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Honoring a Wilding Pioneer
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Honoring a Wilding Pioneer

The former 12th Street Connector will be demolished to make way for Kevin W. Sloan Park in the Oak Cliff neighborhood in south Dallas. Image courtesy of Kevin Sloan Studios.

The city of Dallas will turn a stretch of pavement into a new park and name it after a local landscape architect, Kevin Sloane, whose mission was to rewild the world’s cities. Sloane recently passed away at his home Oct. 27, after a long battle with cancer, but his legacy of “wilding” urban spaces will live on.

By Marshall Hinsley

The four-lane roadway, known as the Jefferson 12th Street Connector, was built in the late 1960s. The road diagonally divided the Winnetka Heights area of Oak Cliff through which it ran. Always a sore spot with the local residents, the now-closed road will be broken up and hauled off to make way for Kevin W. Sloan Park.

Kevin Sloan is a Dallas-based architect and principal of Kevin Sloan Studio in Oak Cliff. He and his wife, Diane, are also Winnetka Heights residents. They joined with their neighbors to bring about the green space conversion of what local residents deemed a dangerous boulevard and a drag on property value. The conversion was also a chance for Sloan to use his expertise for the benefit of the neighborhood and design a green space that followed the wish-list of his neighbors.

FROM PARKWAY TO PARK

Now in the footprint of the former roadway that ran a half-dozen blocks long, a neighborhood street will be reconnected and a series of lots will be transformed into green space, following the requests of Winnetka Heights residents.

Features will include a park, a grove of trees, open green space and a gardenesque area, says Matt Stubbs, managing principal of the Kevin Sloan Studio. Because of the city’s Request-For-Qualifications process for public works, another firm took on the project, but a push from supporters of the new green space got Sloan’s work front and center in the final plan.

The naming of the park is a fitting tribute to Sloan, who passed away at age 63. The later half of his career has emphasized the blending of urban spaces into beautiful landscapes that meet the needs of both people and wildlife in a movement coined in 1990, known as “rewilding,” says former Dallas City Council Member Angela Hunt.

“This is the perfect way to honor someone who has been focused on bringing green space and beauty and recreational opportunities to the urban landscape for four decades in our city, and someone who’s had a hand in projects in Dallas, both big and small,” Hunt says. “Kevin is someone who has a grand vision for things and we need big thinkers, but he’s also very practical and understands that at the most important level, the most important thing we can do in our city is to create green spaces in our neighborhoods.

 And so this 12th Street Connector Park, that eliminates a dangerous street that was built in the ‘60s and knits that neighborhood back together with green space, and to create this oasis — it’s just a beautiful monument to someone who has worked so hard to bring green space and the beauty of landscape design to our city.”

“This is the perfect way to honor someone who has been focused on bringing green space and beauty and recreational opportunities to the urban landscape for four decades in our city, and someone who’s had a hand in projects in Dallas, both big and small,” says former Dallas City Council Member Angela Hunt.

‘WILD’ IDEAS

Hunt first met Sloan when he proposed a plan for the Trinity River’s use, and she says she was skeptical but quickly realized that his expertise was vast as he laid out an idea of how to use the river for both recreation and a flood water conveyance system by returning its ecosystem to the way it had been for millennia.

“We had had about eight separate fully conceptualized plans for a Trinity River Park. And I thought it doesn’t make sense to conceive plan number nine. So I was a little skeptical going in to hear what Kevin’s thoughts were on what we should do with the Trinity,” Hunt recalls. “I sat down with Kevin, and first of all, he has this amazing, fun energy and intelligence. Just when you very first meet him, you can just tell he has this incredible intellect. He’s incredibly articulate and descriptive. And he has an incredible gift for explaining complex ideas to lay people. So he and I sat down and he explained his idea of rewilding the Trinity River — and that is reintroducing the flora and fauna of the Blackland Prairie.

“He explained that much of the plants that create the Blackland Prairie habitat, which is an endangered habitat by the way, can survive after flooding and can actually hold the soil in place to prevent erosion and can be the perfect type of habitat that you’d have within a flood basin that floods maybe twice a year.”

