By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
From schools to City Hall, pouring rain to dumping pig's blood, a 2014 progress report for Dallas.
Not that this has persuaded anyone to get out of his car yet. Recently released census figures show that a paltry 0.1 percent of Dallas' working population bikes to work, the lowest figure of any major American city — including Arlington. The number of people walking is similarly low. Public transit, meanwhile, is still synonymous in the average Dallasite's mind with poor people. And typhus.
What progress has been wrung from City Hall has come in slow drips. This is a city, after all, that has spent well over a year debating whether it should continue regulating sidewalk cafes out of existence, and where a wily developer like Trammell Crow can ramrod approval for a Sam's Club in CityPlace with no one noticing. It's a long way from tackling things like parking requirements and zoning rules that have helped exacerbate sprawl and therefore made alternative forms of transportation untenable.
Dallas will probably always be a car city. That's how it was built. Slowly, though — very slowly — it's becoming a place where people can at least survive without one.
Remedial Environmental Sciences
Assessment by: Amy Silverstein
There are aging coal plants upwind, toxic cement kilns to the south and 15,000 gas and oil wells on all sides. North Texas has the eighth-worst air quality in the nation, and is facing a crippling drought. So, yeah, Dallas has, finally and inevitably, begun embracing the idea that maybe people need fresh air or water or something besides a stable job and recently waxed truck. But it's still a gentle, reluctant embrace.
We are finally following coastal cities in recognizing that the convenience of grocery bags is not worth littering our oceans and landfills with disposable plastic. At the end of March, the Dallas City Council passed a law requiring stores to charge you for your choice of paper or plastic. But it stopped short of banning them altogether.
Officials cracked down on Columbia Packing Co. for dumping blood into the Trinity River, but last month District Attorney Craig Watkins dropped all the charges because his investigator had trespassed to collect the evidence. Would he have done the same on a drug case?
Dallas adopted its drought plan this year, which will wisely involve charging people more for water when reservoirs get lower. Yet maybe we should think about also charging corporations more if they want to use our land that we depend on for water. The City Council in February approved a little-publicized measure to allow an oil company to build a heavy crude pipeline across land where a spill could threaten Dallas' water supply. The company, Enbridge, is already responsible for costliest pipeline-related spill in history. The price it paid Dallas: $1,600.
The city is also adjusting to the idea that there are ways to prevent West Nile Virus that might be healthier and more effective than spraying a bunch of toxins into the air. According to the city's 2014 Mosquito Abatement Plan, the city will distribute free, non-toxic larvicide dunks to residents. Unfortunately, the plan also mistakenly tells people that a toxic, synthetic chemical found in adulticides called pyrethroids is an all-natural substance coming from a flower. It suggests you put the pyrethroids on your apples and peaches. Don't.
And while the city's fracking regulations are, for now, strict, what happens when the price of natural gas increases and drillers get anxious about the gas lurking beneath the Barnett?
Advanced Placement Urban Policing
Asessment by: Joe Tone
There was a time not long ago when Dallas seemed destined to struggle in this area forever more. It was the summer of 2012, and the city was on its way to a record year for officer-involved shootings — 15 shot, 10 killed, the most in a decade. Then, one afternoon that July, police chased 31-year-old James Harper from a suspected drug house and, after a protracted fight, shot him dead. An autopsy would later reveal the wounds to be in his chest, but witnesses swore he'd been shot in the back, and the neighborhood, on Dixon Street in southern Dallas, emptied into the streets, forcing police to fend off a riot. "Police are always killing people, and it's always our people getting killed," a woman said in the streets that day, sparking a conversation that's endured ever since. "Every time you look around one of us is dead."
The bloodshed dipped slightly last year, but the ubiquity of video kept that narrative — "Police are always killing people" — alive and well. A dashboard camera captured officer Amy Wilburn firing one shot at an unarmed 19-year-old after the officer moved in on a stolen car, hospitalizing the teen. Though the video didn't show it, an eyewitness claimed the teen, Kelvion Walker, a passenger in the car, had his hands in the air as the officer fired. Another video, captured by a neighbor's security camera, was less ambiguous: It showed officer Cardan Spencer opening fire on a schizophrenic man standing idly in the street.
As the calendar flipped to 2014, it seemed almost impossible that law enforcement, to shift perception if not reality, would not react. And in ways, it did. Police Chief David Brown, already known for aggressively (and transparently) rooting out officers who commit off-duty crimes, fired both Wilburn and Spencer. Then, after District Attorney Craig Watkins vowed to investigate police shootings more aggressively, a grand jury indicted both officers, the first indictments of an officer for a shooting since 1973. Brown also called for officers to be equipped with body cameras, although those may be a ways off, with the city facing a $30 million shortfall and Mayor Mike Rawlings eyeing public safety for cuts.