A certain testosterone-influenced contingent at the Observer would give Angela Hunt the nod for this award, and while she's a good council representative, our heart--as opposed to other body parts--belongs to Mitchell. Why? He's rich, so he's beholden to no one; his business is development, so he actually knows something about how the city works, or doesn't work; he treats tax dollars like they belong to the people who pay them; but best of all, he's so damn cranky. Watching Rasansky's face at council meetings as city staffers give convoluted non-answers to questions he poses is a delight. He looks like he's about that close to jumping up and giving someone a good shake. The man appears to live in a continual state of pissed-offness, an entirely reasonable reaction by any sane person sitting on either side of the council table. Besides, with Laura Miller heading off to enjoy the delights of motherhood next year (yeah, right), Rasansky is destined to become the one in a series of 14-1 council votes, and here at the Observer our motto is, "If 14 council members agree with a decision, it must be wrong." That makes Rasansky right more often than not.
Two words: spray park. One more word: free. Really, of all the city-owned-and-operated rec centers, this is probably the nicest joint in the inventory, with a kinda-sorta-not-really sprawling water park for the kiddies, unusually refreshing summertime breezes for the folks and a DART train running nearby to entertain the whole family when it gets a little too waterlogged. And there's the usual playground, which only serves to further wear out the tykes just when you want the break; on-the-way-home naps ain't out of the ordinary after we visit.
Do you believe that a space can be aesthetically pleasing and still serve a purpose? Do you believe that good design can be achieved on a limited budget? Architectural designer Keith Petersen does, and damn, are we glad to hear it from someone local and not on HGTV. Petersen has taken the plunge and gone into business for himself. His first major solo project is the interior design and finish-out of the new Gachet Coffee Lounge at Victory Plaza (due to open in December). He's keeping with the modern development but taking pains to avoid a dystopian cold feel. "It's a space thought out for living," he says of the lounge, which will include a small bookstore. "You're supposed to enjoy what you do there." Finally, a designer who understands that people actually live in what he designs. Petersen notes that he takes inspiration from Christopher Alexander, Jane Jacobs and Tadao Ando and aims to use common design elements and materials in an unusual way. Could it behe's(gasp)creative and cost-conscious?
Hawaiian Falls Adventure Park
You're saying to yourself, "Various locations? How's that possible since I haven't even heard of the place?" Well, really, there are three of these water parks scattered throughout the area: in The Colony, Garland and near Executive Airport (known to the rest of us as Red Bird Airport). So there. Guess you don't have kids; shame. Then you would never know the joy of this luxurious H2O retreat that's about as decadent as you can get whilst still being ever-so-close to the Almighty. See, this place is full of the holy water; says so on the Web site, which says that HF's "relationship with God is our most important priority. Every part of our business is considered through this prism. Our goal is to draw closer to the Lord and to serve Him." Amazingly, that's the same mission of every Dallas Observer staffer; maybe that's why we love the Falls so, where workers are called "ambassadors" and serving hot dogs is the same as serving God. Whatever. The kids like it, and it does answer the age-old question: Where would Jesus take the kids to swim? We dare you: Have a bar mitzvah party there. C'mon. It'll be fun.
English teacher by day, comic book writer by night, David Hopkins creates true-to-life characters with remarkable powers that sometimes even they don't understand. The Arlington native released his second series, Emily Edison, through Irving's Viper Comics last summer. Though Emily is a story about a teenage super-heroine geared toward an all-ages audience, Hopkins didn't scrimp on the real-life drama in the series, putting superhero Emily between two feuding parents. It'd be kinda creepy that Hopkins could write a 15-year-old girl so well if he weren't such a swell guy. His inquisitive mind also hatched 2005's excellent graphic novel series Karma Incorporated, about a "non-lethal hit squad" who hire out their services to make others' lives miserable. Teenage girls and revenge. Honestly, what else would you want on an underground comic's mind?
