Monday, May 10, 2010

Reader Feedback - Woodall Rogers and Parks as Catalysts

After posting the discussion of Woodall Rogers Deck Park and Lessons on Return on Investment as catalyst for change or as cherry on top of an unmade sundae, I received this email from Brandon Hancock of GreenShoots Real Estate (published with permission):
Although I’m a fan of the “park” for connectivity reasons (although, as you pointed out it may be more a visual connection than a walkable/bikeable connection), I completely agree with you on the ROI side of the equation. I believe a few projects bordering Woodall delivered faster b/c of the promise of the park, but I absolutely 100% believe the development would have happened without the park due to the location of the land (Uptown to the North and Arts District to the South).

I think an interesting case study would be Discovery Green in Downtown Houston. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the park or Downtown Houston, but numerous government entities had invested close to a $1 billion in the East side of downtown to spur investment. First it was Minute Maid Park at a cost of $250 million in 2000. Then it was the $150 million convention center expansion in 2002, the $200 million Toyota Center and the $285 million convention center hotel in ’03. For all of that investment the city received a private sector investment in new or redeveloped properties of I’m guessing well under $100 million. The only development that occurred in the immediate vicinity of the new projects was a smallish boutique hotel across from the ballpark and the requisite sports bars surrounding the ballpark (although nothing that would sustain a healthy nightlife).

Since the 12 acre, $125 million Park was announced and after its subsequent opening in 2008, there has been numerous private sector developments built on the perimeter of the park. Two new office buildings, Houston’s first new ground up residential tower in decades (with a grocery store), and a hotel are all under construction or have been completed. Combined there is over $1 billion+ in new private sector development that can be directly attributed to a well programmed urban park. That is almost a direct inverse of the ROI generated by the public sector investments earlier in the past decade. And all this is happening in Houston, not exactly known as Portland when it comes to livability and outdoor activities.

I feel a well-funded public/private investment in a park similar to Houston’s Discovery Green in a depressed area of Downtown Dallas would do wonders for livability and investment in the downtown core. My vote would be for an area east of the convention center and south of city hall. If they eventually cap 30, that opens up the Cedars which in my opinion is the greatest chance we have for a close-in mixed income residential neighborhood in Dallas.


This is precisely the point I was implying. In a recent tweet, I stated that authentic places are always demand driven. So what does this mean for parks? Are they cherries on top or catalysts for change? Chemical reactions don't start on their own.

Following the logic of demand-driven places, parks can be both. If a City decides that it wishes or needs a certain portion of town to revitalize, become safe, attract investment, then a new park can enhance the livability that is lacking, the reason for disinvestment. However, a park alone is rarely enough. It has to be one part of the plan including changes to the transportation network, typically to improve the "green infrastructure" or walkable/bikable access to the park, and possibly even financial incentives to reverse momentum in an area.

On the other hand, a park can be the finishing touch on a neighborhood, the cherry on top so to speak. This is also demand driven. If enough people agglomerate around one magnet that the distance, scale, or density of the new development creates the demand for an additional park or amenity closer to the recent development. This will create a new sub-center (or altogether new center of gravity) for the neighborhood. Does it become an entirely new neighborhood or a hierarchical place within the existing one is a place specific question.

So is Woodall Rogers a catalyst for change or a cherry on top? The answer is that it is (ought to be) a little bit of both. The new density requires some reasonable greenspace because the transportation network is unwalkable. AND, because the transportation network in the area is so bad, that the park can be the catalyst for transforming it into one that is more walkable, livable.