Happy Next Year

Walter Ender's fanciful rendering shows a Trinity bridge on which people would live and work. Or you could have low-rise shops and apartments on both sides. How cool, eh?

OK, here's the deal on 2004. I have a great idea for what we could do with the Trinity River. I should say, I know of a great idea. Like so many ideas, it's not really mine. But it's wonderful, and it could happen. It's a good project. Dallas does well with good projects.

The best example is Central Expressway. That was going to be a bad project, but the neighborhoods turned it around. In the 1980s, if the city had listened to the old-guard business leadership, we would be saddled now with a great big roaring, stinking double-decked expressway up the center of the city and ugly warehouses on both sides. Instead we have a beautiful sunken roadway--an international model--with cool old restoration neighborhoods and suave developments like Mockingbird Station along both borders.

We refused to be hurried on Central, took time to get it right, then settled on a final design that came not from mayors or money boys but from the neighborhoods.

We could do that with the river.

There is no reason the Trinity River project has to be done in the way the current plan calls for. In 1998 when we were asked to vote in favor of bonds for this thing, we were promised lakes downtown with sailboats, a huge central park and other amenities and a barely mentioned little "parkway" along the edge that sounded sort of like an access road. Now the city council has taken away the parks and the amenities and all of the good stuff, and they're giving us an expressway instead.

The people pushing this project want to overwhelm us with a sense of their own momentum. But the only thing they've really done so far is persuade the members of the Dallas City Council to vote in favor of their deal--the moral, political and financial equivalent of persuading a student government to vote in favor of world peace.

In order to build this bad project the way they want to, they need billions of dollars in state and federal subsidy. But not one dollar, no money, nothing, not any, not a dime of that money is in the pipeline. It's not that it hasn't been committed. It hasn't been discussed. The people pushing this project have a commitment for that money the way they have a commitment from Britney Spears to star in their home DVD.

All of the money they want to suck out of the state and federal highway funds for this bogus swampland freeway would come straight from funds urgently needed for legitimate highway and toll-road projects and real congestion relief to the north, from the North LBJ Freeway to the region up beyond the new Bush toll road in Plano. This could be the year the folks up there realize they're getting shafted. When that happens, the Trinity toll-road project could sink like a sack of shotgunned water moccasins.

All of which is my way of being positive about the coming year. By the way, I am not a totally negative person. Many of my best friends are positive. We have had positive people over for dinner, and we have eaten in their homes, which were very nice in their own way. I took a positive person to lunch recently--well, I went Dutch, actually, but there you have it--and that's where I got my great idea. Well, it's where I borrowed it.

I hope I'm not going to get James "Chip" Northrup kicked out of the Club Positivo by revealing that he breaks bread occasionally with the likes of me: Northrup is of the Northrup family of landowners and developers who have long been important players in both the downtown Dallas and suburban outlying areas.

He was talking about how plain goofy the idea is to stick a suspension bridge by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava over the dumb freeway they want to build along the river. No disrespect intended to Calatrava, a great architect. I hate the idea for Dallas because it seems like such a con--a consolation prize for the park they're cheating us out of. I think Northrup dislikes it more because it's so extremely retail--an off-the-shelf design that could be anywhere, sort of already is everywhere and says nothing about Dallas except that Dallas wrote a check.

Northrup talked about ways in which Dallas could do something truly original on the Trinity and maybe even something that would express and achieve the lofty goals pronounced for the project when they were hawking the bonds--all about bridging the gap and drawing the two ends of a segregated city into the same urban heart. While he was sitting there using his breadstick for a baton at Café Express, he dreamed up a concept for a bridge like the old London Bridge, the Medieval version with shops and apartments along the margins where Shakespeare had an apartment for a while.

It sent chills up and down my spine the moment he uttered it, because I remembered that someone else had proposed this very thing. In the early days of the Trinity River project--we're talking mid-1990s, before it was hijacked by the road hustlers--this same idea was proposed by one of the people who also had been instrumental 10 years earlier in the battle over Central Expressway.

Retired graphic designer Walter Ender, who with his wife, Linda, was a leader in the fight against double-decking Central, drew a conceptual rendering of a bridge over the Trinity River with high-rise apartments and offices as part of the bridge itself.

A bridge that truly draws the two halves of the city together. A bridge unique to Dallas. A Trinity River project that worships the river instead of mauling it. Why can't we do something like that?

Years before when Dallas leaders were still insisting on double decks for Central, Ender had drawn a futuristic concept for a depressed roadway with cantilevered service drives--eerily predictive of the way Central Expressway looks today. When I spoke to Linda Ender last week, she reminded me that her husband had drawn the rendering of Central for a brochure published by the opponents of double-decking to show that they weren't just against things. They wanted to show there were positive possibilities out there, if Dallas could only resist the bad ideas pushed by the road hustlers. The big groundswell of support for alternatives to double-decking arose after the widespread distribution of that pamphlet.

There is no reason why the same sort of thing could not happen on the Trinity. There is no reason the better side of the city's nature could not awaken to the call.

This could be the year.

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