Going to the Dogs

How to begin? Well, that's what I'm writing about, isn't it? Where to begin, how to end. I put up with this stuff from my dogs every day. I walk three of them—Otto, my 900-pound Weimaraner; Skeeter, my son's seriously bloated toy fox terrier; and Dottie, my mother-in-law's 900-year-old border collie mix who to put this without sounding cruel?...dotty. You know, like every half-block she stops dead in her tracks and stares straight up at the sky.

I have to say: "No, no. Nobody's calling you up there yet, Dottie. We're on a walk, and I know you have arthritis, but get over it."

In our pack, we don't actually have an alpha. We decide things by committee. Sometimes Otto tugs one way, so we go that way. Sometimes it's Skeeter's turn to choose. The only direction Dottie ever wants to go is straight up, so we ignore her. In fact we're not really a pack. I'd say we're more of a politburo. We're in East Dallas, after all.

I like to walk on fine boulevards such as Swiss Avenue, where people take care of their property the way I should. They are an example to me. The dogs, Otto and Skeeter anyway, prefer alleys behind crack houses.

They like whorehouses too. I have no idea why. I don't think it's drugs, although I do watch them like a hawk for sudden mood swings or a change of peer groups, like they start hanging out with cats or something. So far, I think we're copacetic.

Rubble, chaos, trash, decay, garbage, large amounts of abandoned clothing, even people lying dead or stoned in the grass: The dogs like anything they can sniff. Sniffing is a dog's literature. One thing I have learned, which the paramedics might want to keep in mind: A good, wet sniff in the ear from a 900-pound Weimaraner can revive a person from even a serious overdose.

The point, and there is one, would be this: In the last couple of years, all the good crack houses and whorehouses in my part of town have been disappearing. Otto tugs us down some alley where he remembers sniffing out a dessicated bone or a wormy hot dog six months ago (brain like a computer); we get back in there; but now it's all tidy like an alley in the suburbs. Some son of a bitch has come along, torn down a perfectly good crack house that my dogs used to enjoy and put up a pristine block of town homes with a sign out front that says, "Starting in the $250s." Some of them say "Starting in the $400s."

Who's starting in the $250s and the $400s? I asked a guy who's one of the people building all this stuff. "They're all in their mid- to late 20s, up into their mid- to late 30s in general," said Craig Lemp, president of Metropolis Homes. "They're single or couples, no kids. I've sold 46 condos and town homes right there."

So here's my question. I have lived in this area for about 900 years. As far back as I can remember, people in my part of town have argued that the Lower and Lowest Greenville Avenue Bar Scene (we've talked it about so long that we even capitalize Bar and Scene) is bad for the area.

So if Greenville Avenue is so bad for the area, why is all this stuff being built half a block to a block away from the bars on Greenville that everybody complains about?

Another guy putting up a lot of these things is Stephen Meek, president of Rivendell Development. Before he started his own company, Meek spent 25 years with the Staubach Co. and Post Properties developing the very fancy area we now call Uptown, which we used to call what-a-dump. I asked Meek what the big idea was, tearing down the dumps in my area and putting up pricey town homes a block from known drinking establishments on Greenville Avenue. He quoted Lewis Mumford at me.

Well, he actually read to me over the phone from the Jane Jacobs book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in which Jacobs quotes a 1960 article in Landscape magazine, in which Mumford, the great architecture critic (1895-1990), said, and I quote:

Now the great function of the city permit, indeed to encourage and incite, the greatest potential number of meetings, encounters, challenges, between all persons, classes and groups, providing, as it were, a stage upon which the drama of social life may be enacted, with the actors taking their turn as spectators and the spectators as actors.

Meek and Lemp don't want the scene on Greenville to run amok. Their buyers don't want gangbangers chasing them home. But the scene, some kind of action and maybe even a little edge, they say, is what drives demand for the stylish new housing they're putting up in the area.

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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