Spanish Fly

Dallas turns rape to romance with Calatrava bridges

In its recent vote, the Dallas City Council shifted the financial priorities within the project dramatically away from park-building toward road-building, making it all too obvious which comes first. Even though voters approved $246 million for a park in 1998, plans for the park now depend on the city's ability to raise $110 million in new money from private sources. Lots of luck. Who's going to chip in now for a park squeezed between a freeway and a drainage ditch full of partially treated sewage most of the year?

All of this merely demonstrates that it's not about the park. The game is the road. And the Calatrava bridges are more than merely emblematic of the game: They are the political and cultural keystone holding it up. By sticking one or more faux suspension bridges on the floodplain, we convince ourselves that we have atoned for abusing the earth. It's not really rape if you give her jewelry. Calatrava is our jeweler.

But enough about us and our problems. We are but a small detail in the international glory that is Santiago Calatrava. The real importance of the Calatrava project in Dallas is what it means for the rest of the world--that now anyone can have a Calatrava something-or-other.

Instead of a linear treatment of the river, turning it into a green refuge at the heart of the city, we're going to stick a stinking freeway on top of it. And then we will try  to pretty up the mess we've made by festooning it with suspension bridges.
Instead of a linear treatment of the river, turning it into a green refuge at the heart of the city, we're going to stick a stinking freeway on top of it. And then we will try to pretty up the mess we've made by festooning it with suspension bridges.

If Dallas can have faux suspension bridges across a drainage ditch, then why couldn't Wichita Falls have a much smaller Calatrava bridge across the fake 54-foot concrete waterfall on Interstate 44 (in which "water is circulated at 35,000 gallons a minute," according to one guidebook). I actually think at 35,000 gallons a minute the fake falls in Wichita Falls may be a more substantial water feature than the Trinity, especially in seasons when the upriver sewage-treatment plants are being stingy with their effluent.

As these things go, the franchising of an artist's trademark tends to get broader, shallower and smaller with time. Often in a short time. It's like artists in Santa Fe: One year the guy's got landscape oils in a gallery. The next year he's still in the gallery but his landscapes are also available on the sides of limited-edition vans. Eventually you can get his stuff as charms on free key chains at the corner Exxon station. Sometimes that whole cycle can happen in less than five years.

I think this is the good part. I would be proud to say we had played some modest role in helping bring Calatrava to the masses.

I personally would like to be able to go to Calatrava.com and order a mini for my back yard. We have a small pond, which I dug, with a rubber liner and rocks around the edge. My wife has placed potted plants and some fish in it. It's very pretty. Typically what I would do in our marriage is this: I would surprise her on her birthday with a Calatrava suspension bridge for the pond, which I would assemble from the box the night before so I could unveil it in the morning. Put her in a blindfold and stuff. Then for the next few weeks things would be tense and sort of distant. Questions would be asked about cost and whether a credit card was involved and return policies and so on. I would get mad. OK, forget that idea.

Instead, I believe I'll wait for the Calatrava sunglasses to come out. I happen to be at a point in the earlier part of my latter middle age when I am experiencing a certain reconfiguration of the hairline, which I believe is very distinguished. But I do think the Calatrava look in eyewear--I imagine a cool titanium construction with tiny ventiports and dramatically upswept grilles at both ends--might help me maintain the suave menace I crave. Can't wait, frankly. And what I put on my face: That's my own damn business.

The nice thing about one's own errors in judgment or lapses of taste is that they really don't hurt anybody else. The damage associated with the Calatrava bridge scheme in Dallas will be enormous and enduring. Just when the city is on the verge of a whole new future--people moving back into the center, a flourishing of cafes, a generation that would rather ride a bike or get on a train than park a car, that would love a place to hike or canoe in the heart of the city--the old guard manages to leave one last corpse on the levee. And it's Santiago Calatrava who will stoop to apply the rouge.

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