Dallas creates a plan to restore its park system
The Dallas Park and Recreation Department has created a long-range development plan for maintaining and improving facilities at the city’s 424 parks. To track progress on the plan, department staff will use a specially designed database of facility conditions and assets.
In the 1980s, Dallas had a park system ranked among the nation’s best. Years of budget cutbacks took their toll, however, resulting in far more demands on the system than the city could keep up with.
Realizing it needed to restore its system’s facilities, the department turned to the Dallas office of Carter & Burgess to develop a revitalization plan. The resulting blueprint calls for prioritizing and managing facility improvements, as well as generating support for the system among residents, businesses and user groups.
Several methods were used to establish the system’s needs, including surveys of residents, public focus groups, department staff focus groups, stakeholder meetings and public forums. The consultants then assessed the facilities, noting details about each park — from a broken swing set to overgrown foliage that obstructed walking paths. They also examined traffic patterns in and around facilities.
The initial assessment revealed the city’s parks and recreation facilities required $1.8 billion in improvements, which fell into three levels:
determining the necessary investment to bring the existing park infrastructure up to current standards;
expanding and enhancing facilities, improving operations and maintenance and creating new elements to address current needs; and
adding new facilities that the community needs such as sports complexes, multi-generational recreation centers and a regional trail network.
With so much work needed to restore the parks, the city staff had to find a way to rank and prioritize projects. Working with the consultants, the city created a database to record the assessment of its parks and to help run inventory operations. Known as the Dallas Park Inventory Database System, (PIDS) the application is a unique tool for an urban park system in the United States.
PIDS helps coordinate the planning and programming of parks according to demographics, trends and available space; streamlines maintenance and creates a preventative maintenance program; and allows parks to direct staff to specific projects.
“A Renaissance Plan for Dallas Parks and Recreation in the 21st Century” outlines a 20-year approach to restore the park system. It addresses the physical facilities of the department and its recreational programs.
Studying the Dallas parks and recreation systems has helped make the case for improvements, says Eddie Hueston, executive general manager of Dallas’ Fair Park and the city’s co-project director for the Renaissance Plan. “The result was a document and a system that could justify to officials how badly funds were needed,” he says. The process also aligned the two political bodies that determine the fate of the city’s parks: the City Council and the Dallas Park and Recreation Board, Hueston adds.
Paul Dyer, director of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, notes that the plan helped focus the city’s various resident constituencies. “The challenge was to get them all together, speaking as one voice,” Dyer says. Now that the plan exists, “I think you’re going to see a big change.”
Willis Winters, the assistant director for planning, design and construction, says developing a capital improvement plan now can be accomplished in a fraction of the time with the PIDS system. “What once took us five to six weeks can now be completed in two to three days,” he says.
As far as convincing city leaders to spend money, “The park inventory told the council and the park board that the problem is bigger than we imagined, [and that], if we really want to fix the system, we need to start investing the necessary resources,” Dyer says.
At the same time, the city also learned that strategic planning can identify sources of funds, such as state and federal grants, that minimize the need for taxes or bond issues. The plan has helped the city strategize “a whole new possibility of funding that just had not existed before,” Hueston says. “It repositions our department to not be as dependent on only the success or failure of a municipal bond referendum.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Renaissance Plan has unified the Dallas Park and Recreation Department itself. “It has given us a new vision and direction that hasn’t existed for quite a few years,” Hueston says. “Even though we are in the first year of implementation, I see a new spirit in the eyes of our staff — a new hope and a new solidarity.”