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A (Small, But Spirited) Effort Afoot to Shine a Little Light on Dallas's Buried Creeks

In the high-ceilinged shadows of the old Pump House at White Rock Lake, Bud Melton clicks through PowerPoint slides of apartment complexes, shopping malls, even public schools. Underneath them, he explains, is a crisscrossed network of the creeks and streams that used to be part of Dallas's landscape, long before Dallas was, well, Dallas. But those streams can be "daylighted," Melton says, or brought back to the ground level and restored to support the fish and wildlife they once did. He lingers on a slide showing the results of a daylighting project in Seoul, South Korea: a photo of an elderly man sitting on a park bench next to the restored stream, with children playing beside him in the lush, green plants.

"This looks like the kind of place I'd like to live, work, play and grow old," Melton says, running a hand through his thinning white hair. "This doesn't look anything like Dallas."

Melton, tall and thin with intense brown eyes, is a member of Save Open Space, the environmental group founded in 1970 by the late Ned Fritz, and has spent decades advocating for the same "walkable, livable city" that politicians, developers and urban planners are hoping will revitalize Dallas. Melton's plan, presented on the shores of White Rock on Sunday, is simple: create "livability" -- as much for humans as for the natural ecosystem -- by restoring what's already there. (Last year, Schutze wrote about how uncovering Dallas's buried creeks would turn us into one "Sexy Town.")

To that end, Melton and other SOS members have developed an interactive map of the city's "lost and endangered" creeks. Once the group figures out which streams lend themselves most to reclamation, hey'll start raising awareness and funding for a daylighting project. According to Melton, two of the front-runners are Kidd Springs in North Oak Cliff, and Knight's Branch, which flows through the UT Southwestern Medical Center on its way to the Trinity River

The concept of daylighting urban streams isn't new; Seattle started one such project in 1992, and California, New York and several other cities in Washington have embarked on similar ventures in an effort to restore natural streams and their attendant benefits -- aesthetic, environmental, even economic (because of their contributions to property value, runoff control and stormwater drainage) -- to urban areas. But in Dallas, Melton may have to face an uphill battle. Attendance at Sunday's meeting was meager, with just seven SOS members who among them made hardly a dent in the homemade refreshments. But Melton harbors no illusions about the difficulty of changing the way Dallas treats its streams.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it took 15 years [to daylight one stream]," Melton told the small but passionate group on Sunday. Still, he hopes neighborhood associations and other groups will see the value in having their local streams look more like Turtle Creek than the old days of
neglected Trinity River backwater -- or, for that matter, parking lots.

"We're at an incredible opportunity, given the economic situation, to step back and think about [how to] make better decisions," Melton told Unfair Park after the meeting. In his view, slowed development marks a unique chance to stop and reorient Dallas toward a more livable-city paradigm.

"SOS is not real sexy," Melton added. "But we [can] educate the thinkers and the decision makers. There's got to be a sea change in our policy."

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