In this moment, we can do one of two things. We can design new inner-city neighborhoods very well, so that they will capture whatever market is out there and foster even more growth. Or we can design them haphazardly, never create a critical mass and miss the boat entirely.
I don't believe the city's coffers will benefit in the long run from the missed-boat strategy. Of course, in the long run many of our esteemed senior city officials may be sopping up generous city pensions on Long Boat Key, so maybe they won't care.
I know who does care—people who are here for the long haul. I have spoken to both Sleeper and Jung about this, and they say they're working together because they both represent substantial investors in the inner city, developers and homeowners. Nobody who's here already will benefit from the down-and-dirty, development-at-any-price approach.
OK, back to my riddle about rivers. The fact is that the entire city is riddled with small rivers and creeks. Most of them are buried in big concrete conduits beneath our alleys and streets. For a look at where they were before we buried them, go to dallaslibrary.org on the Web, look on the right-hand side of the page and click on "Murphy & Bolanz digital maps." You will find a trove of late 19th- and early 20th-century plat maps with the old creeks drawn on them by hand.
One of those bodies of water is Peak Creek, which runs underground from the Baylor Medical Center area eventually down to the Trinity River, joining other creeks along the way. The kind of development covering most of that area is worn-out '50s small-scale industrial.
But listen. We are in the process of spending $58 million to install new "pressure sewers" through that part of town—water-tight conduits through which storm water will be pumped under pressure. When this work was being considered, the city concluded that a program of "creek restoration," digging out the conduits and allowing a stretch of creek to flow openly above ground like Turtle Creek, would cost about $23 million.
But think of it.
What would it do for the land values and development potential in that area to have Turtle Creek flowing between deep green banks instead of roofing yards and used-tire storage lots? I think the tire guys would sell quickly at very handsome profits, and pretty soon you'd see something like West Village springing up in their places.
If you could live in East Dallas, be cool and have a river outside your door, wouldn't you do it? Of course you would, you silly. Anybody would.
So what am I? High? No. I'm dragging us through this whole exercise for a reason. Instead of throwing all the zoning and the code requirements out the window, lying down in the street and begging the cheapest apartment developers in the world to have their way with us, we should be looking for opportunities like creek restoration to make inner-city living desirable.
We should have our heads on straight. Not crooked.
Hey, while we're at it, let me tell you something else. Highland Park was way ahead of the curve with that idea to turn Mockingbird Lane into a toll road. Yes, I know it was illegal, and I know there were days when Highland Park skipped school on stuff like that. I wish they had figured it out better before opening their mouths.
But making it more difficult and more expensive to drive through your community is a really great idea. Heavy vehicle traffic is poison to good communities. The smartest thing a neighborhood can do is make the cars go around: It's exactly what East Dallas did in the great thoroughfare wars of the 1970s and '80s, and it's a big reason why East Dallas is hot real estate today.
Cars, bad. No cars, good. It's that simple.
The biggest threat to the success of our city right now is the continued power of the regionalists, especially the urban sprawl pimps ensconced in the North Central Texas Council of Governments. They're the people who put a toll road through what could have been one of the nation's great urban parks along the Trinity River. They're the sprawl hags from ticky-tacky hell.
I wish Highland Park would put barricades at both ends of Mockingbird and man them with Gucci guerillas. Oh, my gosh, my heart races to think of it. I imagine a Park Cities version of Enjolras in Les Miz, maybe his name is Huntingtog Scroggins And A Half or something, standing at the barricade, probably drunk, facing down the angry commuters, sword in hand, and behind him we hear the swelling song: "Do you hear the people sing? Singing a song of angry men? Well, very miffed men and women anyway?"