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The City of Dallas Owns Over 2,800 Parcels of Land. It Has a Bold Plan for 5 of Them.

Many of that acreage sits empty. How about turning some of it into small neighborhood parks?
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This land will eventually house the Park Forest Branch Library. A third of an acre to its right will be a park. Matt Goodman

The empty lot at 3728 High Vista Dr. is easy to miss, a rough rectangle of green with an adjacent drive and a strip of yellowed grass down its center from where pedestrians cut through to get to Marsh Lane. The city of Dallas has placed “no trespassing” signs along its edges, promising that “Violators will be Prosecuted.” (“All Hours.”)

The city has owned this land since 2006, when it used bond money to purchase it for the future home of the Park Forest Branch Library. The present facility has outgrown the neighborhood it serves. The bathrooms aren’t compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act. Neither are the entrance doors. But the land has sat empty for 18 years. Funding hasn’t come through to build the new library, and the project has been removed from recommendations for the coming bond.

This parcel is emblematic of a challenge that exists in all 14 council districts. The city of Dallas owns a lot of land. Some of the parcels were purchased for future uses, held onto until it’s time to build. Others are floodplains, managed by Dallas Water Utilities. There is a not-insignificant amount of land inside neighborhoods that sits empty, manicured but unused.

3728 High Vista is a rectangular plot with a little stub that shoots off to the side, surrounded by apartment buildings, duplexes, and townhomes. The library itself might be in flux, but why couldn’t part of it be a park?

This is one of five city-owned properties that will be developed into a community park, pending eventual approval from the City Council. The idea came from Mayor Eric Johnson, who requested a list of all the city-owned properties and appointed the green-thumbed Container Store co-founder Garrett Boone as Dallas’ first “greening czar.” The strategy originated there, with the help of the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit partner responsible for many neighborhood-sized parks projects in Dallas.

The Trust pulled all 2,800 or so city-owned parcels from the Dallas Central Appraisal District and mapped them. The organization then began overlaying specific criteria. Most important was whether the neighborhoods had a park within a 10-minute walk, which is the nonprofit’s top goal. It landed at the five properties currently under development.

They are in North Dallas, Pleasant Grove, Far East Dallas, North Lake Highlands, and the Kleburg neighborhood of southern Dallas. The total cost for the five parks is $2.5 million: $1.25 million comes from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, another $1 million was donated by the Lyda Hill Foundation, and the remaining $250,000 was provided by the Meadows Foundation.

They’re small, a third of an acre at the lowest end, 3.6 acres at the highest. Each of the five are in neighborhoods where between 2,000 and 4,000 residents don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk. Some are in urban heat islands, others are in communities with significant health disparities, and others meet the requirements of the city’s equity indicators.

“We’ve got to find new models to expand parks access to more people,” says Robert Kent, the Texas state director for the Trust for Public Land. “We can’t wait to find all the money in the world to build enormous parks.”

These parks are small-scale investments that Kent and his partners believe will boost the quality of life in a neighborhood without needing to organize major philanthropic campaigns. They’re also connectors between other amenities, like the future Park Forest Branch Library. The High Vista park will take up a third of an acre, a smidgen of the entire parcel, land not needed to build the library.

“We would probably make it green space anyway. So, yeah, let’s make it green space now,” says Jo Giudice, the director of the Dallas Public Library system. “I am open to any and all ideas that still gets me a library. Having green space there is important. I think there’s room for both, and getting started is great for the neighborhood.”

The Pleasant Grove park is at 7327 Lake June Rd., next to six lanes of traffic and across the street from the Pleasant Grove Branch Library. But the property also has access to a drainage culvert that has turned into a long piece of public art. Dallas artist Khadafy “DAP” Branch grew up painting these walls with other street artists and last year worked with Councilman Jaime Resendez to get the city’s permission. The entrance is through a small fence, which was locked on a recent Wednesday.

“The goal for me would be to have it open at all times so people can just go down there,” Resendez says.

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The Walls of Pleasant Grove is adjacent to an empty plot of land owned by Dallas Water Utilities that will soon transform into a park. Krista Nightengale

The plot looks similar to High Vista, except there is more dirt than grass. Resendez says the city’s transportation department plans to put in a crosswalk between the land and the library on Lake June. He’s also ordered a traffic study for Lake June, hoping that it results in a road diet or other ways to encourage drivers to slow down. (A police officer pulled over a car for speeding during the half-hour I spent wandering around.) Resendez calls these efforts a “convergence,” a way to bridge multiple improvements at once. The painted culvert is a direct path to the Umphress Recreation Center, tying together another amenity.

“I grew up off Masters and 175,” says Resendez, which is about 5 miles south of the Lake June address. “We were fortunate to grow up where there was an empty tract of land behind my parents’ place and we would play there. … Having access to green space, having an area to gather and get to know each other, it improves your physical health. It improves your mental health.”

The Dallas Park and Recreation Board will be briefed on Thursday. Once Council approves the project, the urban placemaking nonprofit Better Block will bring its “park in a box” shipping container with digitally fabricated furniture and other items and invite the neighborhood. The Trust for Public Land will spend time asking the community what they would like to see in a park, be that a trail or a gazebo or a playground or a few benches. Landscape architecture firm Studio Outside will incorporate what the neighborhood would like to see in its design plans. “We are a blank canvas for whatever the community’s vision is,” Kent says. If all goes well, the parks will be complete early next year.

The goal is to open new parks on empty city land in all 14 council districts, with a 15th that Kent describes as “citywide”—more of a destination park. It’s another effort to chip away at the city’s remaining park deserts and proof of concept that going small in wide-eyed Dallas is sometimes more impactful than going “world class.”

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Matt Goodman

Matt Goodman

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Matt Goodman is the online editorial director for D Magazine. He's written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…
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