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DowntownDallas Crowd Can't Find the D-Spot

How much do I know about hip? Extremely little. If I found a dead guy by the side of the road, I might say, "This man is not hip." That's how bad it has to be for me to notice.

I just came from a luncheon where I saw something that was not hip at all. I'm sure of it. This was not a gray area. One hint: People were staring at the floor and shaking their heads silently at the "funny" parts.

I guess somebody meant well. But isn't that always the case? In fact, isn't that usually the problem?


downtown Dallas

This involves that absolutely horrible ad campaign by the Downtown Dallas Association, called "Where is your D-spot?" Get it? D for Dallas. Get it? D-spot, G-spot. Get it?

I just don't want to get it. I don't like it. I know exactly what it is. It's an attempt by the Downtown Dallas Association to be hip.

The Downtown Dallas Association, which has changed its name to DowntownDallas (all one word), is an unofficial fief of the Belo Corporation, owners of Dallas' only daily newspaper, The Dallas Morning News. Maybe you see where we're headed.

The February 22 luncheon I attended was the annual meeting of DowntownDallas all one word. At the end of an otherwise extremely interesting program, they presented a new video, which I believe they intend to post on YouTube unless some public-spirited citizen can obtain a court order first. It features an attractive young couple who are searching for their D-spots in downtown Dallas.

But something is terribly, terribly wrong with this young couple. They're both gorgeous, but sadly they have no chemistry between them. None at all. It's as if they're on a missionary trip to Dallas.

She's white. He's black. But could they be that afraid of touching? When she stands next to him, she holds her arm way back behind her back. Their body language says, "We know each other, but I promise you that we would never do, well, you know...that."

We watch while they go to these horrible places in downtown Dallas—a cafeteria, for example, that looks like a dust-free room at an Intel chip factory. Talk about sterile. The street scenes are even worse.

There they are, standing alone on the streets of downtown Dallas not touching each other. But, ahoy! Who comes hither from yon thicket? Yes, from the distance we observe the inexorable approach of an actress.

And what is it she is acting out? Starts with a P. Oh, I got it! She's a pedestrian! In downtown Dallas, no less.

Is she going to their D-spot? All right, maybe finally some action. The really bad acting, the strange absence of other human beings, the totally implausible settings: This is actually beginning to look like a fair to middling porno movie.

Alas, no. It's just a terribly unhip attempt at a hip promotion of downtown Dallas, produced by the kind of people who dominate downtown Dallas right now, and it says everything about why downtown is so hammered.

But the luncheon was great. I was the guest of the Andres brothers—Marc and Roger—about whom I have written ("Inner City Grows Despite City Hall," November 29, 2007), who wanted me to hear the featured speaker, Christopher B. Leinberger, a real estate developer and author of The Option of Urbanism.

Leinberger's book, published this year by Island Press, makes the case that the nation's post-World War II real estate pattern has inverted in the last decade: All the big real estate investment of the foreseeable future will be in and around urban centers, he says, not in ever-sprawling suburbs.

Leinberger is also a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institution and a professor at the Taubman College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Michigan. Governing Magazine has called him "the boldest prophet of walkability anywhere."

No slouch.

I know why the Andres brothers are so taken with him: His thesis, supported by solid market and demographic data, is an endorsement of what Andres Properties is now doing in East Dallas, especially along Henderson and Lower Greenville avenues. They are taking aging properties—most of them held by their family for decades—and re-working them to create sophisticated "walkable neighborhoods" where a person can live and play without having to drive a car.

Leinberger was riveting. He told an enormous crowd at the Palladium Ballroom on South Lamar Street that the whole back-to-the-city movement is a bandwagon created by the Gen Xers (born in the '60s and '70s) and the Millennials (or Gen Yers, born in the '80s).

"It's not aging baby boomers," he said. "This is the first major trend by the Gen Xers and the Millennials, and I'm sure those of you under 35 are delighted that the baby boomers are finally relinquishing the lead.

"Think about the TV shows you grew up on, you gray hairs out there. Back in the '50s, it was Leave It to Beaver, in the '60s it was Dick Van Dyke. In the '70s, it was The Brady Bunch. All set in the suburbs.

"Now flash forward, starting in the late '80s, early '90s with Seinfeld, then Friends, then Sex and the City. And in essence all of these shows showed an entirely different version of what life could be lived like."

Interesting, right?

"I don't know about you," he added, "but I have five kids, and not one of them has ever even thought of moving to the suburbs. All in their 20s and 30s. All in the city. That's pretty much where it's going these days."

If I had been at the front of the room, where the members of DowntownDallas all one word were sitting, I'm sure I would have heard many of them whispering to each other, "What's Sex and the City?"

It's not that D-spot video, that's for damn sure.

But it was my good fortune to be on the outskirts of the room, where I was surrounded not just by the Andres brothers but by many key players in the kind of urban revival that is actually working along the margins of downtown as opposed to downtown proper. Barry Annino, president of the Deep Ellum Foundation, was across the table from me. Not far away was Emma Rodgers, who represents District 5 on the City Plan Commission, and a short distance from her I saw Neal Emmons, the commissioner from District 14.

All of these, if I may say so, are my kind of people. They have been fighting the good fight for decades to create livable neighborhoods in the city. And, remember, you gotta live before you can walk.

Sadly, all of these folks have been involved in tough internecine battling in recent weeks. Last week the Andres brothers withdrew under fire from their application for a mixed-use development at Ross and Henderson avenues, two-thirds of a mile from my home. Their retreat came shortly after Whole Foods doused its plans for an ultra-cool new super-store, also near where I live.

Having lived through the bone-breaking battles between neighborhoods and the downtown morons for the last 30 years, I know exactly why the neighborhoods are so extremely chary of anything that involves pushing the envelope on existing zoning laws. You put a pinhole in that thin fabric, one tiny exception, and the morons come trampling through like elephants.

It's what they are trying to do with "ForwardDallas" (all one word), the new so-called masterplan for the city. With aid and comfort from the city staff, the developers who have always run City Hall are using ForwardDallas as carte blanche to attack neighborhoods and impose big fat buildings that cut off the sky and jam residential streets with too much traffic, like the up-zoning case at Routh and Woodrow near the Katy Trail that my ex-boss Lee Cullum wrote about on the Morning News op-ed page last week.

The same downtown people who for decades ran roughshod over neighborhoods and bled the city to pump their own real estate holdings in the suburbs now want to come riding back in and run roughshod over us in the other direction. It doesn't do any good to tell them that everything in the city depends on sophistication and self-control, because those are qualities they don't have. Along with a G-spot.

But at the same time, Leinberger's evidence of a massive surge back into the city in the near future is very persuasive. The neighborhoods that hunker down and shut the door to exciting new mixed-use walkable development are going to be sorry. In the city it goes one of two ways—up or down. Nothing stands still.

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The wrong people are at each other's throats. Somehow there has to be a way to re-work the politics and the bureaucracy so that cool neighborhoods can happen and big fat overdeveloped junk piles can be stopped. If we look at the enemy more closely, we will find that the enemy is not us. It's those D-spotters.

Just for example. I was embarrassed that the DowntownDallas all one word luncheon the other day opened with an invocation by a young clergyman who went on and on about Jesus. I'm not going to go into this in detail, because what's the use? But Jesus talk is very offensive and a really bad signal at things like this, and in my neighborhood we'd know better.

Is Jesus going to find his D-spot in downtown Dallas? Don't answer. But I'm beginning to see how this whole thing may end. Dallas will have a big doughnut of cool urban neighborhoods all around downtown, and downtown itself will be used for paintball tournaments.

OK with me. I won't shoot at your D-spot if you won't shoot at mine.

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