Look Out, Motor City. Here Comes Big D.

Really interesting story in yesterday's New York Times about my hometown, Detroit, where the population is now half what it was when I bailed in the late 1970s. It seems Detroit is now on the cutting edge of the "shrinking cities" movement, and I wonder if Detroit may have valuable ideas for our own fair city.

Our population in Dallas, as you may know, is not decreasing, quite yet, but the trend line is damn close to that point. Our growth was only 0.8 percent in the last decade, according to the new census numbers, compared with surging growth rates all around us in the suburbs and Tarrant County.

So people are voting with their feet. Lots of people want to live in the area. Just not in the city. When do we start listening to the feet of the people?

Hey, this is not just from me. The Dallas Morning News opinion blog has already raised the question "Could Dallas Become Another Detroit?"

My bit is just this. Yes. And maybe we should get started.

Detroit, according to The Times story, is doing a lot of pioneering and forward-thinking work in the area of closing down or phasing out neighborhoods that are simply no longer viable or worth maintaining.

I have long thought that some of the undeveloped areas in our own "southern sector" might be candidates for some form of temporary or even permanent mothballing. You know, The News is always sawing on its violin about how we have to turn traditionally black poverty-stricken southern Dallas into a mirror of affluent North Dallas in the name of some kind of racial and historic fairness.

But the other thing the census numbers show is that black families don't agree and are not waiting. The kind of fairness they seem to be looking for is a fair shot at getting the hell out of southern Dallas and moving to North Dallas or the 'burbs, which they are doing in droves.

So tell me again: Why do we want to keep everybody in southern Dallas? Are we sure all of our motives are pure in this? We wouldn't be thinking about keeping North Dallas white and preserving the power of the old preacher poverty-pimp political structure in southern Dallas, would we? Oh, surely not. As my Kansas grandmother used to say, heaven forefend.

So what about looking to Detroit to see if we can find ways to just shut down residential and commercial areas that are bombed out and not working? Detroit is turning some of them into farms. That could be great here, as long as the farms were organic.

Meantime, we could think of ways to help remaining residents in those areas find nice new apartments and houses close to employment centers in North Dallas and Plano. A win-win, by my count.

What say you? As Detroit goes, so shall we? It's worth a ponder, don't you think?

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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