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Is Dallas Smarter Than a Third Worlder?

Is Dallas Smarter Than a Third Worlder?

In my ongoing series on cities smarter than Dallas, please allow me to add Seoul, South Korea, another place we need to send a team to right away.

Yesterday the Dallas City Council heard an awe-inspiring presentation by Guillermo Penalosa, a leading-edge planner whose work has helped transform cities from Canada to Colombia. He spoke about bike trails and then my own favorite topic these days (because we don't get it) -- linear river parks.

There's a story about his talk in this morning's Dallas Morning News. And, because of my deep respect for that particular news organ, which verges on fanatical religious awe, I am going to assume they entirely left out his bit about Seoul and the Cheonggyecheon project because of the high cost of ink. So it is my own honor and privilege, here in this ink-free environment, to catch you up on what Penalosa told the council.

Cheonggyecheon Creek in Seoul.
Cheonggyecheon Creek in Seoul.
Wikimedia Commons

Paraphrasing here, I interpreted his remarks to mean: Only idiots who couldn't even make it in the Third World would put a highway down their riverfront.

Penalosa, I am sure, knows nothing of Dallas' fervent desire to put a highway down its riverfront. His PowerPoint presentation is probably the same that he delivers all over the world. I'm sure he had no idea he was jabbing us in the eye with a sharp stick.

In Seoul, as Penalosa pointed out, the city started by building a six-lane highway over Cheonggyecheon Creek, a tributary of the Han River, in 1976. As Penalosa explained, it filled up with gridlocked traffic that spewed toxins far and wide.

So they double-decked it. Pretty soon they had a two-layer wedding cake of toxin-spewing gridlock. Some officials started thinking about triple-decking.

In 2003, a progressive mayor put his hand up and said stop. This is going in the wrong direction. Mayor Lee Myung-bak led a successful campaign to have the whole thing torn down and the river restored as a lovely linear park, now a jewel of the city and an engine of redevelopment along its banks.

What about the cars? Seoul told them to go away. And in fact, Penalosa told our council members, getting rid of cars is the sole solution: "There is no city in the world the size of Dallas that has solved the issue of mobility through the private car," he said.

The answers, he said, are public transit coupled with serious efforts to make walking and biking a better experience. My own two bits to add would be that there's nothing better for walking than lovely trails and linear parks.

Penalosa was not consciously speaking about or to Dallas, but his remarks should have been taken by the council as both a knife in their hearts and a window on a better tomorrow. Otherwise in its approach to the challenges of the future, our city is plunging blindly into the past.

City Hall and the old-school moneybags who still control it are ignorant of the world beyond our city limits, and that ignorance is turning those limits into prison walls. If we allow them to keep spending our money to build freeways through downtown and useless decorative bridges, they're going to wind up putting this city six feet under.

Dallas needs to get out more. We should commission some kind of best practices team to travel the globe -- even if it's only virtual travel online -- to find out how leading-edge cities around the world are resolving the same problems and conflicts that seem always to be so insoluble here.

First stops: 1) Seoul (riverfront), 2) Galway (linear forest park), 3) Detroit (farmers market), 4) Mexico City (air).

For some of us, I know, this may require a tad or two of unaccustomed humility, a touch of modesty, a hard swallow, perhaps. But remember: We could put it up on billboards leading into town: DALLAS -- MODESTY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. How one's heart would swell.

(To watch Penalosa's presentation, scroll to the 16:11 time mark in this video.)


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