Conservancy as a way of looking to the future

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The Trinity River Conservancy

   "Thirty years ago, in 1990, I made the journey west to Texas. I had just finished my Masters Thesis at MIT on Fredrick Law Olmsted and how his three major urban parks; Central Park (New York), The Back Bay and Fens (Boston), and Rock Creek Park (Washington) influenced the development of the cities surrounding them. I then extended the theory to the riparian corridors around the first industrial airport in the world at the time, Alliance in Fort Worth, Texas. Alliance evolved to become one of the greatest public-private partnerships in history, but the idea of the riparian corridors of Elizabeth and Henrietta Creeks has been largely forgotten, until now.

   Thanks to the cajoling of Ross Perot, Jr. who asked me why we never got around to doing anything with my Thesis project, I went back to the foundational idea of open space and its impact on the urbanization patterns. With the benefit of thirty years of roaming the country and the world, the idea is still valid, it has just gotten larger to address a more pressing need. 

   Working with Isaac Manning, Jr., we began a mapping exploration to see what the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex would look like if all of the region’s flood plain were converted to productive open space? The answer was staggering. There are over 712,000 acres of flood plain within the Trinity River area. Let’s put that number in perspective. Rhode Island is 668,800 acres of land. The legendary King Ranch is 825,000 acres and the Big Bend National Park is 801,163 acres. The largest open space systems in the world are nowhere near those numbers. Anchorage (10,946 acres of municipal land including the 495,000 acres within Chugach State Park) Cape Town (12,355 acres of municipal land including the 54,400 acres of Table Mountain National Park) El Paso (3,000acre open space including the 27,000a Franklin Mountain State Park) For clarity we are talking about urban open space systems. There would literally be nothing like it in the world.

   What becomes readily apparent from the mapping is that the six sub-basins of the Trinity River connect virtually every community in existence today, and ultimately all of the communities to come. The Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex has a current population of 7.5 million people. That number is expected to rise to 11.6 million people by the year 2050. What if the flood plain as open space was used as the future organizing principle to direct that future growth? What would our future development patterns and infrastructure investments look like? From the founding of Dallas and Fort Worth, the river is the reason that we are here. What if it continued to become the reason people keep coming.

   As someone who has spent the majority of my outdoor time on the Trinity, I can attest to the power of the river as a place to gather or to get away from everyone. The Trust for Public Land has a couple of metrics that they apply to communities for walkability to parks or open space. A nine-minute walk or roughly 1,600 feet is considered walkable. That metric applied to the flood plain boundaries of the Trinity River means that 40% of the entire region would be walkable. If the distance is extended to a half-mile, the percentage of walkability expands to over 65%. Those are staggering numbers for the quality of life of our current and future residents.

   The idea behind the Conservancy is inspired by Betsy Barlow Rogers’s work in New York with the Central Park Conservancy. The CPC is one of the great public-private partnerships around parks, their preservation, maintenance and ongoing utilization as public infrastructure. How the Central Park Conservancy translates to a Trinity River Conservancy has yet to be determined. What we do know is that in the year 2020, we have a window to create something that will give our community an asset unparalleled in the world. As audacious, complicated and multi-generational as this effort sounds and will be, it is a legacy worth the effort. 

   The Conservancy’s role will evolve over time. At the beginning of this journey, it will be a convener and champion of an idea. As the idea becomes a reality, it will seek to bring the public and private sectors together to execute the idea. It has been said that we don’t care whether the acreage of flood plain is owned, zoned or conserved, as long as it is preserved in some fashion for future generations of North Texans.

I will close with a quotation from a renowned big thinker and doer, Winston Churchill. [Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.] "

- Isaac Manning Sr.

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