creating value, building community at a tiny scale
As increasingly more people flock to cities to live and work, the presence of usable open space in our urban cores is as important as ever. The ability to relax in a green setting amid dense urbanity is invaluable — no matter the particular scale of the green space. In Fort Worth’s Near Southside — a 1,400-acre district south of downtown with a heavy industrial aesthetic characterized by its historic identity as Fort Worth’s garment district — urban renewal is ubiquitous, and two intimate urban parks are key drivers in spurring local business growth and helping to improve quality of life for locals.
The City of Fort Worth recently revised its Park Master Plan to recognize parkland encompassing 1 acre or less — a designation classified as “urban parks” — and these two Near Southside parks, each of which is slightly larger than 1/3 acre in size, are the first ones being developed under this framework. Also known as South Main Village, Near Southside is undergoing significant revitalization efforts, as the local non-profit organization Near Southside, Inc., has been an active steward of renewal for this urban village, facilitating partnerships between city staff, private developers and community members to foster impactful results for redevelopment through the creative use of TIF funding.
Currently under construction, the parks are being created, along with a large multifamily project and infrastructure improvements, from a derelict piece of land purchased by a developer. The redevelopment plan for the area utilizes roadway and alley improvements to create better neighborhood connectivity and to provide the framework for the two small urban parks to serve as the living room for the surrounding local entrepreneurs, residents and visitors to the area. The parks will provide valuable green space in addition to creating connections to and an amenity for both new development in the area as well as the historic buildings finding new life.
The design of these two public realm spaces began by engaging the neighborhood to shape the program, and then aesthetic aspects were developed based on the industrial character and nature of the neighborhood. Community participation in a design charrette and public meetings highlighted local desires for community gathering spaces and usable flex space, knitting the community together, and honoring the local artists and heritage of Near Southside.
The long, narrow park — now known as “The Skinny” — creates the park setting for existing residences and restaurants as well as a new apartment project fronting the park from the east. The park includes an accessible boardwalk with integrated pavilions and seating, multipurpose lawn, environmental graphics, limestone quarry blocks to define spaces and provide extra seating, and adjacent alley improvements. It provides an event venue that is well-suited to accommodate concerts, markets and flexible programming, and its curb-less condition allows it to flex out into the street for additional space if needed.
The Skinny is simple in its programming — flexibility being the key program characteristic — and its materiality, details and aesthetics are inspired by the neighborhood context. Subtle details pay homage to the industrial character of the former garment district, like the addition of tick marks sand blasted into the alley pavement that allude to a ruler or tape measure. An elevated walkway utilizes a zipper-like design that zig zags back and forth, connecting the park and the adjacent pedestrian promenade, while metalwork on some of the pavilions’ railings is a woven mesh, almost garment-like form. In addition, all of the parks’ furniture will be custom designed and made locally in the neighborhood by Brother Sister Design. The team at Brother Sister Design will also fabricate all the parks’ environmental graphic elements, which were designed by TBG.
The simplicity of the space underscores the importance of providing flexible outdoor realm in our dense urban neighborhoods — and simultaneously showcases the economic value of providing such spaces. The presence of inviting parkland draws new businesses and residents to the area. In the case of The Skinny, a new brewery and café, Funky Picnic, is being constructed that will allow patrons to enjoy the venue’s local cuisine and treats in the park.
“The Skinny plays a huge part in our location and marketing choices!” Funky Picnic co-founder Samantha Glenn said. “Once we heard about the Skinny, we were even more excited to sign our lease at 401 Bryan Avenue. We are focused on bringing the outdoors into our space, as well as finding ways to bring Funky Picnic to the outdoors. The Skinny is a perfect location within walking distance where kids, dogs and parents can run around and relax in the Texas sunshine while enjoying Funky Picnic food and beer.”
Local developer Jesse Stamper, who owns many properties around the neighborhood, recognizes the value of public open space and shared that The Skinny has influenced some of his tenants in choosing to set up in South Main Village.
“The addition of the park certainly had a positive influence on our tenants’ decision to choose this location,” Stamper said. “The opportunity to dovetail commercial spaces with public space is seen as valuable to potential tenants. The visible activity taking place in these outdoor spaces is both a draw for the business but, likewise, a compelling advertisement for the livability and safety of the neighborhood as a whole.”
Notably, there’s also missing-middle housing currently being constructed in close proximity to the parks. With many urban infill projects, the amount of land available for use as open space is often minimal in size, constrained by difficult infrastructure aspects or confounded by similar challenges. It’s important to recognize that contemporary parks — particularly in urban environments — don’t require vast acreage or traditional program elements. Flexibility and contextual design are integral to the success of an open space — and can have dramatic impacts for nearby businesses and real estate endeavors as well as, most importantly, quality of life for those who enjoy the neighborhood — in spite of scale or acreage.