Slumdog Millionaires

If the Morning News considers itself the "conscience" of southern Dallas, it has a lot of explaining to do.

On January 9, Nelson wrote a signed column for the op-ed page in which she told how she personally had forced city officials to tear down a bad building in southern Dallas. She said it was part of a personal crusade.

Nelson said she had heard from people in southern Dallas that they were having problems with city services. "So I started shining a bright light on the irritants that make a neighborhood less livable," she said. She calls her crusade, "Ten drops in the bucket."

"I sought out property owners and tracked down the folks at City Hall who could do something. I tackled the southern half of the city one drop at a time."

Maybe The Dallas Morning News editorial board should spend more time cleaning up its own neighborhood.So here I am, patrolling the neighborhood of Dallas Morning News editorial writer Colleen McCain Nelson, looking out for evidence of neglect and decay. So far, pretty good hunting. I'm looking at a rusty "Crime Watch" sign next to a house that looks so tumble-down and junk-strewn I have to wonder if they mean we should watch for the crime to happen right here. I should explain.
Maybe The Dallas Morning News editorial board should spend more time cleaning up its own neighborhood.So here I am, patrolling the neighborhood of Dallas Morning News editorial writer Colleen McCain Nelson, looking out for evidence of neglect and decay. So far, pretty good hunting. I'm looking at a rusty "Crime Watch" sign next to a house that looks so tumble-down and junk-strewn I have to wonder if they mean we should watch for the crime to happen right here. I should explain.

Her column came one week after the editorial page of the Morning News had announced that it was "the conscience of the community."

In an official editorial, the newspaper said, "As the soul of the newspaper and the conscience of the community, the editorial pages provoke, inspire and challenge readers."

I blinked at that. I don't think if you're really the conscience of the community you announce it. Somehow that seems like something you ought to wait to hear back on.

Nelson's column, coming so soon after the News had appointed itself to be our civic conscience, gave me real pause. I thought maybe I sniffed just the slightest whiff of Lady Bountiful in all of this.

So I decided to take a gander at Nelson's backyard. I will explain more why I did in a minute. I won't print her address here, because she's a nice person, and I don't want to cause her alarm. But I will tell you generally that she lives in the Lakewood, Old East Dallas area.

I suspected I might find some mischief here because it's where I live too. I seldom walk my dog without coming across at least one structure that looks like the set for a chainsaw movie.

I'm just a few blocks down from her right now, on her same street, looking at the house with the crime watch sign, and I can't help wondering why this shouldn't be one of her "drops in the bucket." One block over, I see we have a common East Dallas issue—a fellow who seems to be operating a freelance junkyard, building supply, flea market and circus equipment outlet from his backyard. I bet the folks at Code Compliance could spend a whole day over here.

Here's another scene from a slasher movie just a few blocks from Nelson's abode—a house with peeling paint and blowing trash. And looky here—I never knew this existed—a whole little rag-end of a block occupied by falling-down shotgun shacks. I don't think I want anybody to find out about this. It's a part of our heritage in East Dallas that needs to be preserved.

Look, it never occurs to me that Nelson and the editorial page of her paper mean anything but well by their excursions into southern Dallas. There are, however, two major points I need to make:

First, their concern for southern Dallas doesn't seem to extend, for some reason, to the promise of free enterprise and opportunities that might truly improve the lot of people on the poor and minority side of town. After all, people don't let their property run down because they think it's supposed to be run down. Generally speaking, the symptoms of poverty appear where people don't have any money.

They need money. The weeds and the peeling paint will take care of themselves after everybody has some money.

I mention this because the same editorial page of the same newspaper has been very cavalier lately about problems besetting the single biggest industrial development ever to show its face in southern Dallas—the so-called inland port project, and specifically the part of it that is under development by The Allen Group, a San Diego firm that recently moved its corporate offices to Dallas.

I have written about this a lot. The Allen Group's project—a massive rail, truck and warehousing hub—has been in development for five years and just now is ready to begin selling to tenants. At the 11th hour, a handful of local officials, abetted by a regional planning agency, have stepped in to put the whole thing on hold.

They want to do 18 months' worth of so-called "master planning" that is suspiciously redundant of planning already completed and on the shelves. Meanwhile, stalling sales at the Dallas inland port would seem to work very powerfully in favor of a competing hub in Fort Worth controlled by the politically well-connected Perot family.

The editorial page of the News has been derisive of The Allen Group's complaints about the master plan process, even though the company's investment in southern Dallas and Dallas County—6,000 acres at last count—far exceeds any investment anybody local has ever made on that side of the Trinity River. More to the point, the inland port promises up to 60,000 new jobs in an area that has known chronic, crushing unemployment.

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