The motto for Dallas’s planned Southern Gateway Public Green is a “A Park with a Purpose.” The forthcoming freeway capping park will span over Interstate 35E, a highway constructed in the 1950s that rips through the neighborhood of Oak Cliff, with the intention to reconnect the separated neighborhoods and harbor a renewed sense of community. Construction on the first phase of the park, designed by SWA Group and HKS, is now progressing, with a massive concrete deck now in place over Interstate 35 that will hold the park. The first phase of the park centers on a 2.8 acre swath of land that is one component of a larger five acre development, and a completed $666 million highway reconstruction project known as the Southern Gateway Project.
The massive infrastructure project involved widening the lanes on a stretch of the Interstate in an effort to reduce traffic congestion while improving safety and mobility. Work on the highway project completed late last year, the next step is the adding the green space component.
The park’s realization is the work of the Southern Gateway Public Green Foundation, who oversees the public-private partnership between the city of Dallas, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which is funded through private donors and a combination of federal, state, and local grants.
“Southern Gateway Public Green sits at a nexus of opportunity, creating a park to bridge a freeway and unite a once-divided community,” said Chuck Daniel, Dallas Managing principal and lead SWA designer, in a press release. “The impediment to downtown access is being addressed, as are community concerns about housing and gentrification, as part of the master plan for Oak Cliff. This is a win-win for the local community and for Dallas as a whole. The City is setting a new precedent for green space and connectivity where none previously existed.”
Similar to SWA’s previous work with Riverside Park South on Manhattan’s west side and Park 101 in Los Angeles, Southern Gateway Public Green will consist of a raised pedestrian walkway, a playground, and spaces for dining, retail, and performances. These park amenities were informed by public feedback. In addition to outdoor recreational spaces, the park will house educational exhibits to inform visitors on the history of the Oak Cliff neighborhood.
A defining feature of the park scheme is the endeavor to create a topographically diverse landscape new to Dallas. A cliff-like base for the pedestrian walkway and a series of gradual steps will bring physical dimension to the site; these geological elements will be augmented by native plantings and various iterations of stone pavers. Other proposed public amenities include a covered bandshell for hosting performances, which could also double as an event or dining venue.
With improved pedestrian access the divided North and South Oak Cliff neighborhoods will be “re-stitched.” Developers with plans to bring more residential and retail opportunities to the area have already swooped in and expressed intentions, concerning some local residents.
As a cap park, Southern Gateway Public Green follows other cities around the U.S. addressing the divide caused by midcentury highway infrastructure projects by inserting park space. Elsewhere in Dallas, Klyde Warren Park spans the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, and Pittsburgh recently completed its own version with Frankie Pace Park.
Progress on the Southern Gateway Public Green is underway with the first deck completed by TxDOT, and Phase 1 of the park slated to open in 2024. A federal omnibus bill totaling $7.75 million will be used for the second phase, which could begin construction as early as June.