Double Decherd

The Dallas Morning News owner sounded smart, so it had to be an impersonator

On the other hand, what's good about Dallas? There has to be something cool. Otherwise, you know, let's just go.

I know, I know. I told you City Hall was going to hell in a hand basket. But did you ever stop and ask yourself, what exactly is a hand basket?

And every place has problems, right? Let's say I make it to heaven. I'll be up there two days tops before I find significant issues with their storm water management system. And that will raise very serious questions about the competence of top-level leadership. It's what I do.

Mary Margaret Jones, president of Hargreaves Associates, spoke well of Dallas Mayor Laura Miller at a recent seminar. But then, she also said nice things about the Trinity River.
Mary Margaret Jones, president of Hargreaves Associates, spoke well of Dallas Mayor Laura Miller at a recent seminar. But then, she also said nice things about the Trinity River.

But how do we put Dallas in perspective with other places and against the scale of time? Is this a good place to be? For you and me?

Got me. But I did attend a thing last week where academics who study this kind of stuff teamed up with prominent local business types to talk about what's going on here now and what will happen to you and me in the near future if we stay. And I guess I'd have to say for now I'm gonna stay. Plans for moving to Austin on hold. Again.

Here's the pop-up on it: Dallas is part of one of a handful of areas in the United States where most of the growth of the next half-century will happen, making this one of the great mega-regions of the future. All of these regions will require massive rebuilding in order to accommodate the growth ahead. But the sloppiness and low density of development in Dallas in the past (my terms) may make it easier to redevelop Dallas on a grand scale than in other cities where somebody actually thought about what they were doing.

Just for example, the Trinity River--nothing but a big broad sewer through downtown for most of this century--offers the single biggest, best opportunity in America for change in the landscape of a major downtown, according to Mary Margaret Jones, president of Hargreaves Associates, international landscape planning consultants with offices in San Francisco, Cambridge and New York.

"The scale and the potential of the Trinity River is unrivaled nationally--and internationally, for that matter," she told a rapt house. Jones, who is on a peer-review panel looking at proposals for reclaiming the Los Angeles River, compared what could happen here with prospects in Los Angeles:

"It was really very sad to see how many constraints there are on the possibilities along that river," she said. "There are many more opportunities for transformation on the Trinity River, and yet everyone seems to think of the L.A. River as being the great potential of our country."

Jones said the sheer expanse of the Trinity--its length and breadth and the amount of undeveloped space--provide Dallas with a blank canvas older cities can only envy. "The Trinity has a far greater potential," she said.


And here's the other thing. She was one of a few speakers at the thing who spoke very positively of our mayor and her commitment to the Trinity and downtown. I was kind of squirming in my seat. You know, I just can't stand those cowabunga suspension bridges they want to build over the river, and the very idea of jamming a toll road down on top of the levees makes my skin crawl.

I was surprised to hear Jones offer what sounded like sincere praise for Laura Miller's efforts to shape the Trinity River project, especially because Jones also spoke out forcefully against the tollway on the river.

Other people had been at the mike talking about how great the tollway was, but she said: "When I hear tollways being described as the answer to many transportation problems, this is one of the places where a tollway is not the answer."

All right! I was in the back of the room with a figurative fist in the air. We don't need no stinking tollways on the river!

But at two different points Jones gave Miller credit for helping to reshape the Trinity Plan. Of course, I could be cynical and point out that Miller helped get Jones' company hired a couple years ago to help develop the new Trinity River "Vision Plan."

But Jones wasn't the only one singing Miller's name. Robert Decherd, CEO of Belo Corp., which owns The Dallas Morning News, also spoke well of her.

Decherd was the main reason I attended this thing. In 28 years in Dallas I had never heard him speak. I may have laid eyes on him twice across a crowded room darkly. When he went to the podium and opened his mouth I was expecting and maybe even hoping for the demon voice that came out of Regan Teresa MacNeil, the Linda Blair character in The Exorcist.

To my enormous disappointment, Decherd was genial and smart when he talked about downtown. I even wondered at one point if they may have a double they send out when they need him to sound intelligent, like with Bush.

Decherd, too, went on about Miller. He said huge change is possible for downtown thanks to planning efforts that "wouldn't have been even possible without someone remaining as focused as Mayor Miller has been on the center of our city."

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