By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
So why do I know somebody like that? Easy. I spoke to her journalism class at Skyline High School when she was a student there in 1987. Her mother and I worked together at the now defunct Dallas Times-Herald. When Julia comes to town for visits, she is kind enough to show me her new children. Get old enough and you'll know interesting people too.
Walking to our cars after lunch, she made an interesting observation—that visiting North Dallas, where she was staying, is like a trip back in time, but coming to the neighborhood along Oak Lawn where we ate and where I work is like visiting an entire new city.
A cool city, we agreed. Cooler and cooler.
And there is your inner history of Dallas. Happening before our very eyes. In spite of every boneheaded, ham-fisted mistake by the city council or the regional transit agency or the county or the North Central Texas Council of Governments, a powerful force surging beneath the surface of official politics continues to make the city molt, shed and re-emerge as a bright new being.
I have been struck in recent weeks by the bizarre blindness of official Dallas to the huge new forces pushing up out of the soil all around it. Take the neighborhood farmers markets, for example. They're one small part of a major new phenomenon in the city having to do with people taking back control of their lives from the mid-century Mad Men regime of corporate technocracy. People want to pull themselves and their loved ones back to shelter from that Brave Old World.
Seems to me if city officials were interested in what goes on outside the walls of City Hall, they might poke their heads out the window once in a while and take notice. Dallas is a major national market for organic home lawn and garden products. The organic grocery business is booming, there's interest in community garden and in neighborhood farmers markets. North Dallas is yesterday. Oak Lawn is tomorrow.
So what is City Hall's response? Make it all go away. Community gardens, we learn, are not mentioned in the city's development code. Well, there you have it: They can't exist, then, until the code is amended—a process that may take years. Sorry, community gardens: You are not yet real.
Neighborhood farmers markets seem to be real but must be cut way back, the city tells us. The council must impose strict new limits on the number of markets allowed and their proximity to one another.
Last week I read back through some of my 1986 book on racial politics. I wanted to see what City Hall was doing back in the days when First Presbyterian and Temple Emanu-El were fighting for racial and social progress.
Guess what. City Hall back then was confronting deep-running, powerful change in exactly the way it is now—by dragging its feet, throwing up roadblocks and trying to make the change go away. Its response to black upward mobility was to try to cut the legs out from under it by using eminent domain to seize black-owned homes.
I have changed a lot since I wrote that book, mainly by getting older. Or, as some of my colleagues put it, old. Back then, I saw City Hall's resistance to change as evidence of evil. Now I see it as evidence of City Hall.
City Hall works from templates. It has a template for keeping track of the storm sewers, templates for streets, electrical lines and how people live. Wherever a bulge or protrusion appears—a thing that appears not to be fitting into the proper template properly—City Hall sends out a crew with pipe wrenches, badges and sensitivity training to whack the damn thing back into shape. That's its job.
But the real city never stops bulging, protruding and molting from its old form into the new. And if you turn away from City Hall—and maybe from me as well—and look instead at what seems to be emerging, the city looks pretty damn good.
My wife and I ate dinner on a weeknight recently at Bolsa, a restaurant on West Davis in Oak Cliff. The place was jammed with people who looked like they had been teleported from the streets of SoHo in Manhattan. And that's a good thing.
Maybe this is national. Maybe it's happening in all American cities. What I care about is that it's happening here, and it's happening in spite of everything I write about the entire rest of the year.
There now. I have purged myself of positivism. Now I can look forward to another 12 months of unending, relentless kvetching.