How Klyde Warren Park Changed the Urban Reclamation Game

How Klyde Warren Park Changed the Urban Reclamation Game

Klyde Warren Park is a public park in Dallas, Texas, that gained national attention for being one of the biggest and most successful reclaimed urban spaces in America. Because it’s down the street from ACTIVE Network’s headquarters, we’ve had a particular interest in its development and have been fascinated in how the park has changed and re-energized the downtown space. Kyle Warren Park has also been added to the national conversation about public spaces overall, and we wanted to take an in-depth look at what makes this park so special.

Urban Reclamation on a Grand Scale

As studies come out linking urban decay to health issues in major cities, reclaiming abandoned land and buildings and replacing them with greenery and open spaces has become a major movement in many urban centers. In cities where urban turnover is a fast-moving force, such as New York City, urban reclamation has long been a grassroots effort3, fueled by neighbors who want to ensure their corner of the city is respectable-looking and safe. But these responses are generally small in scale, with city dwellers building community gardens or parks that take up one or two land lots.

In contrast, Klyde Warren Park was a gargantuan undertaking, spanning 5.2 acres that sit atop the recessed eight-lane Woodall Rogers Freeway. Furthermore, the space connects two previously segregated urban areas — Dallas’s Uptown neighborhood and the Downtown Dallas business district — by allowing pedestrians to safely travel in a green area that was previously relegated to cars and motor vehicles only. And instead of being funded and pushed forward by small local groups, Klyde Warren Park was built thanks to some powerful public-private partnerships, including:

  • $20 million in public support through bonds from the City of Dallas
  • $20 million in highway funds from the State of Texas
  • $16.7 million in stimulus funds from the federal government
  • $50 million in private donations

While the project to build Klyde Warren Park was tied to government programs and funding, it was clearly community members who contributed most to its realization.

Imagining Klyde Warren Park as a “Lid”

Imagining Klyde Warren Park as a “Lid”The concept for building the park as a deck over the Woodall Rogers Freeway goes all the way back to the 1960s, when the freeway was originally built as a recessed channel through the heart of the city. Although the idea to repurpose the ground-level space has been there from the beginning, it was dormant until the early 2000s. Several real estate and community organizers worked to rally support for the idea, privately funding grants for feasibility studies. In 2004, The Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation was formed to lead the project. Construction on the park began in 2009 and was completed three years later, opening to the public in October 2012.

The main reason for building the park over the freeway was to connect Uptown and downtown with pedestrian walkways and to physically unite a previously divided city. But the park adds other benefits as well, including:

  • Increasing value of local businesses and tax revenue
  • Attracting pedestrian foot-traffic
  • Facilitating community connections
  • Dampening noise from the freeway
  • Environmental benefits such as capturing 18,500 lbs. of CO2 through trees and reducing stormwater drainage by more than 64,000 gallons annually

Perhaps the most important benefit is the measurable increase in quality of life for park users, over 90% of whom report their lives are better thanks to Klyde Warren Park’s existence.

Smart Design as an Urban Reclamation Solution

The project presented several unique engineering issues, as the challenges presented were those typically found in building bridges, tunnels, and other designs.

First was supporting the park’s weight, especially as community input grew the design of the park from a small green area to a park chock full of amenities, such as:

  • Children’s park
  • Dog park
  • Botanical gardens
  • Performance stage
  • Water features
  • Restaurant
  • Lush landscaping

Engineers and designers addressed the weight problem by using geo-foam, similar to Styrofoam, wherever planting soil wasn’t necessary. This reduced the weight of the deck by nearly two-thirds.

Accessibility and growth were also incorporated into the design. For instance, structural beams were arranged to provide trenches where tree roots, fiber optic cables, water, gas, and telephone lines can all stay safely underground. The park is also slightly tilted so that extra water can run off into the city’s sewer system.

Lessons Learned for Parks Everywhere

While your community may not be ready to support a $110 million urban reclamation project like Klyde Warren Park, there are plenty of takeaways for communities to learn for building their own parks:

Solve the community’s needs

Klyde Warren Park was meant to connect two urban neighborhoods, but also provided the community with valuable relaxation space, entertainment capabilities, increased property values, and environmental improvements. Your park can solve more problems than you might expect, and those benefits can help you get buy-in from many different groups.

Combine grassroots and government funding

Despite the various government funding resources, Klyde Warren Park would never have been built if it weren’t for the $50 million raised by the community from private donations. Even if your municipal, state, and federal representatives are involved, the community itself also needs to be involved in the project.

Learn from other projects

The designers and builders of Klyde Warren Park visited several other parks and civic projects to gather insights on handling security, trash, graffiti, and homelessness. You can find takeaways from projects of similar scope in your own area to address issues before they arise and get your park project off the ground.

To see Klyde Warren Park from our perspective, check out this awesome video we made from this year’s annual employee water gun fight!