Lack of Trust Could Stunt "Grow South"

Lack of Trust Could Stunt "Grow South"
Daniel Fishel

"Grow South" is Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' initiative to erase or at least soften the hard economic border dividing white North Dallas from black and Hispanic southern Dallas. When Rawlings ad libs about it from a chair out front of his desk in his City Hall office, he can reel off neighborhoods and what's going on in each of them, showing that he's been there and he knows where all the chess pieces are on the board. It's not possible to hear him talk about it and doubt his sincerity or commitment.

But what a bitch. Bitter memory and a hundred miles of bad road stand in the way of trust. Don't forget. In the 1950s, within the living memory of the city, an alliance of white church groups hired criminals to set off bombs in the homes of middle-class black families amid ample evidence that the Dallas Police Department was assisting the bombers. People remember that shit.

So trust is hard for us, but trust is also the only gate. If we can't go through that gate, we can't go. Oh, well. You know what they say. If this were easy, Canadians could do it.

Which brings us to Larry Beasley. Beasley is the retired director of planning for the city of Vancouver. He is now distinguished practice professor of planning at the University of British Columbia and founding principal of Beasley and Associates, an international planning consulting company. And guess what? He's here in Dallas a lot. In recent years, this charming, dapper, sort of European-seeming planning expert has become the darling of a certain set in Dallas — people with power and money who would like to do better.

Better than what? Well, look at North Dallas, look at the glitzy area around the toll road and Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway in far North Dallas anchored by the Galleria shopping center. Sure it's fancy and schmancy, but did you ever try to walk 10 feet outside the shopping center? It's auto-pedestrian whack-a-mole everywhere you go, and don't be the mole.

All that stuff went up in two blizzards of building — the early '80s drunk boom and the '90s crazy boom — out in the middle of a cow patch with about as much mind to comprehensive planning as you'd expect in a mass defection from the loony bin. Getting back in there now with sidewalks or, God forbid, a rail line would be almost out of the question.

So why not do better? Beasley's whole line is that dense urban development can take place in ways that make all the developers rich as Croesus but also leave behind a humane, livable and logistically manageable landscape. But to pull that off, he says, you have to think ahead a little bit.

I spoke to him again last week — it's always exciting, and I always have trouble keeping up — because his name was invoked in an especially bitter chapter of the whole Grow South deal. It's a chapter I have written about a lot recently involving the area around the new UNT-Dallas campus in southern Dallas. In the area just outside the campus, there is no sewer system.

Longtime major landholders in that area — one of them, Robert Pitre, owns more than 120 acres — accuse the city of deliberately withholding a promised and already funded sewer system in order to hold down land values and simultaneously keep them from developing their own land. They say the city wants to hold back their sewer system, even though the authorized date of construction has long since passed, so the city can deliver the goodies to somebody else who will come in first, before the sewer, and scoop up the land for cheap.

Guess what? The city admits it. It says they're right. Last week on our news blog I published a 2012 memo written by interim First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans in which Evans quoted Beasley to justify deliberately tamping down development around the UNT-Dallas campus. Evans said the city should wait for "a lead developer with a large catalyst project" rather than do things that might encourage piecemeal projects.

"In difficult economic times [2012] it is tempting to rush to accept any and all development activity," he wrote. "Haste for short-term solutions will diminish the upside potential."

He quoted Beasley saying, "If entitlements get too far ahead of the market, it can actually arrest development by falsely inflating land values, driving up development costs and causing the end developer to seek future subsidies in order to fill the gap that the market cannot provide."

Hey, these are not bad points, some of them, at least in the abstract. That whole deal about rushing to accept all development activity, that's what I used to call City Hall's penchant for whoring after every bullshit development deal even if it screws the neighborhoods around it.

Two points on the other side of the coin: First, it's a sewer system. Can you think of any large areas of the city up in the white half of town that don't have sewers? Isn't withholding sewers sort of like withholding food — effective, maybe, but sick? And secondly, all that bad road behind us: It's not like City Hall comes into this picture with clean hands. How could black people in southern Dallas avoid putting the very worst interpretation on an action to keep them from getting a sewer system?

