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New Cities Summit Dallas Panel Is Boring, Not Particularly Helpful

At the only Dallas-specific session of the three-day New Cities Summit being held at the Winspear this week, a panel highlighted by Police Chief David Brown, former Dallas City Council Member Veletta Lill and former Dallas Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez discussed living in and developing a transitioning city.

Well, at least, that's what they thought they were doing.

Cheered at every turn by moderator Rena Pederson -- a professor at SMU and formerly of The Dallas Morning News -- the panelists lauded the many advancements they said the city had made in the areas of the arts, redevelopment and infrastructure.

On the same day the Morning News reported the contents of a study that named Dallas one of the least walkable cities in the country, the panel stuck to praising public-private partnerships, gentrification and the nebulous spirit of Dallas rather than saying anything interesting, much less something that might be construed as radical or innovative.

Lill spent most of her allotted time -- there was no real interaction between the panelists, just a lot of reading off iPads -- promoting the fact that so much of what is new and bright in Dallas has been built with private money in public-private partnerships. For the better part of a quarter of an hour, she described what once stood in places like the Arts District and what stood there now thanks to generous benefactors.

It wasn't clear why Miguez was on the panel. He made it a point to mention, twice, that in the 25 years he's lived in Dallas he's never had an interruption in water service and seemed to think roads and levees were very important. He also took the time to praise what the Friends of the Dallas Public Library has called the "most poorly funded library in the United States" as being part of a "rich and convenient library system."

By comparison, Brown acquitted himself nicely. After nodding at the rah-rah tone of the session by mentioning the city's decade-long crime-rate reduction, he spoke of the balance necessary in any vibrant city.

"What good is a safe, dull city?" he asked in explaining why public safety funding must be balanced with other spending.

"The challenge is maintaining public trust and confidence," he said, in spite of the police department's "fragile history with some neighborhoods."

The panel was titled "Dallas: A Case Study in Re-Imagination and Transformation." What it delivered was a regurgitation of the same old ideas. Brown's thoughtfulness aside, the panel's performance wasn't the best look for a city playing host to some of the most creative urban thinkers in the world.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young