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Market Capitalism for North Dallas, Soviet-style Planning in South

Bet this guy could get sewers built, if he wanted.
Bet this guy could get sewers built, if he wanted.

We've been talking here off and on about land owners near the new UNT-Dallas campus in southern Dallas who want a sewer. They think City Hall is deliberately holding back on a system they were promised years ago. And, yeah, I always feel I need to stop and stipulate that this is indeed and for a fact a large area of the city where there is no sewer system.

Gross.

But the situation is real, and it is coming into a little clearer focus for me, so I thought I might share some of that with you. No, the people who own land there are not nuts and paranoid; the city really is holding back on giving them a sewer system that was fully funded and supposed to be under construction two years ago.

See also: Landowners Fear Dallas' "Grow South" Plan Will Cut Them Out

City staff has its reasons. It has even stated those reasons in print, a copy of which you can read for yourself below. You may read it and think, "Nah, don't let those people have a sewer system. What do they need sewers for?" But here's the deal. The landowners are right about the City Council vote.

The council voted five years ago for the sewer system to be built. The council passed into law an implementation plan for the area around UNT-Dallas directing that design and construction of the sewer system and other important infrastructure needed to be under way by the end of 2012. It's 2014 now, and the staff hasn't moved one inch.

And that's no accident. The city staff has a whole philosophy, in fact, which we might call the philosophy of non-sewerology, expressed in the memo you will find below by interim First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans. In it, Evans justifies not giving the area a sewer system, bolstering his position with a long quote from Vancouver, Canada, planner Larry Beasely, who's no small potato in the international field of urban planning.

Evans is basically saying that the city should hold back on building infrastructure and keep the land cheap until an uber-developer comes along. That way the uber-developer can scoop up the land at rock bottom prices and make money on the land itself before setting a brick -- a serious incentive, supposedly, for uber-developing. I don't get how that plan guards against what I would assume would happen -- uber-speculation. But I'm no Larry Beasely.

There has been mention in the past of creating some kind of quasi-public development authority in the area, which might or might not have power of eminent domain. That seems unlikely. But as we know from the saga of Dale Davenport and the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard car wash, City Hall don't need no stinkin' eminent domain if they want your land. They have their ways.

The idea here is that development of the UNT-Dallas area, when it comes, must be monolithic, the work of the single uber-developer working hand-in-glove with city planners to transform the entire area all at once. In the meantime, septic tanks.

The unavoidable subtext is a fear that if the sewer goes in now and the people who own the land now are able to do the development, they will fuck it up -- more or less what Evans says in his memo.

That's a way to look at it. Of course, people in this part of town, predominantly and historically African-American, do point out to me regularly that such a philosophy is the exact opposite of what City Hall believed when white North Dallas was being developed as more or less as a free-for-all land orgy driven entirely by speculators.

Hey. This is Dallas, remember. This is the only town I know of that consistently refers to grifters by the French word, entrepreneur. If they're white grifters. But you put it down south of Interstate 30, and now all of a sudden, man, we have to go super-Soviet central-planning to make sure no mistakes are made.

That may be the staff's philosophy. They have their reasons, and, as I said, Larry Beasely is a person to be taken seriously. But then again, this ain't Vancouver, is it? And the switch-up, from raw-boned let-'er-rip capitalism on the white side of town to centrally planned and enforced non-sewerology on the black side? That's kind of a hard dichotomy to ignore, is it not?

Then City Halls says it's all about "Grow South?" I completely get why major landowners in the path of that idea are asking, "Grow what, south?"

Ryan Evans UNT memo by Schutze


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