Big-Ticket Laura

No fix for potholes, but big parks for the fat cats

"We asked for a briefing at our last meeting because the Landmark Commission and the preservation community at large have perpetually and consciously been left out of these conversations as long as possible. All the decisions are made, and then the preservation interests, those of us who care about these places, are painted as the last-minute naysayers."

The commission was presented with a letter from Dallas consultant Jay Firsching, an important authority on preservation issues, who said in his letter, among other things, that the city had no business considering big new parks when it already does such a deplorable job of stewarding the ones it has.

"Those proposing a new Dallas park are apparently oblivious to the already dismal state of our city's parks," Firsching said in the letter. "Most notably, the historic parks in our city are in a remarkable state of disrepair."

Sounds kind of like, "First we have to eat our vegetables, then we can have dessert," doesn't it?

At the end of the meeting, the Landmark Commission voted unanimously in support of a long acerbic resolution condemning Pothole Park and the horse it rode into town on.

But look, I'm not trying to build a big case that it's a bad park. I talked to James Pratt, the architect and land use planner, who said he thought both the Pothole Park and the Plaza Shmazza idea could be done in ways that would be wonderful for the city. On stuff like that, I tend to go with the James Pratt-type people more than with my own considerable inexpertise.

But I do know a thing or two about the urban political process--enough to know that in this urb in particular, you are going to ring a certain set of bells if you appear at the parapets arm-in-arm with a certain set of people too many times in a row. So, back to my original question: Why is Laura Miller, of all people, smoothing out the little people for the loopers?

The mayor was kind enough to sit down with me for a while at the end of last week. I said: "Laura Miller ran for office on potholes and sticking up for the little guy against the big guys. Now the big guys are called stakeholders. Why are you not concerned that you would be perceived as working behind the scenes with the stakeholders against the little guys, like the preservationists? Are you not concerned about a larger perception that you are winding up on the other side of the line?"

She said: "You know, I spent a lot of time as mayor fighting against Palladium [the proposed development around the new arena]. I didn't do very well on that, but next time I'll win.

"I said from the minute the thing started that I was totally opposed to Wal-Mart coming into that [northwest Dallas] neighborhood. Even though they threw tons of money at it and never would give up, the council unanimously said no.

"City Hall has never had a master plan for downtown. We've never had a vision and a road map to get downtown put back together, and it's terrible. I look out this window every day and think, 'How am I going to get this done?' A lot of the money is going to have to come from the people who own the properties downtown. But they're not going to do anything if they don't think City Hall is going to do anything."

I asked what the big rush was. Why does everything have to be pushed along so fast?

"Bond package," she said. "The bond election is in May of 2003. If we're going to have any parks downtown three years from May, we're going to have to have some money in the bond to do that."

Sigh. Makes sense, I do see. Things have to move along. It isn't like she turned out to be a weenie. I don't believe she's a shill. By the way, the stakeholders call it "Dallas' Central Park," not Pothole Park.

But the basic Laura Miller political package is still relatively new, a work in progress. Nobody knows her that well, because we haven't had that long to watch her in action. And I say the jury is still out. I'm hearing people say things like, "What's the difference between the way this park is being done and the way Palladium was done, except that she didn't like that deal, and she does like this one?"

I only know that that is a really good question. Oh, and one other question: Wasn't the Trinity River going to be Dallas' Central Park? Is that truth no longer operative?

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