Fancy Retail in South Dallas: We Built It, and They Didn't Come

You guys are killing me. I'm a four-hyphen guy, a commie-pinko hippie-liberal nanny-state bleeding-heart libtard. I thought Dallas was supposed to be ultra-conservative. You're supposed to have at least one hyphen. But you keep putting me on the wrong side of the hyphen.

Today The Dallas Morning News has a serious editorial -- as opposed to a joke -- in which it bemoans the fact that the erection of a city-subsidized shopping center to house rich and fancy shops in a district of bleak soul-biting poverty two years ago in South Dallas has failed to cause that area to become rich and fancy. In fact it has just failed -- failed, failed, failed.

What the ...? No. You guys know better than this. You have to know better than this. But you keep doing it. Not just in poor South Dallas. You did it a few years ago in downtown with a government-owned fancy furniture store and a fancy grocery store. The fancy furniture store and the fancy grocery store, subsidized at fancy government cost, also failed to cause fancy people to emerge from nearby sidewalks like potted palms.

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Fancy people don't come from groceries. It goes the other direction. Fancy groceries flock to fancy people. You have to have the fancy people first. Then you can sell them fancy stuff. Why am I ... why are we talking about this? Come on. Conservatives, this is your territory, not mine. I don't want to talk about this. I'm going to get in a lot of trouble with my libtard friends.

How can City Hall in Dallas -- of all the cities in the world -- not understand where money comes from? The Bexar Street project in South Dallas is an utter, abject, shivering and shuddering failure. The original plan for it was inspired by a phenomenon that anthropologists call the "cargo cult" -- the belief that erecting the outward shapes and forms associated with wealth will cause real wealth, or cargo, to arrive as if from a mysterious gift-bearing ship.

Somehow installing fancy shops in a neighborhood where people can barely afford to live indoors and eat regularly is supposed to turn those people into rich Burberry-umbrella twirling shopaholics. I know if I was that poor and had to look across the street at something that fancy every day, it might turn me into some-kind-of-aholic. Shop, I don't think so.

To shop, you have to have money. You can't shop without money. People sell things for money. You bring the money into the shop. You give the shop the money. They give you the umbrella. They don't give you the umbrella, and then money falls out of it, and then you give them back some of the money. If it started working like that, the shop people would shutter their shop immediately, take all their umbrellas home and shake the hell out of them.

You get this. Really. Right? I don't know what the ... what's going on here?

Last month Dallas Morning News editorial writer Tod Robberson, who is one of my absolute favorite authors of all time including Charles Dickens, had a very moving piece in the paper about a poor girl from a Dickensian background, born in public housing and subjected to all kinds of slings and arrows, who did good in life anyway. A terrific read. If I had one objection, it might have been that Robberson's piece didn't say how she did it. It just said she did, and that was heartwarming enough.

At the top of the piece, however, was an illustration that I believe the News may have sort of borrowed a bit -- note that I am not using the term, plagiarized -- from a friend of mine, Robert V. Pitre, a businessman who has lived and worked in southern Dallas most of his life. The illustration in the paper over Robberson's piece, under their Pulitzer Prize-winning rubric, "Bridging the Gap," was a map on a chalk board called "From Cradle to Success," showing different paths kids can take in life. The News' map looked a whole lot -- I want to say a WHOLE lot, like really a whole lot, as in really a huge whole lot -- like a teaching tool Pitre invented some years ago called "Life Guide for America" -- a map depicting real life choices, principally for kids but for adults as well. These are the basic choices that make the difference between lives of brutal penury and lives of health and fulfillment.

Pitre actually knows this stuff. From his vantage point as a car dealer on the mean streets of South Dallas, he has waged his own war for the souls of kids around him for decades. It's a world where the most visible symbols of success are pimps, drug dealers and killers. Pitre has carried his map from schools to the White House, arguing that the only path to economic betterment is one of moral change.

You can find easy money, Pitre tells students. That's easy. Then you go to prison, and some man with a Taser tells you when you can take a shower. Or there's hard money -- money you work for, money you wait for -- and then you get to stay home with your family and take a shower when you feel like it. But you have to pick the right path and stay on it to get to the right money.

Anyway, I thought you conservative guys had this all down. I thought this was your deal. Guys like me, we just want everybody to have free braces. That's supposed to be how it goes. So how come Dallas City Hall and The Dallas Morning News, with all their bridging-the-gap Lady Bountiful stuff, keep doing the cargo cult thing?

Here's an idea. Give Pitre a call. He's in the book. He actually lives in the gap-bridging area. Ask him: "Mr. Pitre, if we install a Burberry shop in your area, will it cause the people there to become wealthy?" He'll give you an earful.

(Hey, please, fellow libtards, take it easy on me: I still believe that abstract art cures poverty. I'm not going back on core principals.)

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze