Goodbye, Groovy East Dallas

How Jim Schutze forsook his hippie-dippy days and learned to love the snout house

"We talk about this around here," he said, meaning the Meadows Foundation, which is involved in civic philanthropy at every level of city life. "Where do people learn how to conduct themselves in meetings? We don't have the same kinds of associations. People don't join bowling leagues. Maybe it has to happen in neighborhood organizations."

The problem Far East Dallas will confront at some point, however, is that the values Weiss describes will wind up in direct conflict with Forward Dallas! (please don't forget the exclamation point), which expresses the values of the professional city managerial class ensconced in City Hall.

This all goes straight back to the problems we had with City Hall in the days of the Thoroughfare Plan. To professional city managers and planners, everything is an engineering problem, a matter of weights and measures, yards of sand and tons of asphalt.

Dallas Public Library
Lorlee Bartos makes the point that a McMansion is better than a whorehouse.
Mark Graham
Lorlee Bartos makes the point that a McMansion is better than a whorehouse.

I heard a great quote from a top city official recently about the Trinity River Plan. At a public meeting in front of several people the official was asked about a problem with the plan. She said, "We are engineers. We can do anything."

I love engineers. They tend to be smart and honest. But engineers can do nothing. They can't put a hammer to a nail or a nut to a bolt until the people paying for the nuts and bolts settle the politics. The problem we have with Forward Dallas! (please don't forget the exclamation point) is that we've got the engineers doing the politics. And my question is whether the new folks moving into East Dallas since East Dallas got tamed are up to the fight.

I called Lee Simpson, a lawyer for the school district and a unique figure in local politics. During the battle years of neighborhood politics in the early 1980s, Simpson represented Old East Dallas on the city council and was a standard-bearer for the so-called neighborhood movement. Later he served on the board of Dallas Area Rapid Transit during the formative battles over rail transit in North Texas.

We talked about neighborhood politics in the East Dallas of today. Simpson used to live on my street in Old East Dallas, but now he lives in Lakewood, which is really an amalgam of neighborhoods west of White Rock Lake. He is the immediate past president of the Lakewood Homeowners Association. As president he found himself in the eye of the storm two years ago when the city council was debating new enabling legislation for conservation districts.

Conservation districts, like historic districts, legally restrict the changes people can make to their property and may set rules for demolition and limits on construction. Some people love the limits. Others truly hate the idea.

Old Lakewood by the Lakewood Country Club has been a conservation district since the late 1980s. But the northern reaches of Lakewood, closer to Mockingbird Lane and the north end of the lake, are not in a conservation district. Yet.

"In the fall of 2005 when the council was debating the overlay ordinance," Simpson told me, "we had a big debate in our neighborhood association. It was pretty heated. It was as heated as anything I saw in the old days.

"There was a real split between a lot of new people over here who are the same age we were when we got started over by Swiss Avenue. A lot of them were of the view that, 'I'm not going to tear my house down, but I sure don't want my property values interfered with, and I just don't think I'm for this.'"

Other people in the neighborhood, Simpson said, were just as adamantly in favor. "So there was this real kind of interesting split. It was hard to project really who might be for and who might be against it.

"So from that I took the view that, yeah, there is still a serious potential for neighborhood politics. Neighborhood politics is alive and well."

Angela Hunt, who represents my part of East Dallas on the city council now, took issue, if not umbrage, with my suggestion that the newcomers may lack the feistiness of the old guard, our energy, our charisma and, yes, I suppose, even our consistently good looks. In our day.

Hunt said, "I think there actually are more people embracing the character of East Dallas than people coming in and tearing down. It's just that the ones who are tearing down stick out like a sore thumb.

"Here is the empirical proof of that. We have had just an insane influx of conservation districts and historic districts—Junius Heights, Belmont, M Streets, M Streets East, Vickery Place, Edgemont. All of these are brand-new in the last five years.

"The fact is, Jim, the people who are creating those conservation districts and historic districts are not folks who have been there 20 years. They aren't even folks who have been there a decade. So many of them that I know personally are people who moved there five years before, a couple years before and said, 'Gosh, this is worth protecting.'"

Hmph. Well, we'll be the judge of that. How would these newcomers even know what to protect? Us. That's what they should protect. Protect us from windows that work, thermostatically heated pipes and Sub-Zero wine storage units. From sin!

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