REWILDING DFW

In an interview with Green Source DFW in 2017, Sloan shared his grand vision for North Texas to be an example throughout the world of how rewilding can take shape.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area, he argued, presents an opportunity found in no other urban area to create spaces in which humans can enjoy recreation and experience the longevity-enhancing healing qualities of open spaces while giving room for bees, butterflies, birds, bats, bobcats and frogs to thrive.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area, he argued, presents an opportunity found in no other urban area to create spaces in which humans can enjoy recreation and experience the longevity-enhancing healing qualities of open spaces while giving room for bees, butterflies, birds, bats, bobcats and frogs to thrive.

This opportunity comes because of the sprawling nature by which the 13 counties that make up North Texas have developed, leading to a population density of 1.1 people per acre in 7 million acres, which is much lower than areas that we identify as rich in nature, such as Boulder, Colorado.

“You would have to move the entire existing population of Canada to Dallas to densify it to the same average human density as Boulder,” Sloan said in the interview.

“The simple arithmetic is kind of like a high school science project as it reveals that we may have overbuilt the ground plane to a point that it may be statistically impossible to urbanize and densify the entire [Dallas area] geography.

“So then the question is, if we burn the boats, now what do we do? Yes, downtowns and the nodes and intersections and cloverleafs may get denser and more walkable and like fragmentary pieces of urbanism. But what about the rest of the geography? What about the rest of the 6.5 million acres? What’s going to happen with that? And this is where rewilding emerges as a strategy. To say not every place in a city like DFW or Atlanta or Phoenix or Oklahoma City has to be like Savannah, Georgia or Boulder, Colo. or Madison, Wis. It can exist in this thinner density, as a new kind of pattern that is coexisting with nature around it.

“No longer is nature separated from the city two dimensionally by medieval walls, or other geographies. Nature is within us. It’s inside of us. And now a society can grow up with the environment, no longer intellectually at arm’s length as an abstraction. It’s something we can see in our backyard, something we can see between our houses, and something we’re aware of more consciously.”

Diane Sloan, CEO of Kevin Sloan Studio, says rewilding became a passion for Kevin Sloan after he saw its potential for not only creating beautiful spaces for people but also for its use of natural systems to solve real world problems. Among his many projects throughout the country, she cites two examples of local projects that showcase his work.

Rewilding became a passion for Kevin Sloan after he saw its potential for not only creating beautiful spaces for people but also for its use of natural systems to solve real world problems.

“He gradually started adopting rewilding principles that we try to include something in every project. If it’s a small residential project, we will suggest that they plant a large variety of native species. His Vitruvian Park project in Addison uses a lot of native plant material, and actually has a small rewilding area where there’s some reconstituted prairie,” she says. “I would think the largest one is the Airfield Falls Conservation Park in Fort Worth where we exclusively used native species. There’s a prairie grass lawn that uses habit turf that was developed by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

“And there’s also a quarter mile long butterfly walk through the woods that connects the trail to the actual falls area that’s heavily planted with flowering native plants that were specially chosen for their ability to attract pollinators. And if you haven’t been, it’s just a wonderful park — places for picnics and it’s just a nice walk back to the falls.”

Diane Sloan says Kevin Sloan gained a reputation for his many rewilding expressions. He refers to butterflies as “beautiful flying sculptures.” And he refers to the use of waterways as part of the landscape rather than channeling them underground and through culverts as “daylighting the creeks.” He also aims in his projects to make them what he called “nature-rich,” a term that’s more meaningful than what the word “sustainable” can convey.

Kevin and Diane Sloan: Photo courtesy of Diane Sloan.

“I can tell you what he wants to do. He wants to save the world,” Diane Sloan says. “David Attenborough last year released a documentary called A Life on Our Planet. And it’s basically about his life and what he’s seen happen to the earth. 

“Near the end of the documentary, he talks about things to help and he actually mentioned rewilding — that as a vaccine can save a human body, then rewilding could be the inoculation for climate change. He put it in a nutshell what Kevin has been trying to work for. 

“Rewilding changes your ambient temperature. If there’s a large enough rewilded area, it can change the climate. It has these global impacts as well as impacts on individual people and it’s a huge thing. I think that Kevin is in very good company agreeing with David Attenborough. But that has become really the emphasis of his work. He wants people to see the natural world. He wants us to rediscover it.”

“He wants people to see the natural world. He wants us to rediscover it.”

Marshall Hinsley is a writer and sustainable farmer who lives in Waxahachie. He’s written for Culture Map Dallas, Edible Dallas & Fort Worth magazine and a variety of corporate clients. On his organic farm south of Waxahachie, Hinsley specializes in controlled-environment agriculture.

This article was originally published by Green Source DFW.

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