One of my earliest observations about Klyde Warren Park was remarking upon how over-programmed the place was. Did we really need to fill every minute with activities? Yoga, boot camps, a small library of reading material, board games, a putting green, music, a restaurant — why couldn’t the park focus on being a nice place to just sit and be?
This preoccupation with occupation reached ludicrous new heights with the announcement last year that an ice rink would be installed on the great lawn. Despite the fact that most pleasant-weather days the lawn is already overcrowded with people, the powers behind the park thought it a good idea to take up a significant portion of that precious area with a ice rink — and a synthetic ice rink at that.
(There is no greater cheerleader for the city of Dallas and its big ideas than our own Zac Crain, so he gamely got on board with the ice rink concept and went the park crowd one better: they weren’t thinking big enough. Wasn’t it high time we built a deck park on top of our deck park?)
Point is, yeah, it all seemed like overkill. Still does, but the park is also undeniably a success. I don’t myself often go over there for lunch anymore, mostly because the food trucks are an inefficient source of midday sustenance (both in terms of time and money). And because I don’t much enjoy being surrounded by crowds — the crowds serving as fairly strong evidence that people like the place just the way it’s been operated.
I got thinking about all this again after reading a new piece on the Awl by Mike Nagel, a copywriter who works downtown. Nagel writes about hanging out for a little while with the fellow who checks out checkers and chess sets for people to play:
I didn’t ask him what his name was but he looked like a Walter. He was wearing a beige, brandless baseball cap and a blue Klyde Warren polo shirt. I asked him which games were the most popular and he said Checkers then Chess then Scrabble, which I probably could have guessed. We were sitting on the green metal chairs next to his rolling cart and not a single person came by all day. Walter just sat there looking out at the grass, and past the grass, the skyscrapers. I thought I was probably bothering him. It was cold and cloudy and the park was practically empty.
Why was this game rental cart even here?
I asked Walter if he liked his job and he said he liked his job fine. I asked him how he’d gotten his job and he said, I applied for it. And the more I thought about this cart the more I wondered if its function was more to be here than to be used, if it was more important for people to have the option to play games than it was for them to play games. People just like knowing it’s here.
“Choice should be built into the basic design,” William Whyte wrote in The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, a thin little book about plaza usage in Manhattan. The game cart was here for people to say no to.
That’s exactly right. Same reason you’d be pissed off if you bought a newspaper and all that was in it was the Sports section and the Business section, even if all you ever read is the Sports section and the Business section. Same reason you’d be up in arms if Time Warner Cable decided to charge you the same amount each month but only give you the 10-15 channels you ever watch. We like having the options, even when we make fun of options like skating on top of plastic sheets.