Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Paved A Way: Boulevards and Parks

Amazon

On a national scale, Dallas is only average in terms of providing residents with access to parks. But the goal has been on the minds of Dallas city officials for more than a century. In 1910, the city brought landscape architect George Kessler to Dallas. The journey from George Kessler's vision to today's reality hasn't been a smooth path.

I'm reading "Paved A Way: Infrastructure, Policy and Racism in an American City" by Collin Yarbrough. The city is Dallas, Texas. I'm blogging as I go, using whatever parts of the book catch my attention. Today, we look at how infrastucture development finds a way to target Black and poor communities.


In his report released in 1912, Kessler noted Dallas struggled from the difficulties of expansion with "no apparent thought having been given in the interim to the needs of the increasing population." He further highlights the physical boundaries choking and directing growth in Dallas: the Trinity River to the west, the Texas & Pacific (T&P) railroad to the north, rail yards to the south, and the H&TC railroad to the east.
Paved A Way

There you have it. That noose of freeways strangling downtown Dallas today had its genesis in a noose of railroads choking downtown Dallas a century ago, before the growth of automobiles was even possible to imagine. The railroad tracks eventually gave way to concrete. Because cars didn't have the carrying capacity of trains, the highways required ever more lanes, ever widening, making the chokehold ever tighter. That's not the way George Kessler envisioned it in 1911.

One other hallmark of Kessler’s 1911 plan was the comprehensive boulevard and parks system. These boulevards were designed to link together a comprehensive parks system. Kessler relayed that "if the majority of people are to have the full benefit of outdoor recreation, parks and playgrounds must be provided within easy walking distance of their homes." Access to outdoor space was a novel idea at the time and is still a battleground issue in major metropolitan areas today.
Paved A Way

One of Kessler's envisioned boulevards was Central Boulevard. By 1925 his vision was updated to do something more than just provide access to parks.

"This plan would make [Central] one of the finest in the United States, and property now utilized for cheap industrial purposes or negro residential districts would be changed into high-class apartment and retail business districts."
Paved A Way

It would take nearly a century, long enough to make it seem, not planned, but a natural evolution, but those "negro residential districts" eventually gave way to Uptown.

Entering the 2000s, Uptown looked much as it does today with wall-to-wall condominiums and apartments and a demographic makeup of predominantly middle- and upper-class White people.
Paved A Way

In 1925 the eventual voracious appetite of the automobile wasn't entirely understood or appreciated. The plan for a Central Boulevard would morph into the reality of Central Expressway.

High demand and usage of automobiles fueled a road building boom in the mid-twentieth century, placing the value of automobiles over most anything else in roadway designs.
...
The new expressway design called for three twelve-foot main lanes and frontage roads in either direction as you got closer to downtown and two lanes in either direction further north. This design stood in stark contrast to the tree-lined and pedestrian-focused boulevard Kessler originally envisioned for Dallas.
...
Once the actual highway was complete, children had to walk under the Hall Street overpass, or attempt crossing six lanes of highway and four lanes of frontage roads in morning traffic in order to get to school. Businesses once occupying Hall Street were either eliminated in the construction or hampered from further development. It was a far cry from the connected roadway and park system Kessler had proposed nearly forty years earlier. The dream of meandering parks and roads gave way to the priorities of the automobile, and communities in the path bore the majority of the losses associated with that progress.
Paved A Way

We'll turn to Yarbrough's account of the effect that this road-building would have on one specific part of the North Dallas community, Freedman's Cemetery, in our next installment.


Other excerpts:
Paved A Way: "Dallas Doesn't Give a Damn About its History"
Paved A Way: Extermination as Government Policy
Paved A Way: The Battle of Village Creek
Paved A Way: Redlining

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