Essays - Spring 2019

At Play in the Fields of the Bored

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America’s newest city parks are chock-full of things to do—but what happened to the delights of idle time in a natural setting?

By John King | March 4, 2019
Klyde Warren Park was partly a response to Boeing's snub of Dallas in 2001. Now, the city has the "vibrant downtown atmosphere" lacking before. (iStock)

It’s a typical weekday morning at Klyde Warren Park, a five-acre rectangle on the edge of Dallas’s arts district. Two teenage girls play Jenga on the grass while a middle-aged woman reads a copy of Bon Appétit. Elementary-school children on a field trip let off steam in a playground as people begin queuing up at the food trucks—by noon, the lines will extend from the sidewalk through beds of maiden grass and Texas sage. Near the milkweed garden that attracts migrating monarch butterflies, construction workers nab a table. On the more crowded of the park’s two lawns, people take selfies, with Dallas’s downtown towers rising behind them; on the quieter green, a woman lies on her back, enjoying her solitude and the still-cool sun. The scene is so picturesque, so quietly alive, that nobody seems to pay attention to one incongruous feature: the eight-lane freeway with gridlocked traffic that dips below the park on its eastern edge, emerging on the other side and receding westward.

Klyde Warren Park, constructed over a recessed stretch of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, is a source of civic pride, a weekend magnet for residents from throughout the region, and a marketing hook used to lure residents to the glass condominium towers nearby. But in a broader sense, it is emblematic of the kind of public space favored by American cities at the moment—meticulously designed and programmed, city owned but privately funded and maintained, with an ever-changing array of carefully curated experiences. At Klyde Warren, you can play pétanque or croquet, laser tag or chess. You can practice your putting or take a ballroom dance class. No need to bring your own Jenga blocks; they can be checked out from the well-stocked Reading and Games Room. Public spaces such as this—picturesque destinations with plenty to offer and little left to chance—are made for the Instagram age. If they enrich public life in an era when the competition for resources is intense, they’re also oddly suited to an American culture in which the unknown is increasingly feared, and being aimless is the biggest sin of all.

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