
With so much information made available to the community, the most disappointing part of the day’s events was the attendance. The crowd of less than 100 was filled mostly with civic leaders. There was also a large disparity in the demographics of those in attendance. Noticeably absent from the diminutive crowd were the 20 to 40 year olds. This group will benefit most from future parks initiatives, and will soon inherit the responsibility of maintaining Dallas parks.
Still, parks board member Jean F. Milligan (District 5) stressed that there is still more work to be done and is hopeful that more will get involved.
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