Thursday, April 14, 2011

Un-Tree the Town, I Say

"They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you've got
'Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot."
-- Joni Mitchell

A public meeting is planned for April 27 for public input on location and design for a new "mini-neighborhood park" in the Richardson Heights and Cottonwood Heights areas. It's great to see this 2010 Bond item moving forward. It's rare to see buildings giving way and trees making a comeback in a developed area.

Then I got to thinking about parks in general. And that made me think about one undeveloped part of Richardson in particular (yes, there is at least one such gem left). And that led me to flip-flop on a vision/dream/fantasy I've long had about that gem of nature. Yep, flip-flop. I'm now thinking that some trees, at least a few anyway, just might have to go. I'm suggesting "Un-Tree the Town," at least a little bit, in one very specific location.

After the jump, please stop me if I'm making a big mistake.

The undeveloped strip of land I have long eyed nervously is along the south side of Renner Road west of Plano Road. You know, the woods that everyone just assumes is part of the Spring Creek Nature Area. But if you had looked closely any time in the last decade or so, you'd have noticed a for-sale sign at the corner of Renner and Plano Roads. If you walk the trail along the north side of the Nature Area itself, you'd have noticed a rusty wire fence not too far off the trail. There is nothing but shrubs and trees behind the fence, and farther away still is Renner Road, hidden from sight and hearing. But that wire fence has long bothered me. It's an indicator that the park doesn't go all the way north to Renner Road. The fence has always been an omen to me that some day something bad would happen on the other side of it. Bulldozers would come. Trees would fall. Nature would disappear. You know, "Pave paradise, put up a parking lot."

My vision/dream/fantasy should be obvious. Just like Richardson is preparing to buy land in the Richardson Heights or Cottonwood Heights neighborhood for a new park, I long dreamed that the city would buy that strip of land along Renner Road and expand the Spring Creek Nature Area, thus preserving that natural buffer that today shields those trails from the sights and sounds of the modern world.

I now have to face reality. That future Richardson Heights "mini-neighborhood park" is the exception to the rule. The city is never going to expand the Spring Creek Nature Area. Everything in the last few years suggests just the opposite. DART already encroached on the west side by renovating the abandoned railroad tracks through the park. Blue Cross Blue Shield encroached on the south side with a new office building that glowers down on the park. The Routh Creek Parkway put a gash down the west side. As much as I might prefer expanding the Nature Area, I have to admit it's just not going to happen.

I had long ignored all that vacant land north of Renner Road. Most of it was empty, flat, treeless. I knew it would eventually be developed, but I never saw it as either a complement or a threat to the Spring Creek Nature Area. After all, there was a moat called Renner Road protecting the Nature Area from that open land. With the recent rezoning of the land to support a major transit-oriented development (TOD), I'm forced to see it all in a new light. The TOD is already a huge development, but we really need to look at it in a bigger context. The same with the Spring Creek Nature Area. These two gems of Richardson's future need to be integrated into a whole that is greater than the sum of their parts. Suddenly, that moat called Renner Road is a minus, not a plus.

I'm afraid that protective attitude I had towards the Nature Area (a NIMBY attitude shared by many in Richardson, and not just for the Nature Area) will make integration more difficult. The TOD is already doomed to be walled off from Plano and west Richardson just by the mere existence of the Bush Tollway and Central Expressway. The developers are to be credited for their plans to punch a hole through Central Expressway to support a hiking/biking trail connecting similar developments on both sides of Central, but those hulking freeways will forever be a barrier to tight integration north and west. I'm afraid that resistance by nature lovers to the south (like my former self) and homeowners to the southeast will lead to the TOD being walled off on its other sides, too. The TOD may be big enough to survive these walls, but to be a catalyst for reinvention of a greater Richardson, the TOD needs to be integrated with its neighbors, not walled off from them.

And that brings me back to that strip of undeveloped land south of Renner Road. As beautiful as that land is today, something needs to be done to integrate it with the promising new development to the north across Renner Road and with the Spring Creek Nature Area to its south. I see now that it must be developed. Done right, it will enhance both. Done wrong, if we end up a strip of town homes on the north side of Renner facing a strip of small office buildings on the south, everybody loses. It all depends on just how that little strip of land is developed.

My dream of a greater Spring Creek Nature Area may be over. My dream of a greater Richardson isn't.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

Never mind. Reset. Don't develop that land on the south side of Renner Rd. This old post is in need of updating because of this: Richardson to expand Spring Creek Nature Area. Good move, Richardson.