I can predict the future. No, not of everything. I never said that. But of City Hall. I can tell you exactly pretty much partially what will be going on with Dallas City Hall five years from now. For example, I see in my crystal ball that the entire city council is gone except for Angela Hunt, who has just been elected mayor.
Sorry. I can't tell you what Laura Miller's doing. I've got a smudge on that spot. And don't ask me where the council went. Away. That's all I know. No, wait...I'm getting something on council member Linda Koop. She's in the Netherlands about to undergo an operation. Oh, my gosh. They can do IQ enlargements!
North Dallas council member Mitchell Rasansky has retired from politics. I see him riding around North Dallas in one of his antique automobiles, and people are running out on their lawns, falling on their knees and doing salaams as he drives by. They're really grateful to that guy up there for something.
Dallas Comprehensive Plan
But for that, I don't need a crystal ball. All I needed was to sit through three and a half hours of debate last week on something called the "Dallas Comprehensive Plan." Think of it this way: If you can imagine somebody taking your company's seminar on the new benefits plan and melding it together with your company's seminar on the new computer system and then melding all of that together with a really cheap comedy defensive driving school, you might understand my suffering.
The council yawned and talked on cell phones while influential community leaders urged them not to adopt the city staff's recommended plan. Author Virginia McAlester warned them the plan had "great potential to do harm, active harm to our city and our neighborhoods." Then the council voted 12-2 against the speakers and in favor of the plan.
Afterward, alone at one end of the big reception area outside the council chambers, back against the wall and gazing out at the downtown skyline, was Larry Duncan, a former member of the council, one of the key leaders of the 1980s neighborhood movement in Dallas that tossed out the oligarchs and helped create whatever is cool in Dallas today. Just leaning and gazing.
I raised my eyebrows in a question (that's how I do a lot of my interviewing now--saves the voice).
"This is all theory," he said. "Nobody will get it. There has to be blood on the ground. Unfortunately, some neighborhood has to get really screwed. That will happen, fairly soon. And then everything changes."
I agree. It will happen. And then everything does change. It's how Angela Hunt becomes the mayor and all of the various dildos and cone-heads on the council today become forgotten, except for Rasansky, who becomes Buddha. And Miller. We don't know about Miller.
What the city council did last week, by shooting down the community advocates and voting in favor of the planning staff, was open the crypt and resurrect an old and moldy vampire. It used to be called "The Thoroughfare Plan" back in the '80s when Duncan was bloodying his knuckles on it. Now it's called "The Comprehensive Plan." But it's always the same thing: top-down central planning designed to cut communities out of the process.
Allow me to toss in an observation here. If central planning worked, we'd all be Russkies by now. And the worst part is that this form of central planning, like all central planning, is a fraud even on itself. The minions at City Hall won't do any real planning, when the rubber meets the road. They'll do more of what this thing was last week: whored-out fake planning as camouflage for the same kind of slap-it-up-and-run developers who put this city in the tank in the 1980s.
Duncan's exactly right. A sacrifice in blood will redeem us all and produce a far better city five years from now. The key here will be a brutal assault on North Dallas. I predict we'll see that start within months.
Except for Rasansky, the North Dallas council members--Linda ("Flew The") Koop and Ron Natinsky--voted last week to screw their own constituents by covering North Dallas with vast new zoning rights, especially along Preston Road, Belt Line Road, Forest Lane and Northwest Highway, which are deemed "transit corridors" under the new plan and slated for high-rise and mid-rise development along a band a third to half a mile wide. On both sides of Preston Road north of Northwest Highway, for example, that would take in what are now expensive single-family residential streets from Douglas Avenue west of Preston almost to Tulane Boulevard on the east.
Koop made a speech that I believe was intended to allay the fears of residents of those areas, in which she seemed to say she was voting for these enormous new zoning densities because she was sure nothing would actually get built. Drawing on her experience as a former director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, she told the audience about trips she had taken to look at systems elsewhere:
"What we really pretty much discovered and found about why people want light rail or heavy rail, which is subway," she said, "is because those do have at the stations an opportunity for transit development. But those of us who rode the bus rapid transit or streetcar or even commuter rail, what we found was that there is very little of the accompanying transit-oriented development, and that's why most cities pride having a light rail system."
"When you have a multilevel system such as ours, those were never indicative or meant to be at any point that there would be vast development, dense development. That's just not the case, and that's not what has happened in the United States."
Koop said she had taken a ride on Boston's Silver Line, an express bus route, and "There's no change in development along that line."
Back at my office, I zipped through several years of the Boston Globe on LexisNexis and found multiple stories about huge new luxury apartment and condo projects being built along that line.
Then she talked about "signal pre-emption," which often is part of the design of modern transit corridors these days. That's when the buses carry transmitters that turn the traffic lights green for them as they approach.
"As you ride on the bus, it's really kind of an interesting fun thing. It pre-empts all the lights. So you're on this bus, and it comes up to the red light and the red light changes, and that's what we call pre-emption. It helps your air quality and helps get traffic off the road."
Yeah, except that it creates horrendous gridlock for the people in cars trying to cross the transit corridor. And in Boston there has been documentation of higher asthma rates along these routes attributed to diesel exhaust. So maybe councilperson Linda ("Loop The") Koop might be sure to mention those factors, too, at her next séance.
Here's what happens here. The same kind of toss-it-up developers who pushed the disastrous thoroughfare plan for Dallas in the 1980s are delirious over this new plan, because it gives them a green light to redevelop choice areas. They have bought the support of South Dallas by suckering the leadership. South Dallas council member Leo Chaney believes that by putting zoning for a Mockingbird Station in South Dallas, you force somebody to build one there. That's like taking an empty bank bag to a poker game so the other players will have to fill it up. It doesn't work that way.
All the development energy unleashed by this thing will go to prime ground in North Dallas. Is that bad? Sure, because North Dallas is already what it wants to be. It doesn't want to be dumped upside down.
During last week's meeting, Rasansky, who is in the apartment development business himself, pointed out that new dense development is best when you use it to replace existing bad dense development, and you don't have to change the zoning to do that. He said it's a mistake to steer developers to areas that are already strong when you can use redevelopment instead to fix bad areas.
"If we're landlocked, let us go back to the bad apartment units in the city of Dallas. Let's go back to the industrial areas, and let's develop those.
"Today in my district we're tearing down almost 3,000 lousy crime-infected units and coming up with $150 million projects--condos, single-family residence and homes. It can be done in the city of Dallas."
But that's not what will happen under the thing the council adopted last week. There's too much risk and complexity in that kind of urban redevelopment for the toss-it-ups. They want to muscle in on the easy ground, places that are already rooted and fashionable. That's why none of this will go to Chaney's district.
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Angela Hunt gets it. She led the opposition to this thing. The rest of the council treated her like a goofy girl out in space. I remember another member they treated that way a few years back. Her name was Laura Miller.
The down-and-dirty guys will muscle in on North Dallas. There won't be a way to stop them, because of this plan. North Dallas will bleed, but that bloodshed will bring the neighborhood movement back to life. The alliances will be re-forged. Hunt will be mayor and a host of sharp new people will be on the council.
Dallas will be better for it. All of the cool stuff on the ground today came from precisely this kind of struggle 20 years ago. The real community leaders will put the City Hall staff back in its place, drive out the bad developers and work with the good ones. Great stuff will happen.
It's just not always fun getting there.