Going to the Dogs

I come down an alley with my dogs, and instead of the crack house they were looking for, we find pricey town homes. So the question is, are the dogs happy?

How to begin? Well, that's what I'm writing about, isn't it? Where to begin, how to end. I put up with this stuff from my dogs every day. I walk three of them—Otto, my 900-pound Weimaraner; Skeeter, my son's seriously bloated toy fox terrier; and Dottie, my mother-in-law's 900-year-old border collie mix who is...how to put this without sounding cruel?...dotty. You know, like every half-block she stops dead in her tracks and stares straight up at the sky.

I have to say: "No, no. Nobody's calling you up there yet, Dottie. We're on a walk, and I know you have arthritis, but get over it."

In our pack, we don't actually have an alpha. We decide things by committee. Sometimes Otto tugs one way, so we go that way. Sometimes it's Skeeter's turn to choose. The only direction Dottie ever wants to go is straight up, so we ignore her. In fact we're not really a pack. I'd say we're more of a politburo. We're in East Dallas, after all.


Townhomes, everywhere

I like to walk on fine boulevards such as Swiss Avenue, where people take care of their property the way I should. They are an example to me. The dogs, Otto and Skeeter anyway, prefer alleys behind crack houses.

They like whorehouses too. I have no idea why. I don't think it's drugs, although I do watch them like a hawk for sudden mood swings or a change of peer groups, like they start hanging out with cats or something. So far, I think we're copacetic.

Rubble, chaos, trash, decay, garbage, large amounts of abandoned clothing, even people lying dead or stoned in the grass: The dogs like anything they can sniff. Sniffing is a dog's literature. One thing I have learned, which the paramedics might want to keep in mind: A good, wet sniff in the ear from a 900-pound Weimaraner can revive a person from even a serious overdose.

The point, and there is one, would be this: In the last couple of years, all the good crack houses and whorehouses in my part of town have been disappearing. Otto tugs us down some alley where he remembers sniffing out a dessicated bone or a wormy hot dog six months ago (brain like a computer); we get back in there; but now it's all tidy like an alley in the suburbs. Some son of a bitch has come along, torn down a perfectly good crack house that my dogs used to enjoy and put up a pristine block of town homes with a sign out front that says, "Starting in the $250s." Some of them say "Starting in the $400s."

Who's starting in the $250s and the $400s? I asked a guy who's one of the people building all this stuff. "They're all in their mid- to late 20s, up into their mid- to late 30s in general," said Craig Lemp, president of Metropolis Homes. "They're single or couples, no kids. I've sold 46 condos and town homes right there."

So here's my question. I have lived in this area for about 900 years. As far back as I can remember, people in my part of town have argued that the Lower and Lowest Greenville Avenue Bar Scene (we've talked it about so long that we even capitalize Bar and Scene) is bad for the area.

So if Greenville Avenue is so bad for the area, why is all this stuff being built half a block to a block away from the bars on Greenville that everybody complains about?

Another guy putting up a lot of these things is Stephen Meek, president of Rivendell Development. Before he started his own company, Meek spent 25 years with the Staubach Co. and Post Properties developing the very fancy area we now call Uptown, which we used to call what-a-dump. I asked Meek what the big idea was, tearing down the dumps in my area and putting up pricey town homes a block from known drinking establishments on Greenville Avenue. He quoted Lewis Mumford at me.

Well, he actually read to me over the phone from the Jane Jacobs book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in which Jacobs quotes a 1960 article in Landscape magazine, in which Mumford, the great architecture critic (1895-1990), said, and I quote:

Now the great function of the city is...to permit, indeed to encourage and incite, the greatest potential number of meetings, encounters, challenges, between all persons, classes and groups, providing, as it were, a stage upon which the drama of social life may be enacted, with the actors taking their turn as spectators and the spectators as actors.

Meek and Lemp don't want the scene on Greenville to run amok. Their buyers don't want gangbangers chasing them home. But the scene, some kind of action and maybe even a little edge, they say, is what drives demand for the stylish new housing they're putting up in the area.  

It's so interesting, because that is exactly what my dogs have been telling me for years. They say if there's nothing to sniff, why go?

So I used to have crack houses. Now I've got a guy quoting Lewis Mumford at me. Am I better off?

I did my own little study of real estate appraisals in the Lowest Greenville area, not hard to do in this day of online appraisal records and spreadsheets for dummies. I took 26 properties, a mix of single- and multi-family residential, old and new, half a block to a block off Lowest Greenville both east and west of the street, and I looked at appraised values between 2000 and 2006.

Hmmm. Those appraised values rose 74 percent in that time. Citywide values in the same period rose 32 percent. So the area surrounding Lowest Greenville beat the citywide rate of improvement by two-and-a-third times.

What about crime? I can safely say that those of us who have lived in that area care about crime more than we care about child health care. What did you think the big dog was for? We have learned the hard way that nothing good happens until, unless and right after you do something about crime.

So I did a little crime study. Between 2003 and 2005 (the easiest full years for which I could get records), the Lowest Greenville area saw a decrease in crime that was two-and-a-half times faster than the citywide improvement for the same period, 30 percent versus 12 in total crimes reported.

When I tried to project numbers for all of 2006, the picture grew muddier, maybe because I'm a bad projector, maybe because it looks like we're headed for a pretty bad spike in crime citywide this year. But even at that, Lowest Greenville will beat the city by an even better ratio at the end of this year, according to my inexpert projection—a 10 percent dip near Greenville since 2003 versus a 5 percent hike for the city.

The people building this fashionable new housing—I spoke with several—are confident that they are assembling a whole new universe of customers for Lowest Greenville. They say as their properties fill up with young persons of income, this new local clientele will catch the eye of people such as Marc Andres, whose family has owned property on Greenville for three generations.

I called Andres. He agreed. He said his eye has been caught. He steered me to one of his new tenants, Bobby Hood, a young lawyer who lives a block off Greenville and is a principal in a sophisticated new jazz bar, Gezellig, in an Andres property on Greenville just south of Belmont Avenue.

Bobby Hood (addressed as Robert in the halls of the large law firm where he is a public finance attorney) told me his jazz bar is aimed directly at the people who are running off all of Otto's best crack houses:

"One of our absolute strategic concepts is to capture the market of people in all these new $500,000, $600,000 houses around there," he said. "We believe there is this group of affluent under-40 young people who don't have kids yet, who are buying these houses as their starter houses. They are seeing it as their last few years of having fun, and then they're going to have kids, and they're going to have to move out to the suburbs."

Something about that makes me so sad. I want for them not to have the kids, if it's going to make them have to move to the suburbs. It's not like we have a shortage.

This could all sound a bit Pollyanna. Rich young people move in, run off bad element. We in Old East Dallas know better. The bad element doesn't run. It retreats slowly, firing. And how do you know the richies will behave any better?

Lower Greenville activist Avi S. Adelman told me he thinks the bars are having some luck with a new dress code, suggested by the cops, to run off the gangbangers. But longtime neighborhood resident Cheryl Kellis said the gangbangers are not the worst of it:

"My biggest issue," she said, "has not been with Joey Gangmember. My issues have been with Joe Cool who's come down from Plano driving his top-of-the-line BMW, who decides to get out in front of my house and take his wiener out and piss on my tree in front of me."

Otto would love that.  

That was where we started with this. The dogs. Who are obviously stupid. But they're dogs. C'mon. I think where I end is this: The scene on Lowest and Lower Greenville obviously needs to be controlled and contained.

But not too much. And if the area is trending anywhere, it's straight up. Oh, my gosh. All this time, has poor Dottie been trying to tell me something? I've been a beast.

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