Golf Course Plan Needs a Strong Long Game

Here's hoping golfers take their eyes off the ball and see southern Dallas' desperation.

Last week when the Dallas City Council was deciding whether to donate public land for a private golf course venture in southern Dallas, I listened hard to council member Tennell Atkins. It's easy for me to get dismissive about what I hear from Atkins sometimes. Maybe I need to listen harder.

Atkins was pitching his colleagues on the idea that allowing a major corporation to create its own private golf course with membership fees estimated north of $150,000 will bring economic benefit to the very poor, mainly minority part of the city surrounding it.

Ticking off other amenities already in place nearby — a nature center, paved trails, a horse park — Atkins spoke of the golf course as part of an "entertainment center" that will draw investment to southern Dallas.

Jared Boggess


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"People who play golf generally have money," he said. "People who generally play golf do invest. When people play golf, they don't play at as fast a pace as football, basketball and baseball. They play at a slow pace. They have a chance to enjoy the neighborhood and the atmosphere around where they go, and they are looking for an opportunity of investment. If you play golf, you will probably invest in a horse park. They probably bring more charities who are going to play there."

He and his fellow black council members from southern Dallas are adamant and passionate in their belief that anything — any kind of attention or investment or other sign of respect — is better than the utter neglect their part of the city has suffered since Reconstruction. Later in the council debate he said, "Please do not rain on my parade. It's a great parade for the city of Dallas, and people are out there looking at us. And you are raining on our birthday. This is a birthday and a celebration for the city of Dallas."

That's a tough challenge. It means, "Don't be cruel. Please give me what I want." And the council did, a little bit. They voted provisionally to allow the city manager to continue to pursue a deal. Later when the manager has a deal to show them, the council will vote it up or down.

When they do vote on that deal, we have to hope they will return to Atkins' words. This golf course idea is being justified solely on the basis of its value as an economic boon to the surrounding area. The council, one hopes, will think hard about how that may work. Or not.

For a week prior to the council debate, I was trying to track down a particular phenomenon in the area around the proposed golf course. I first came across it when for an earlier column I looked at the census tracts including and immediately adjacent to the site. Later I expanded my view to census tracts in a longer radius from the site. When you put it on the map, the phenomenon is absolutely staggering.

It's called "not in the labor force." Not "unemployed." That's different. Not even "long-term unemployed." According to the federal agency that measures these things, people counted as "not in the labor force" are "neither employed nor unemployed."

We know what employed is. That's people who have a job. But the term, unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, isn't for anybody and everybody who doesn't have a job. It only applies to people who used to have a job and are still looking for another one.

Get it? It sort of means dis-employed. The term unemployed doesn't apply to you if you have never had a job and you aren't looking for one. That is called "not in the labor force."

In an almost unbroken circle centered on the golf course with a radius of five miles, more than half of the population is not in the labor force. In the tract just south and west of the golf course site, 63.2 percent of residents are not in the labor force.

On top of that number, unemployment in this part of the city is high, well more than 10 percent. So the total percentage of people not working at formal jobs in this part of the city is somewhere between 60 and 70 percent.

I also spent some time looking at what is known nationally about the phenomenon. The general consensus of economists and sociologists seems to be — I don't think I'm over-simplifying too much — that the phenomenon is a little bit connected to cycles in the economy but only at the margins. In other words, the number of people who are not in the labor force does go up a little when the economy is bad and does go down a little when it gets better, but there is a hard core in the center, a lion's share, that never budges no matter what's going on in the economy.

Didn't have a job. Don't have a job. Not gonna get a job.

I came across several indications that not having a formal job does not necessarily mean not working. The Reverend Gerald Britt, a vice president of CitySquare, formerly called Central Dallas Ministries, knows the area I'm talking about from both personal experience and formal study. He told me that many of the people counted as not in the labor force are actually carrying out some kind of small business or hustle, from selling CDs in the barbershop to mowing lawns, in order to survive.

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Atkins is such a hustler for this project and most everything else. He is in the same mold of JWP without the anger, but instead with that shit eating grin, and really stupid grammar every time he opens his mouth. How he hustled SMU for that degree is admirable. Atkins wouldn't have a damn dime in his pocket were it not for the $3 million lawsuit he filed against the City of Dallas in 2003. He even named Dwaine as one of his enemies in the lawsuit, now they all seem to be for this crazy project. There's a lot more to this, A LOT more.


Hard to believe that JS wrote this because it is so supportive and reasonable :)  Thanks, you have shed light on aspects of this issue that I had not seen reported elsewhere.


All they're going to do is displace those people "outside the labor force". They'll go somewhere else. Sort of like when they addressed the homeless problem by outlawing panhandling, hoping they'd go someplace else to do it.


We could have the holes in people's yards down there and then you could "enjoy the neighborhood". Each hole could have cafe seating and a tiny cafe/bar or shop. We could get some bikes lanes in it too, and maybe a dog park. That sound more like a golfers entertainment district.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Word's out that a giant Wal Mart is planned for that area.


@marianagriggs But will there be solar-powered water taxis, or will we just power them with natural gas as it boils to the surface?