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What do elections have to do with parks? Everything.

Sun between branches on a crisp winter's day at the Frasier Dam Recreational Are in Northwest Dallas.
Frasier Dam Recreational Area

We might think that a judge here or a council member there won't make a difference. We might also think that an elected representative is looking out for us when they say what we want to hear, but in fact might wind up voting against our community's best interest on ideological grounds. So whom do you vote for when it comes time to do your civic duty? Try starting with questions about your parks. They won't expect that.

While our chief focus is on Bachman Lake Park and the surrounding communities, the dynamic between parks, policies and people is the same no matter where it is. Bachman Lake Park straddles three key City districts. Districts 2, 6 and 13 are as diverse as it gets, each one with its unique challenges and priorities. What's common about them is the fact that the park, lake and trails unify the area. They vitalize nearby communities that actually intersect – and interact – at the park itself. How your leadership views your community through its parks will tell you much about how they value their roles as your representative.

Park Diplomacy

Do they care about how clean the park is? Do they fight for adequate funding, not only for maintenance and safety, but for the park's future in the face of changing climate, population growth and development? Do they allow for business interests to encroach on the green spaces of their constituents without question, or do they take a community-first approach to promote a healthy population that thrives in a mutually beneficial economic climate?

Dollars are finite. In many cases, so are the terms our leaders serve. But how our elected officials treat our parks should guide you well as to how they will treat your community and people in general. Parks might not always be first on the list. Public safety, streets, schools, sanitation, economic policies come to mind, but parks should always be included in any priorities list.

We're fortunate to currently have three Dallas City Council Members who have looked at Bachman Lake Park and the residents around it and said: "this matters". Imagine one – just one – who would vote against you and Bachman Lake Park and send a key agenda item to its grave. This is what's at stake when we decide to sit out just one election. There's always a reason to vote and if you want to have a good idea about what candidates value, ask about the parks.

In 2013, former council member Monica Alonzo appeared poised to allow green space to be used for gas drilling facilities in northwest Dallas near a golf course and on park land. At neighborhood association meetings with her constituents she repeatedly gave statements that seemed non-committal at best when pressed for her position. Part of the hesitation stemmed from the threat of a lawsuit from Trinity East Energy which claimed it had entered into an agreement with the city for the permits. Residents were overwhelmingly opposed to any company using city park land for drilling activity, and her inability to assure residents that she was a firm "no" left them uneasy.

At one of the later meetings in her series of visits, a local resident pressed on and demanded an answer right then and there. The council member relented, stated her opposition publicly, and eventually voted no on the permits. Incidentally, Mayor Rawlings was in favor of approving the permits to avoid the lawsuit, hedging his bets that natural gas prices would remain very low, thus making the proposition of drilling cost-prohibitive. Though this vote might have sustained her through the next election cycle, Council Member Alonzo eventually lost re-election years later due to several factors, including a slew of new candidates vying for change. For many residents, the lack of a firm commitment to protecting park land when it counted years earlier left a bitter taste.

Dallas City Hall and Foreground
Dallas City Hall
Is this seat taken ... by someone who cares?

This is hugely important: Some of our Bachman area Council Members currently serve on key committees like Transportation and Economic Development. They regularly face key decisions that range from permitting a corner gas station on park property to considering a dramatic change in neighborhood traffic and the park's appeal if a new Love Field entrance is green-lit. Perhaps most timely for Bachman Lake Park and its communities, all three Council Members from the districts that border Bachman Lake are currently members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – Chairperson Omar Narvaez (District 6), Gay Donnell-Willis (District 13) and Jesse Moreno (District 2).

But beyond City Council, we have state and federal representatives who can bring tax dollars to our communities if they vote to do so when the opportunities arise. Unfortunately, if they don't hear from you, some could be swept up by partisan fervor that could work against your community's best interest. The recent infrastructure package passed by Congress has billions coming to Texas, but who gets to say where that money is going to go?

Pay attention to what they do, not just what they say.

State representatives need to hear from you directly. Recently, on a virtual town hall call, State Representative Rafael Anchia touted the money he fought for in a bi-partisan fashion to secure a $300M investment in Fair Park. This could be transformative for the park which is not only at the crossroads of several communities of varying economic means, but of Dallas history itself.

Why a park? Because it matters more than you realize. A park is the ultimate place to publicly share a unifying, positive experience. We need to make it a habit of asking our elected officials and prospective candidates if our parks will be extensions of the good a healthy community brings, or just a means to an end for non-community interests. Will parks be the places to play, relax and unite, or will they be turned into parking lots for misguided endeavors? How our leaders treat our green spaces will likely say a lot about how they will treat you.

Friends of Bachman Lake met with State Representative Anchia late last year as part of a gathering with various regional stakeholders including the Texas

Department of Transportation (TXDOT) and the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). Trust us when we say that we had his attention when we asked him to help secure funds to make sure that initiatives like the Bachman Area Planing Study bring great benefits to our community.

Your representatives should be accessible. Reach out to them. If they ignore you, pay attention to that as well.

As of this post, primary season is winding down in Texas, but the rhetoric is just getting started for the elections to come. Many well-known races have flooded the airwaves with all kinds of doubling-down on whatever sound bite they think will make people's ears perk up. Some are downright cringeworthy, others somewhat comical. What's not funny is that turnout for these primaries is frighteningly low with only 1.4 million of 17 million registered having voted entering the final week of early voting, according to local news sources.

Regardless of party, people concerned about the quality of life in their communities, especially when it comes to environmental and physical health and safety, need to pay attention to what their politicians do, not what they promise. Never sit out an election if you can help it because who sits in those key seats in your city, state or in Washington always matters. Not sure who's on your side? Ask them about your parks.



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