Renderings courtesy of Better Block Foundation.
Additional reporting by Sally Wamre.
For a few weeks in October and November, the parking lot of Forest Audelia Village will transform into a park exploring a long-term vision for the space.
Project Safe Neighborhood is funding the demonstration featuring daily fitness classes, cultural music, food, drinks and resource-based initiatives such as pop-up clinics and homework help.
During the past few months, the Oak Cliff-based Better Block Foundation solicited input from residents and community leaders to determine how the project should be developed.
“I think some people are still wondering how to use a space like this. And that’s sort of what this one-month demonstration is for, testing a lot of different things,” says Kristin Leiber, Better Block’s senior project manager. “This is just version one in a multi-step iteration. We will see several park life cycles here.”
Better Block’s goal is to brainstorm and execute temporary spaces throughout Dallas that encourage neighbors to rethink how places can be defined and empower them to make changes of their own in the future.
Forest Audelia Village is a central point in the neighborhood, where many diverse communities converge: apartment complexes, single-family residences, a refugee population and low-income housing.
“This park is an opportunity for people of different cultures to coexist in a meaningful way,” Leiber says.
Each activity fits into the roughly 50-by-70-foot temporary park space. Within that area is a basketball court; open green space with shade, lights and seating; and a children’s play area with play blocks and rubber play tiles. A pedestrian track lines the perimeter, and a crosswalk connects the demonstration to the surrounding shopping center.
One supporter of the Better Block project is Jamie Coleman, the pastor of Nexus Community Church, which serves more than 100 families in the neighborhood’s refugee and immigrant populations. Coleman says the park will help newcomers learn about life in the United States and share their cultures with the community.
“Refugees who manage to escape unthinkable violence in their home countries don’t want to encounter the same things in their new backyards,” Coleman says. “Who wants that? This park is intended to reframe others’ perspective about what this space can be, and this is the first step.”
Jake Finch is a single-family homeowner and five-year resident of the Woodbridge subdivision at Forest and Audelia, where he lives with his wife and their four children.
“This intersection has been riddled with crime for quite some time, and neighbors agree that we want to create an area where all families can utilize a park and feel safe,” he says.
Finch thinks the project can help people see the space in a new light.
“My hope is this park will spark a sense of community, where currently there isn’t one. Once that happens, there will be a collective sense of ownership, and crime will go away.”
The length of this project is different from some of Better Block’s earlier works, where activation and building took less than two weeks.
“I think we’re seeing the benefits of longer, more measured approaches, where we’re able to gather some more statistics that are meaningful, work with partnerships longer-term and then really turn things over after we leave so that they can kind of keep that good work going,” Leiber says.
This has proven true with Better Block’s MLK Food Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in southeast Dallas, which remains an active food park after its temporary installation this spring.
The pop-up park is a move in the right direction for the historically troubled neighborhood, says block captain Denita Jones who has lived there four years.
“We’re often left out of the conversation, and we’re also left out of economic development,” she says. “It’s important for people to feel included in things, to bring the community here and let the community have something to be proud of.”
In Jones’ eyes, it’s also about making clear both sides of I-635 are part of Lake Highlands. The Lake Highlands Area Moms Against Racism, a group she runs and helped create, plans to host its weekly meetings at Forest Audelia Village while the demonstration is up.
Neighbors can see and schedule events on Better Block’s webpage dedicated to The Park at Forest-Audelia. Setup began Oct. 11.
“Neighbors can help with light carpentry, installing lighting and community gardening, down to smaller jobs like opening boxes and painting by numbers,” Leiber says.
The park will host two or three activities weekdays and 10-15 events daily on weekends. The temporary park is scheduled to be torn down Nov. 14.