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On the Trail of a Greener City, Hope Lives

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Years ago. How many? I don't know. When was the time before the time we started fighting about the Trinity River toll road? Was there such a time? I first talked to City Council member Angela Hunt about the Trinity River before the Trinity River was a brawl.

So it had to be 2005. She had just been elected to the council. She was 33 years old, pre-kids, brand-new to politics. I forget the context. She went off on this little reverie, the kind of naïve pie-in-the-sky stuff that normally makes an old reporter think, "Oh, wow, this one's really green." She even looked green, like you could pick her up off the shelf at the doll shop and make her eyes pop open and closed.

I can't quote. But I remember the gist. She said she had this vision of life in a Dallas of the future where you could live in downtown or uptown or East Dallas or North Oak Cliff, wake up on a fine Saturday morning, take your bike down the elevator or out the back door and hit the trails.

She described the trails she saw in her mind's eye winding through downtown, out across the Trinity River levees and down into the vast urban forest in southern Dallas. Then this would be a new city, she said, a city married to nature.

Instead of wincing with cynicism, I thought, "Wow, that's a very clear, very precise and extremely interesting vision. I wonder how long doll-shop here will be able to hold onto it."

So last week when she and council member Scott Griggs announced plans for a paved urban hike and bike trail the length of the levees through downtown, I literally had tears in my eyes. In an entire lifetime as a reporter covering local news, I could count on one hand the number of times I have seen somebody stick with a vision for that long and then actually pull it off.

Maybe on one finger.

It helps a great deal that Hunt now has been joined on the council by Griggs, a very smart young guy who gets it. Together, they are a force.

The trail they have pulled off, which must be called a "maintenance road" to keep the Corps of Engineers happy, will be 4.5 miles of pavement, 16 feet broad, from the Sylvan Avenue bridge at the upstream end of downtown to the Cedar Crest bridge downriver.

It will cost $6 million. They have to build it that stout, because it's out between the levees where the river floods, and anything less substantial will just get buried and ripped to shreds the first time the river spills its banks. (This is why that toll road that the nutcases want to build between the levees is two billion bucks in the red, but, ah, maybe today let's not go there.)

You may balk at that much money for a trail. But the way city money and budgets work, you can view this six million as City Council discretionary money that Hunt and Griggs rescued from the Wasterator. If not for this project, the money would have gone to some really dumb give-away.

It so happens I am working on a feature story right now, a long cover-story that I'm really excited about, dealing with other kinds of trails in the city. I would say more, but then, you know, Steve Blow will copy me the way he always does before I can get it published, and his take will be, "Trails, fails, who wants 'em? I just ride in my car."

So let me just put it like this. The trail that Griggs and Hunt are building will function as a kind of hiking and bicycling collector route linked to an entire series of much more challenging and natural trails in the city.

It's her vision from 2005 coming true. And between the two of them, Griggs and Hunt really are putting the pieces in place to make living in Dallas an entirely new experience. If you read all that Richard Florida crap, the Christopher Leinberger stuff about the next great cities of the nation and what will make them happen, this is it. This is exactly the bull's eye that everybody wants to hit: the kind of outdoor natural engagement with the planet that will make living here attractive to the creative class.

I don't even know how much I believe in that creative class business. Sometimes I want to say, "Forget creative, it's not what it's cracked up to be. Just get a job with benefits."

But enough about my personality problems. What this announcement really shows is that Hunt and Griggs and the Dallas residents they represent are not people who are just against things.

They are not aginners. They are for something. Something grand. A real vision. But Hunt and Griggs are both tough and smart, and they don't want other things to crap up their vision before it can happen.

What a vision. How many people at City Hall can even see out the windows? What ferocious dedication and indomitable perseverance this takes. Talk about hoops and hurdles.

Maybe this really is the future, instead of ... you know. Let's not go there today. Let's just be happy. And hopeful? Wouldn't that be nice? Quirkily optimistic perhaps?

I can pull that off for about 15 minutes I think. Let me get a good white-knuckled grip on my desk here. OK, here goes. Hopefulness. I feel a sick pressure building right at my temples.

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