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Head Of Trinity Park Imagines Space That Connects Dallas On 'Both Sides Of Our River'

For someone seeing downtown Dallas for the first time, it's hard to believe: a half-mile-wide swath of open land, almost in the shadows of the skyscrapers. And yet, Dallas has never figured out what to do with this massive green space.

Trinity Park Conservancy CEO Brent Brown is the person charged with developing what’s been dubbed Harold Simmons Park, after the oilman whose estate donated $50 million to the project.

Brown envisions a 200-acre park that would reach from the Margaret McDermott Bridge, which carries Interstate 30 across the Trinity River to the south, to the Ronald Kirk Bridge, the old Continental Avenue crossing to the north.

For this week's Friday Conversation, KERA caught up with Brown next to the river, beneath the Commerce Street bridge, in the middle of what he aims to make one of the country's largest urban parks.

Interview Highlights

On the possibility of a Trinity river park

The dream has always been for the Trinity to be the place where we come together, that we have equitable development on both sides of our river. Something that when you wake up, you think about as part of our culture, a place that anybody can feel welcome. And it's big enough where we can really come together.

Now, this river, we have been at war with it; it's been at war with us, too.

The flood control piece of the floodway is essential to safety in our city, so everything we do has to respect that and to make certain that the floodway works — for storm water management — while layering in ecological and recreational benefits. 

On what will happen to the park when it floods

It's a moment where we can stand on bridges, stand on levees and watch the river. It's a learning opportunity. It sort of helps us all feel how small we are. I think you have to be honest about the fact and understand it's going to flood. So, don't put things in the floodway that don't want to flood — and make that functional balance work. 

On the Trinity River's history of being a racial dividing line in Dallas

We need to deliberately capture the stories about the histories, the places and people. We need to be a stalwart of championing that this isn't new. We're evolving our city. That's what cities do — they change.

We've got to build it off the foundation, and the foundation of the past of the people that built and moved the river, which were mostly Mexican-Americans and African-Americans, so how do we honor that? Whether that's a physical place or symbolism through other forms of design, or it's having ongoing programs about cultural awareness and expression through art and experience.

We've got to acknowledge it, and we can't forget because if we do, we're destined to build a city that won't be successful and won't work.  

Interview responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Gus Contreras is a digital producer and reporter at KERA News. Gus produces the local All Things Considered segment and reports on a variety of topics from, sports to immigration. He was an intern and production assistant for All Things Considered in Washington D.C.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.