Dallas versus Sprawl! It's a Fight-to-the-Finish Cage Death-Match, Not a Church Picnic.
If The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Arlington sponsor a big seminar on regional cooperation, how many people at the seminar are going to come out against regional cooperation? Yeah.
Not to be self-important or anything, but I believe that's my job, Pilgrim. So here it is: Regionalism is the poison pill that will kill this city. We need to fight like cats and a dog, and we be the dog.
They called the seminar "Stronger Together: An Interactive Conversation About Our Region." It was yesterday. I might have gone if they had put a question mark after it.
As it was, I did not go, so I won't characterize what anybody said except for the quotes I can find in the News and other accounts.
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They had Richard Florida there. He's the academic and author who has turned "The New Urbanism" into his own trademark. They also had some journalists, some art dudes and Mike Eastland, head of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Florida's remarks had been foreshadowed in earlier reports. He operates an outfit called Creative Class R Us that has been working with people at UTA to study our region. Oh, sorry. It's called "The Creative Class Group."
The News quotes Florida as saying: "... in our research, we found something amazing. We found that there was little real competition [between the region's cities]. The economies here don't compete. They're complementary."
Wow. What bullshit. Nothing could be less true. Maybe it looks like that if you look only at economic data. But when you pull up the political matrix, it's a knife fight. Then you see clearly that the forces of so-called regionalism are the forces of sprawl, dedicated to sucking the milk out of the center city in order to give raw-land suburban developers the tit they need to survive.
Look at our regional rail system, DART. What should have been heavy rail to support walkable urban life in the city has been corrupted into a suburban choo-choo. It's an absurdly expensive, ridiculously inefficient life-support system for far-flung feet and fingers of a region slowly going numb anyway under the weight of environmental cost, sheer logistics and the fact that the post-Seinfeld generation doesn't want to live like Eight Is Enough.
Look at the toll road that the armies of regionalism want to ram through the Dallas' only waterfront, spoiling an immense urban park that otherwise could become this city's single greatest asset to attract the bed-head creative-types every city craves today.
Eastland is executive director of NCTCOG, a quasi-federal agency that divvies out state and federal transportation money to local governments. He is quoted in the News story as saying, "I've found that you have to force 'regionalism.'"
Yeah, well, he's good at that. Let me remind you all of an important little story here, one that paints Florida's remarks as extremely naive. We do compete; we compete like sons of bitches when there's something to compete for.
The example would be the inland port project, a massive shipping and warehousing development in southern Dallas that will compete directly with a similar establishment outside Fort Worth owned and controlled by the powerful Perot family.
You will remember that Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, a Perot vassal, led an unlikely campaign to gut and hobble his own county's inland port project -- a situation that has made Price the target of a major federal corruption probe in which documents have been subpoenaed from a Perot-owned company.
You may not remember that Eastland's NCTCOG was right in there at Price's shoulder, hectoring the main developer of the inland port for all kinds of racial documentation on his employees and subcontractors, none of which was required by law, and trying to push him into an entire additional round of redundant planning.
The demand for more planning came after the developer had completed a successful five-year planning and entitlements process and just as he would otherwise have been ready to begin leasing and selling space that would have had significant logistical advantages. It was a move to screw the guy.
Hey. Do you even know what the NCTCOG is? Don't feel like the Lone Ranger. Nobody does. In fact that's the point. These regional agencies operate far from public awareness in a political vacuum. Even if you do know who they are, what are you going to do about it? You can't vote them in or out.
Given that cloak of political darkness, then, how do they really behave? Regionally? Oh, bullshit, again. When the rubber meets the road, they come down on the side of the money.
The money knows who they are. The money keeps close tabs on them. When the money needs their help, the money jerks their little regional chains.
They have huge power because of their control over government funding, and we never even see them coming until it's too late. They are the political equivalent of a rain-wrapped tornado.
Richard Florida is an interesting guy, but he's sort of a fly-over. In our case the reality is in the granularity, not the summary.
Eastland's outfit sells snake oil. They do not walk what they talk. They should change their name to Sprawl Inc.
But look, here's the important thing for you and me. If we really believe in urban life, if we love the city, then the dumbest thing we can do is get lulled into all this crap about regionalism and cooperation. This is a back-alley fight where the quickest knife wins.
So far, it's not us, but the fight's not over, and we have some good things going for us. The last thing we need is to get slowed down by a bunch of feel-good lah-lah-lah about regional cooperation. That crap is the equivalent of those guys pointing over our shoulders and shouting, "Watch out behind you!"
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