Parks are a welcome green oasis for anyone anywhere, but they’re possibly most appreciated in concrete jungles where space and nature are at a premium.
New parks are popping up across the country on top of highways. They’re called deck parks, highway cap parks or land bridges — and they’re a huge hit.
You’ll find deck parks in Boston, Dallas, New York City and San Francisco. Parks are underway in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Denver. Other cities, such as Atlanta and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, are considering it. (See below.)
Parks built over highways aren’t brand new. Seattle has had one over Interstate 5 since 1976 and Phoenix over I-100 since 1990. But such parks have become increasingly popular as a way to find space in teeming cities, add greenery to downtowns, encourage more outdoor activity, rejuvenate blighted areas and rejoin urban neighborhoods split by road construction decades earlier.
I’m all for more parks. Having grown up near a city park, I spent a lot of time there — as a child and as a teenager. I recently visited the new deck park in San Francisco. I’ve also been to the deck parks in Boston, Chicago and Dallas.
Parks can make a difference. Trees and plants take carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen. Studies shows that plants can help humans fight depression. A recent U.S. Department of Transportation case study found that most visitors (91 percent) to Dallas’ new deck park said it “significantly improved” their quality of life. That park also spurred economic, environmental and other benefits, including new tax revenue, a big jump in adjacent commercial rents and increased streetcar ridership in Dallas.
Here’s your guide to finding a deck park — or plans for one — near you:
5 new(ish) deck parks
San Francisco: Salesforce Park in the South of Market area is one of the latest deck parks. It opened in August 2018 as part of larger project, including a new transit center and office tower for software company Salesforce. Not long after, the 5.4-acre rooftop park closed when two cracked steel beams were found. It re-opened last summer. The narrow park includes a walking loop, a small amphitheater, a playground and a fountain. The $2.2 billion park is public, but Salesforce bought sponsorship, giving it naming rights for 25 years. It’s open through April 30 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Dallas: I was living here in 2012, when the city opened the 5-acre, $110 million Klyde Warren Park above a freeway that separates two neighborhoods: the downtown Dallas Arts District and Uptown. People flock to the park, which offers many activities (ping-pong to yoga), a water feature, a restaurant, a dog park and free wi-fi. The foundation that runs the park plans to add 1.2 acres for a pavilion and more parking. It’s open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. (See the featured photo I took of the park at top and below.)
Dallas plans to build another deck park near the Dallas Zoo as part of a project to widen I-35E. The 5-plus-acre Southern Gateway Deck Park will reconnect and revitalize parts of the Oak Cliff neighborhood south of downtown. Park construction could begin by 2022.
New York City: The High Line park built on a 1.45-mile, elevated rail line on the West Side opened in 2009. The High Line app lets visitors digitally explore the park’s features, such as overlooks, art, performances, food venues and programs like summer dancing. The narrow, serpentine park, which runs from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through March 31 (it closes later in spring, summer and fall).
The High Line deck park in New York City meanders through different neighborhoods. (Photo by Alex Simpson on Unsplash)
Boston: The Rose Kennedy Greenway opened in 2008 at a cost $40 million. The 1.5-mile park sits above the city’s Central Artery, which was moved underground during what’s called the “Big Dig.” The long and narrow park offers food trucks, planted paths, events (such as movies, music and fitness classes), a carousel, fountains, art and free wi-fi. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Chicago: While Millennium Park isn’t elevated and doesn’t cover a highway, it is on a deck built over railroad tracks. Since opening in 2004, the park has become a huge tourist attraction and a focal point of the city. Some highlights include: a 2.5-acre garden; Cloud Gate, a sculpture that resembles a giant shiny, stainless-steel bean; a 925-foot-long footbridge; two performance venues; Crown Fountain, which consists of a reflecting pool bookended by two 50-foot glass towers on which video images of residents are projected.
5 possible parks on the horizon
Pittsburgh: The city began working on the I-579 Cap Park in June 2019 to cover part of I-579 and reconnect downtown with its historically black neighborhood called the Hill District. The 3-acre park will include a garden, a watercourse, art and an amphitheater. Construction is expected to be completed in late 2021.
Denver: The city’s $1.3 billion highway project will tear down an elevated portion of I-70 through a low-income neighborhood in the northeast, bury the new road and build a 5-acre deck park on top. The Central 70 project may be completed around 2022.
Philadelphia: The city is going big, with plans for a 12-acre, $220-million park over I-95. The Park at Penn’s Landing withe views of the Delaware River. The park, which is scheduled to open in 2024, will include performance space, food and drink venues, a play area, a water feature and an ice-skating rink (in winter).
Atlanta: Three groups propose deck parks over parts of busy downtown highways. The Central Atlanta Progress business coalition and Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy tout separate plans for a park covering the I-75 and I-85 Downtown Connector. The Buckhead Community Improvement District proposes a park over Georgia State Route 400.
St. Paul, Minn.: A nonprofit called ReConnect Rondo advocates building a “land bridge” over part of I-94. It would reconnect the city’s Rondo neighborhood, which was divided by the highway’s construction, and provide land for a park and other development.