We Are the World: If We Want Dallas to Be "Truly Great," We Must Begin at the Bottom

Isn't it interesting? The one question that seems to bubble back to the top time and time again in the ongoing mayor's race is the world-class city thing.


Maybe it's just semantics. Maybe what we really mean, when we use that embarrassingly pretentious, transparently insecure term, is that we just want to make Dallas a better city. What's wrong with that?

Ron Natinsky, the only sitting city council member in the race, always says we're already the best. So he's proud of us. No sin there.

Mike Rawlings, the ad man, says we haven't set our goals high enough. That's OK. It's standard salesmanship motivational stuff -- dream big, fly with eagles and so on. Maybe it sounds corny, but people I know who sell for a living tell me it works. I wouldn't know. I've always been on the buying end.

The one with the world-class city response that has the most credibility for me personally is David Kunkle, the ex-police chief. But I wonder if anybody knows what he means.

Kunkle always says the way to make Dallas world class is by building neighborhoods, enriching our sense of shared space, making Dallas a place where more people know each other and care about community.

So what the hell is that? And why does a cop say it? Why doesn't a cop tell us we need to get out there and crack more heads?

I have heard Kunkle talk about being a cop. In fact, years ago I told him I thought my son was interested (turns out, maybe not). He said something that stuck. He said the best cops for these times are young people motivated by a desire to help and protect others. Yeah, they also want to see some kick-ass action. Adrenaline is a part of the picture. But he said a bigger better part is a sense of shared responsibility for community.

My two-bit take on it comes from living in East Dallas. When we moved into our area, it was still so rough that visitors from other parts of town would always ask, "Why do you live here?" As in, "Have you got a mental problem or what?"

Now it's so materially changed for the better that visitors tell us they'd love to live nearby but can't afford the house prices.

None of that was top-down. Oh, man, the stories I could tell. We fought to build this part of the city in spite of City Hall and often against the active interference and even opposition of City Hall.

It's not that City Hall is a satanic cult or anything. Well, it's not totally satanic. There definitely are non-satanic elements. But, look. Anywhere, in any city, in any country, the lesson of the last century in the whole wide world is that community is the bedrock, and community is never top-down.

People do it themselves. It's not just a city block at a time. From what I've seen, it's more like a half-block at a time. At our end of our own block, we like and admire those people down at the other end of the block who look just like us. We just feel that they have a slightly different culture.

I have seen Kunkle out at endless late-evening community meetings over the years, so I know that he has looked neighborhoods in the eyeballs, listened to them and tried to help fix what they say they need fixed. I know he gets it.

That is where we really can make a better city -- by making this a place people like to live, fixing the curbs, getting the stop signs right, picking up the trash, busting the drug dealers, repairing the potholes and, yes, supporting the neighborhood schools.

Schools don't get better because of headquarters. They get better one parent at a time. One parent has faith. She talks another one into it. They roll up their sleeves and go do it. This should be simple. If the answer were big picture, rousing anthems and central planning, the Soviet Union would still be with us.

Unfortunately, community is not a simple thing to get across in a sound bite. It doesn't sound rousing. It's like clutching your hands at your chest and singing, "Climb every molehill!" But it's the only thing that really works. To become a world-class city, we need world-class molehills.