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Former Trinity Toll Road Supporters' Change of Heart Shows Dallas Actually Has a Heart

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I was on vacation in an especially beautiful corner of New England -- a place darkened at the time by some typically wet, chilly, early spring New England weather -- when I saw the piece on the op-ed page of The Dallas Morning News by Larry Good. Wow. One of the city's most prominent architects was saying that he now opposes construction of a major highway through downtown cutting off access to the river. I read it three times.

Using an interesting word choice, Good said he would, "... now confess publicly my opposition to building this highway." Soon after reading those words I visited the Salem, Massachusetts, witch memorial where a series of engraved stones commemorate the ways in which witches were executed, most of them by hanging but at least one by being "pressed to death." Terrible.

There in the gravity of that place and thinking of Good but also of D Magazine owner Wick Allison, who has experienced a similar conversion and rebirth on the toll road issue, I felt called upon to react to their changes of heart with magnanimity. Tell me if you know where I can I get some.

Like Allison, Good is not just another guy on this question. He has been one of the most important and effective establishment voices pushing for construction of a multi-lane, high-speed, tolled, truck and auto route along the river. His 180 degree reversal is remarkable and significant not only for what it reveals in his own thinking but also for what it absolutely must say about the thinking going on around him in establishment circles. I applaud both him and Allison for their courage, but I do not see them as martyr types. They must feel some wind at their backs.

Both men are thinking and talking about the Trinity toll road now not so much for what it may or may not have offered in its own right, as a piece of transportation infrastructure, but for the loss of opportunity it has always posed. Allison's personal vision seems to be of a future when all of downtown Dallas becomes a kind of sophisticated urban village, strategically sheltered from the shake, rattle and roar of big roads that were only ever built to help suburban traffic bypass downtown anyway.

Good, on the other hand, spoke eloquently in his recent piece about the natural wonder offered by the river and its broad green floodway through the center of the city. Dallas Morning News editorial writer Rudy Bush rushed in behind him a day or two later to echo Good's call for a great urban park along the river instead of a big honking freeway.

In the past I have written here that creating that kind of park would require a big international architectural competition to solicit concepts from all the world's great park designers. Whenever I say that, I get nothing but grief from my wife, who, unlike me, actually knows something about architecture.

She's always asking me why I want some French or Yankee architect to design a park in Dallas where somebody will have to come in after the fact and install shade shelters. Her point is that Dallas has generated a community of gifted architects who actually get this unique place.

Dallas is unique. We are situated on the border between green and cactus, between prairie and hills. We are neither this nor that. We are here. She's right. If there is to be a truly great urban park created through the center of the city along the river, it should be created by somebody who gets this place and doesn't just want to make it look like Connecticut-lite. Our park should celebrate and express what is unique and true about our place on the planet instead of trying to press this place into somebody else's template. Remember what I said earlier about pressing.

I love going back to New England, but I had to laugh at some of the comments on the Good piece from the Crabby Appletons who said Dallas will never have the weather to become a great outdoors city. Oh, yeah, I thought, you mean like Seattle, a city whose seriously dreary weather can put me in a depression just by watching it too much on TV? Or how about Michigan where I grew up? The difference between Michigan and here is that we seldom have weather here that can kill you just for being out in it.

Hey, I don't do a lot of boating here in August. Every place has a few bad months except for La Jolla, and who can pay those prices? When I'm out canoeing or sailing on White Rock Lake in February, I always say a silent prayer for my brethren back in the Upper Midwest. It begins, "Suckahs!"

Don't know about you, but I sense something really wonderful building here, not just about the toll road but about the whole city. School reform, for example: The difference between our version and Newark's is that ours actually has a shot at working. What was it we used call that spirit around here? Can-do. Sounded corny then. Sounds better now.

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