Some years ago I was brutally chastised by a person who lives in my house for an especially nasty column I wrote about Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow and something he said about the Trinity River toll road -- that unbuilt monster highway somebody wants to stick on top of the river downtown. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was something to the effect that he was carrying water for the higher ups at the Morning News, and then ...
I honestly don't recall the rest of what I said. It was back in 2007, and we all said so much. I'm almost certain I did not say anything unpleasant about his parents. I don't know anything about his parents. Often a complete lack of knowledge about a person's parents will discourage me from casting aspersions on them. I probably just said something about his face.
Whatever it was, this person in my house told me Steve Blow's a good guy who writes what he believes. Fine. I can live with that. I don't think I was mad about him so much as his commenters. That was early on in the Era of Commenting.
Blow has been a supporter of the toll road from the very beginning, which was 17 years ago, with four main arguments to make: 1) We need another freeway to reduce congestion on the existing highways downtown. 2) The idea of anybody hanging out in a big park along the river is stupid. 3) Flooding, who cares? 4) Jim Schutze's parents were winos.
What drove me crazy back before the 2007 Trinity toll road referendum was that almost all of Blow's online commenters agreed with everything he said except the part about my parents, and the only reason they didn't buy that one hook line and sinker was that he didn't say that. It's on my mind only because I worry what might have happened back then had he said it. Blow really had a lock on people.
Before the 2007 election, the vast majority of mainstream readers in this city took almost everything Blow and other toll road supporters said at absolute face value: Downtown freeways are crowded sometimes, so a new freeway will help. Dallas doesn't really do parks much because it's so hard to air-condition the out-of-doors, and anyway there might be foreigners. And flooding, who does care?
Oh, my, how wonderfully and beautifully times have changed. Last Friday Blow published a column which I now know expressed his honest opinion and was not a suck-up piece designed to curry favor with his corporate betters like that lick-spittle fabric of transparent toadyism written by the new editorial board member a week ago.
No, Steve Blow is a good man, and the column he wrote Friday defending the toll road was an honest expression of his own convictions, freely arrived at with the very best of intentions. But here is what thrilled me: Last time I checked, almost 100 comments had been posted to his column on-line, the vast majority of which, maybe 95 percent, were from people ripping to shreds almost every single assertion Blow made in defense of the road.
This city has learned a tremendous amount over the last decade about transportation, flood control and urban design. I don't think anybody in the city believes now that the smart way to fix the downtown freeways is to build a new one parallel to the ones we've already got. What may have looked like a slick idea 10 years ago looks now like borrowing money to buy a new car because the one you've already got has a flat tire.
Guess what? Dallas loves parks. Loves them! Now we know, because now we have Klyde Warren. Just give this city a decent, safe well-maintained park that everybody can get to, and people in Dallas love nothing more than mixing and mingling in the out-of-doors.
Ten years ago the idea that Dallas needed to worry about flooding was almost impossible for many people to grasp. New Orleans flooded, people said back then, because it's too near the ocean and too low. Dallas is safe, they said, because the ocean is far away.
Lots of people understand by now that urban flooding is mostly about rain and run-off from land that has been sealed with concrete. The more land covered by impermeable surfaces, the more run-off, the bigger pipe needed to drain it all away, so don't go sticking a major highway inside the pipe.
The influx to the city of people who choose to live in an urban environment has radically altered the political landscape. Most of the post-World War II generation of civic leaders were partisans of flight and disaggregation. They led the city, but they bet their money on the suburbs (and I don't think they lost much money on that bet).
But everything is changed when you infuse into the city the power and energy of people who love cities and seek cityhood as a way of life. All of a sudden the value of that linear park along the river soars, because these people really intend to use it. The value of a new freeway plummets, because they don't want it and don't intend to use it.
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It's their city, after all. The city belongs to the people who live, pay taxes and vote in it. And therein lies the last and most spectacular change I noted in the comments to Blow's column. He starts off by saying he must support the toll road because he is "forced to play the role of sensible adult." It's a tone that worked for him in the past. That tone said that he was reluctantly doing his duty by relaying the word of authority. Authority had spoken. He was just passing it on. Only the spawn of winos would resist.
But the voice of authority I saw on that web page was not Blow's. It was the voice of the commenters. In contrast, Blow's tone seemed forced and artificial, more schtick than sincerity, even though, please note, that I know Blow is a good man who speaks his honest opinion, and I would never suggest otherwise.
The comments were smart, well informed and closely reasoned, and they flatly and absolutely rejected Blow's pretensions to authority. What I heard in them was this: "You don't tell us. We tell you. You are wrong. And your parents were winos." No, wrong, take that last one out. I didn't hear that at all.
Maybe the commenters have moved beyond both of us?