It happened during lunch at Klyde Warren Park. We had just finished a discussion with several civic leaders in Dallas about overcoming stigma. We were taking a quick break to eat lunch before talking to some of the key figures who made Klyde Warren, a park above a freeway, happen.
It was a beautiful spring break afternoon, slightly chilly but sunny. People were wandering around the park, either playing football or eating lunch on the grass. The group with us was comprised of members from Memphis, Akron, Detroit, and Philadelphia. They were all part of Reimagining the Civic Commons, a national initiative that supports place-based efforts to catalyze lasting change through the creative use of civic assets.
It was while I was waiting for my grilled cheese sandwich with this varied group of civic leaders that the purpose for the trip solidified itself: no matter who you are, no matter where you live, it’s the common spaces that bring us all together.
We spent a couple days with our guests exploring this idea, along with overcoming stigma and changing the narrative. The group’s first stop was at the Better Block headquarters where Jason Roberts provided an overview of the work done in his neighborhood to turn it from the bad part of town, including how to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. The group then took off on bikes to explore the Bishop Arts District and Texas Theatre before finishing at the Wild Detectives where lawyer Angela Hunt, developer David Spence, educator Dr. Chris Dowdy, and civic leaderByron Sanders discussed overcoming stigma. “A stigma is an opportunity,” said David Spence, long-time Oak Cliff developer. Then the conversation, as it so often does, turned to gentrification. “A little gentrification is a beautiful thing,” said Spence. But Dr. Dowdy disagreed. When he was hired by Michael Sorrell as an administrator at Paul Quinn College, Dowdy said Sorrel told him his goal was simple: “I want to show people it’s possible to do economic develop without gentrification.” Hunt, a former city councilmember and lawyer, said that gentrification is not a bad thing, but displacement is.
The group then took a trip downtown to visit Klyde Warren Park, arguably Dallas’ most successful public space examples. The panelists included President of Klyde Warren Park Tara Green, philanthropist Linda Owen, managing director of Crescent John Zogg, and former councilwoman Veletta Lill. Each played a unique role in making the park happen. Zogg said that while they went big (raising a great deal of money during a recession), he wishes they would have gone bigger. But he knows the park is successful by just sitting in the middle of the lawn. “It is every part of Dallas coming together with a smile on their faces,” he said.
Day two of the tour was spent on a writing workshop and discussing lessons learned. For the group, the trip was all about ideas that the individuals cold take back to their cities. For some, lessons learned included creating right-sized spaces; for others it was about connecting.