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April 13, 2020
As relative newcomers to Fair Park, where we will manage the development of a 14-acre public park, we had to begin by understanding the meaning of this land for the community. What has it meant to them in the past and present, and how will it benefit them in the future?
Understanding that everything we do must reflect us being good neighbors. Building trust is essential for many reasons but especially here because of the history of South Dallas. Finding solutions with the community and businesses, not for them, will be one way to prove that this promise will be kept.
Among the most egregious piece of Fair Park history for African Americans is the uprooting of hundreds of families to make way for parking lots. People need to be more understandably apprehensive about the project, what it might bring, and how it might affect the local ecosystem and economy. “It’s important to be sensitive and act in good faith when making new relationships in any community, but in this case, we must establish trust and a good rapport. That we do what we say we’re going to do.”
As part of that effort, we are looking at how to support and include local business owners throughout the construction process. We have gotten out to talk to restaurant owners and merchants to understand what hurdles they will face and how we can alleviate that. “We want people to feel a sense of ownership; this is their park. And we want to keep resources going into the local economy. We’re looking at how to sponsor worker lunches from neighborhood spots, as well as highlighting businesses and student artwork on the construction fence.
The team is also planning to create a kind of pre-park area at one corner of the site – a public space with benches, swings, and vendors – so people can gather and get used to the feeling of the location as a park.
“All that said, maybe the most important thing we’re doing to get to know the community is listening,” said Maricarmen Tamez Community and Citizenship Director, referring to a series of planned town hall meetings, both before and during the construction process, at which the team will hear community concerns. “The critical thing will be making sure you hear people. We are not just holding meetings to say we did but to listen. And then, to prove that we are trustworthy by responding in real ways to what we hear.”