The Nasher Sculpture Center
How often do you get to sit in a work of art? How often do you get to escape into a room that feels absolutely, totally, unconditionally cut off from the world around you, to the point where you feel kind of lost after a while? If your answer is "never," then clearly you have not trekked to the northern end of the Nasher Sculpture Center, where James Turrell's so-called "skyscape" awaits even the most claustrophobic among you and promises something close to nirvana. Since we can no more describe the place than we can say how it makes us feel--chilly in summer, warm in winter, wonderful always--then let the Nasher's Web site do it for us; we will add only that it's the only site-specific creation at the joint, which is fast becoming our favorite local retreat. Says the site about Turrell's creations: They're "enclosed spaces--rooms or free-standing structures--open to the sky through rectangular or circular apertures in the roof.<\f>While they appear to be architectural in nature, these spaces exist solely to create the light effects and perceptual events that constitute Turrell's art. To achieve his optical effects, Turrell coordinates a complex system of lights that run in concert with natural cycles of sunrise and sunset, and respond to constantly changing atmospheric conditions." See? Heaven.
Want to complain that the Polyphonic Spree has an unfair advantage in this category? Go right ahead. List all of the factors that make the Spree lopsided candidates, from the surplus of members (up to roughly 170 now, and that's not including the lion tamer...kidding) to the major-label support of Hollywood Records, to even the band's infrequent local gigs, and we'll offer only one response: All the more reason to see Dallas' colorful conductors when they play here. Always a better band on stage than on CD, the roughly two dozen robed warriors of the Spree are the local group everybody hates to love, but their symphonic bombast, choral shouts and manic crescendos still result in the most invigorating and smile-worthy shows anybody--from a total musical newbie to a hardened snob--can see in this city. Best of all, you still have time to purchase tickets for their annual Dallas Christmas concert. So take the kids, the parents and, heck, your grumpy self to Dallas' best reason to stop saying humbug.
It's a peculiar place, not too far off Interstate 20 in Southwest Dallas, and few Dallasites even know it exists. You drive up the steep driveway, to the top of a hill that used to be the highest point in Dallas County (how it lost that status isn't quite clear; haven't seen any volcanoes or glaciers around here recently). You get out and wander around this quiet place, and pretty soon you're hit with a breathtaking, panoramic view of everything west of the city: from Joe Pool Lake, to undeveloped prairie, to the stacked peaks of brand-new McMansions in the valley below. Not a noise is heard on a hot, windless day except for the muffled drone of I-20. This is "Prayer Mountain," on the grounds of Mountain Creek Community Church, and "anyone from any church" can come here to pray and meditate on the grounds, which include wooden decks overlooking the cliff, picnic tables, a fountain and forest trails. They much prefer, though, that you direct your prayers to "the Lord." Prayer Mountain is open in the evening, too, so people coming home from work can unload their worries here. The best view in Dallas is at its loveliest at sunset, or when there's a full moon. And there are people who live on the grounds and watch the facility, so shake off the urban jitters for a moment and relax.
We've said it before on Unfair Park: To look at a painting by Jennifer Morgan is to be embraced by the artist herself. The incredibly prolific painter has an insane knack for putting herself into each of her works. And neither that skill, nor her raw talent, has gone anywhere despite a transformation in Morgan's work. Over the last year or so, her style has changed from more whimsical, feminine caricatures into a softer, more thoughtful, nature-driven series titled "We're All Pink." The female influence is still present in her newest works, but the images are brave and bold, even more empowered by their natural and animalistic themes. Layer after layer, Morgan paints emotion and energy onto the canvas to create what might appear to be just a moose paired with cherry blossoms or a great ape but is really a very personal portrait. We imagine it's that gentle, almost maternal cradle of the paintbrush that moves through the eyes of her subjects and wraps itself around the viewer of each of her paintings.
Dallas World Aquarium
You need stats? We got stats: 85,000 gallons of "saltwater with marine life from around the world." A 22,000-gallon tunnel that allows you "to experience a panoramic view of reef life." Three webcams placed in with the manatees, otters and exotic birds. The eight-story Mundo Maya "immersion exhibit that takes visitors from the waters of the Yucatan's Gulf coast to the highland rainforests." Got that? What the kids dig most are the sharks and Mexican food and the waterfall. And being on the inside, where it always feels like a tropical jungle, no matter the weather. Last we looked there was supposed to be an aquarium at Fair Park; last we looked, it was as small as your neighbor's fish tank and half as clean. Till Dallas gets something along the lines of, oh, the Shedd in Chicago, this is about as good as it gets.

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