By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Dayton is trying to make itself more attractive to young creatives by developing the Miami River, which runs through the center of the city, as a bike and hike park. Meanwhile, of course, Dallas is still trying to develop the Trinity River, which runs through the center of our city, as a freeway.
Well, and I forgot. Dallas is also going to have the world's biggest make-believe suspension bridge west of the Mississippi, east of the Pecos, south of the Red River and north of Waco.
Man, watch 'em line up! People will be coming here from Oklahoma!
So, if you haven't already guessed, I think the Calatrava "signature bridge" over the Trinity River and the arts district downtown and the new "deck park" over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway are all a bunch of useless ego trips for old out-of-it rich people, and they will do nothing to build the future of the city.
But guess what? In spite of all that, I am headed into this new year full of hope and optimism for our city.
There are people here who get it. They're young—surprise, surprise. Their trailblazer has been Angela Hunt, the East Dallas District 14 council member who stood alone and braved political firing squads in her opposition to the proposed Trinity River toll road. But now the rest of them are coming of age, too, and are ready to move into position with Hunt.
During the holiday, I had morning coffee with Scott Griggs, a 36-year-old patent and trademark attorney who will run in May for the council seat in District 3, which runs from the west bank of the Trinity River across from downtown all the way to the farthest southwest leg of the city limits abutting Arlington and Duncanville.
Griggs talked to me about his own theory of cities and communities, which is pretty much the opposite of the World's Biggest Ball of String theory. His view is that Dallas must address itself to very small things, everyday pragmatic things that make living here easier and better, and then big things will follow.
"As a city, we need to start realizing the importance of small changes, as well as the big projects," he said. "We have to start small and organically and grow.
"I grew up here. Big and sexy is part of Dallas, but there is room, too, for small and incremental changes."
He brought up something that struck a chord with me, having to do with the mainly Latino community called La Bajada (roughly, "Downhill" or "The Flats") in West Dallas at the foot of the new Calatrava bridge.
He said: "If you go and talk to some of the people in the La Bajada community, they say, 'We didn't ask for a bridge. We have a street that people drive too fast on, and our community center needs a new roof.'"
Yeah, I happen to have been a witness to that one. Several years ago I attended a so-called "consensus-building" meeting on the Trinity River project and Calatrava Bridge, carried out in La Bajada by some damned consultant/contractor for the city. The city couldn't even be bothered to hold its own meetings.
The consultants made people sit at tables and play with little Monopoly board tokens to show their preferences for what should be emphasized in the project—one token if they wanted cute little music venues, another one if they wanted food vendors, another one for kite-flying, etc.
An old man in a straw hat stood up and asked, "What if we're against the whole thing?"
The lady running the meeting said, "I'm sorry, sir, but that's not one of the choices."
It was so deeply and offensively patronizing, I wanted to scream. But then I saw that the people of La Bajada were getting up one by one and quietly walking out, so I felt better.
Griggs gets all of that intuitively. "Making a better Dallas is not only about big projects but at the same time investing in people," he said.
There is a serious, important, challenging cultural divide between this generation of young neighborhood and business activists—the Angela Hunt generation—and the high lamas of the Citizens Council. I don't kid myself for a moment that in the year ahead the high lamas are going to lose their power or their ability to pick the next mayor.
But the Biggest Ball of String guys can't last forever. The Angela Hunts and the Scott Griggs types are champing at the bit. And somewhere out there a truly better city lies ahead.