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10 comments
thinktankubator
thinktankubator

Jim could you please link to a good account of that 50's bombing story? For some reason I'm not familiar with it..

cwi4691
cwi4691

It's Dallas for Christ's sake. It's all about who has the money and the political clout and who greases the right palms at City Hall. On the other hand, development in South Dallas will happen when the demographics improve and local demand supports it. Look at the redevelopment along Jefferson Blvd. It's local to meet local demand, not forced development to equalize North and South. That doesn't work. If people don't feel safe going there it only works for locals. Even normal people ain't driving too far into the black hole that is South Dallas for anything they can get next door safely. Good example is the total abject failure of turning Fair Park into more of a year round venue. Dude, I mean really, can you see taking your kids there anytime Dallas Police don't have the thing blanketed from stem to stern with quadruple patrols during the Fair? Any parents who would do that should be investigated for child abuse.

Lorlee
Lorlee

When the City annexed all that northern land at the behest of Stark Taylor et al., who paid for all the sewers and roads?  Just wondering.  

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

The City of Dallas would be a happier metropolitan area if, once and for all, the City "cut the cord" that leashes city politics and planning to the Dallas Citizens Council.  In other words, it is time to abort those white babies, and let them circle the drain awhile. 

Remember David Lynch?  His absurdist, evening "soap opera" in the 1980s, "Twin Peaks", was excellent, of course, but few know Lynch had a running comic strip, "The Angriest Dog In The World", and for years, Lynch used the same black-and-white comic: A dog baring its sharp canines while staining the chain that holds him to his doghouse.  Lynch would then add odd, sometimes existentialist quotes, in the bubbles over the dog's head.  Nothing quite like chaining a dog to the doghouse to keep the poor pooch angry, is there? 


"The Myth of Sisyphus", French philosopher Albert Camus's seminal contribution to the theater of the absurd, lays the groundwork for a philosophy that inspired the Situationists, a so-called public performance art movement during the turbulent days in Paris, 1968--as well as the "diggers", led of course by Abbie Hoffman, the leader of a circle of peace activists who surrounded the Pentagon and threatened to levitate it.  The generals went floop-shoobie over that demonstration of applied street art, didn't they? 

When I walk the rift alongside Turtle Creek, I find myself somewhat disgusted by all the plastic grocery bags still hanging in the trees--refuse from "up north", probably because some people do not know how to keep a lid on their garbage cans. 

South Dallas has for way too long languished under the so-called "belt buckles" of a huge ditch where freight trains shift tracks and carry freight, and of course, the R. L. Thornton mixmaster--two huge barriers to keep the south side of Dallas under the belt. 

I am not really laughing when I sometimes pass rumpled shotgun shacks ringing The State Fair of Texas in which people drag-out old car cushions to sit on their porches and enjoy the evenings with friends.  "Not getting in YOUR car," these people seem to say. 

Sometimes I think the equal opportunity enslavers of Dallas and its huge black hole just north of Oak Lawn are simply dumb, deaf and blind.  Worried over what to do with a ditch, the eyesore of Dallas, the City buys expensive "fashion bridges" and I cannot help but wonder: How many potholes does it take to fill the Calatrava bridge? 

Sewers for South Dallas now! 

putt4do
putt4do

Believe me, if the properties in the "Southern Sector" were owned by the blue-bloods, the infrastructure would have been put in long ago, no questions asked by City Hall. 

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

"Lack of trust"?? These are lyin basterds, pushing their friends' deals. Marilla is a candy store for the few, black and white.

Gangy
Gangy

Treating non-powerful people with respect is not the City of Dallas way.

rando1
rando1

Just think of how Cypress Waters, a Lucy Billingsley property development, that doesn't touch any part of Dallas proper except the peripheral Dallas water right extension that places the Elm Fork of the Trinity inside the city, has materialized and is on target to be booming. No water or sewer existed and Coppell and Irving didn't want to play with Dallas initially. Dallas still doesn't have public safety protection 24/7 up there and Coppell and Irving don't have contracts with Dallas for such.

txtravel
txtravel

@Gangy - But it needs to be. Respect is the only way to get things done that stay done fairly.

 
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