Monday, October 8, 2012
Will Klyde Warren Park be able to live up to its promises?
We sat in on a panel where organizers discussed their hopes for the soon-to-open park.
DALLAS Main Street Garden and Belo Garden were the first two steps toward greening up downtown Dallas. Now, the third and most ambitious, Klyde Warren Park, will make its public debut on October 27. The park is expected to reconnect the uptown and downtown neighborhoods by building over Woodall Rodgers Freeway, a barrier that has separated them for so many years. Will the 5.2-acre park be able to live up to promise?
A new free exhibit sponsored by the Dallas Center For Architecture, Klyde Warren Park: Bridging the Gap, shows how the design team set out to accomplish this lofty goal of unifying downtown. Visitors can get a glimpse inside the history of the park, see models and diagrams of the underlying structure, wonder at the amazing scaled 3D models, and finally decide for themselves if the designers succeeded.
In the first of two free panel discussions intended to complement the exhibit, four key players in the park’s development recounted the challenges they faced in the long journey to take the park from concept to reality. Moderator Jeff Whittington from KERA offered up questions to Linda Owen, Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation president; Keith Bjerke, program manager for the Klyde Warren project; Willis Winters, assistant director for planning, design and construction for City of Dallas Parks and Recreation; and Tom Shelton, senior program manager of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Shelton recalled how he first became involved with the project in early 2004. He was given 24 hours to create a quick cost estimate for decking over a portion the Woodall Rodgers freeway with “some dirt and grass.” This early concept was adapted over time to a more usable, pedestrian-friendly park full of programming. This new vision was not without design challenges, though.
“The first thing we had to do was recognize the enormous, massive width of the freeway, being 10 lanes across,” said Shelton. “We knew TxDOT would not allow us to put in any structural support columns within the lanes.”
A center wall was built between the two sides of the freeway to act as the main support structure underneath and also provide fire protection.
“We also had to take into account things like the weight of the water if it rained or if the sprinklers came on to water the landscaping,” Shelton said.
The park structure is designed to curve away on either side so excess water will be filtered away to a sewage system. He also discussed other calculations that needed to be done, such as the estimated weight of the trees as they matured over time.
Bjerke recalled the biggest obstacle was getting the freeway tunnel underneath the park at the mandated height, while also being able to keep the park even with street level around it. Early designs put the park level at 4 feet higher.
“One of the big early challenges the design team had to overcome was how do we keep the park at grade so everybody feels like it’s open and free-flowing,” said Bjerke. “The whole reason we were doing this was so we could have connectivity from uptown through downtown Arts District. If we built a 4-foot wall all around it, we wouldn’t really achieve that connectivity.”
The issue was due to the growth allowance necessary for the tree containers. Creative engineering involving post-tension box beams with trenches in between for tree root growth solved the dilemma. “To be able to walk across the park from downtown to uptown and vice versa was incredibly important,” Winters said.
And to ensure visitors have a safe walk to or through the park, enhanced crosswalks were added on the four major intersections surrounding the park. Traffic signals were installed with dedicated pedestrian signals. Harwood Street, which originally ran through the park, was closed and converted into a dedicated pedestrian avenue.
Visitors can also feel confident in the security inside the grounds, presenters said. The park has three emergency call stations, 14 security cameras, as well as onsite security walking the grounds.
“We want people to come and we want people to continue to come back. So obviously people have to feel safe and it has to be convenient,” said Bjerke.
The lecture and exhibit drew a couple of dozen folks curious about the park and its beginnings.
“I just wanted to learn more about the park,” said Dallas resident and landscape architect Tom Nugent. “I live right nearby. It’s like a 5 minute bike ride to the park.”
Nugent plans on visiting the park often, especially to engage in some of the planned free programming. Daily activities designed to target all segments of the population are the keys, the team hopes, to truly making the park and active space.
Klyde Warren Park President Mark Banta will further discuss the programming plans in a second lecture on October 16. Both the lecture and the exhibit are free and open to the public. Bridging the Gap is open through November 9.
Pegasus News Content partner - The Assignment Desk, DFW
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