Texas History

50 Years Ago, the Mayor Formulated Dozens of "Goals for Dallas." So, How'd We Do?

J. Erik Jonsson took over as Dallas' mayor at a turbulent time for the city. John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated on Elm Street, and residents and leaders were struggling to come to terms with the event and its aftermath.

Jonsson responded by preaching a forward-thinking optimism, urging constituents to have faith in the city's can-do spirit. This was given fullest expression in Goals for Dallas, a community-sourced enumeration of concrete objectives, both short- and long-term, the city needed to achieve in order to realize its potential.

The goals themselves weren't developed until 1966, but the process began with Jonsson's inaugural address, delivered 50 years ago this month. That's the anniversary SMU's Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility is marking with its sold-out "Goals for Dallas" symposium on Thursday, which will feature Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, DART founder Walt Humann, and Maguire Center director Rita Kirk discussing Jonsson's vision and its effect on Dallas.

See also: Goals for Dallas, or: A Look Back at When a Mayor Dreamed the Possible Dreams

Below, courtesy of SMU libraries, you can read the second draft of the goals, which were revised and expanded in 1967.

The goals tend to be nebulous, with few being objectively measurable or having any sort of metric attached to them. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that a certain number have largely been achieved:

Establish a system-wide public kindergarten with entrance mandatory for 5-year-olds.

Develop museums of excellent quality for art, natural history and science and industry.

Some are still a work in progress:

Design the Central Business District as a multi-purpose area for commercial, governmental, educational, cultural, recreational and residential use. The growth of the resident downtown population will stimulate life and growth in the other uses.

Provide for adequate and safe movement of pedestrian traffic throughout the city with special emphasis on congested and school areas.

And a few are basically hopeless:

Link State Fair Park to the Central Business District by a park-like development or broad boulevards and adequate connections to major expressways.

But focusing on whether any individual objective has been achieved misses the point. Goals for Dallas is striking not so much for what it got right or wrong but for its matter-of-fact progressivism.

The report doesn't address race, an enormous and inexcusable blind spot, but the writers advocated for public transportation, sex education in schools, job training for convicts, walkability and other measures that would draw cries of "libtard" in the Tea Party era.

Also remarkable is the faith in municipal government and local institutions to do big things and effect positive change. That type of optimism is currently in short supply.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

Goals for Dallas by Megan Nicholson

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson