The Tunnels Didn't Kill Downtown. The Lack of People Downtown Killed Downtown.

Here's another thing. Have you read all this crap about how the city is going to plug up the tunnel system downtown because some waffle-brow bow-tie city planner told them that's why nobody's on the sidewalks?

Downtown has pedestrian tunnels between many of the buildings. Originally they were truck tunnels. Then people finished them out and air-conditioned them as a way to beat the Saharan summer heat here.

So some waffle-brow notices that the sidewalks of downtown Dallas look like a post-apocalyptic science-fiction movie most of the time -- so empty that if you do happen to see a person walking along you want to roll your window down and shout, "What happened?"

So I guess the big waffle-brow light-bulb moment here is this: "Oh, the streets are empty because all the people must be down in the tunnels." Like we turned into Morlocks. Anyway, apparently that's all it takes -- one light bulb from a waffle-brow -- and City Hall is ready to leap into action, nailing plywood over all the tunnel entrances. The next morning, I guess, downtown Dallas will be like Paris, people lolling all over the place playing guitars in cafes, after their eyes adjust.

Listen. I don't like to talk about how long ago it was that I came to Dallas, because it stirs up a lot of unfortunate comments. But when I came to Dallas, the tunnels were packed with people, and the streets downtown were also packed with people.

Both. Tunnels packed. Sidewalks packed. During the morning rush, at lunch and for a long time into the evening, you had to peel your way through the crowds on the sidewalks like it was Manhattan.

The streets are not empty now because people are lurking in tunnels like rats. The streets are empty because downtown sucks. Downtown sucks because it's empty. All of those old towers you see with dusty lobbies used to be packed with office workers. They're empty now, and so are the sidewalks.

The only way to fill the sidewalks again is to fill the buildings with people by converting the buildings to lofts and apartments. That's the real sin in all of this affordable housing stuff I've been writing about for the last six months. Dallas has failed to generate a real community downtown because it has wasted so much effort and so much money trying to keep poor and working class people out.

Dallas doesn't get that poor and working class people are the fun. Rich people just watch.

The key to bringing downtown alive is mixing it up again, getting all kinds of people mingling on the streets again. What do you have without that? Shopping centers and dust bowls. The idea of forcing people out on the sidewalks against their will is so stupid, so Daddy State and so Dallas City Hall. Why not just send the cops into the office buildings that are occupied, have them herd all the office workers out at gunpoint and just march the poor bastards up and down Main Street.


The answer is to subsidize rents, provide incentives, stop discriminating, do whatever it takes, just fill it up with human beings again. People. Homo sapiens. Humanity. There's your ticket.

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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