What's the Catch?

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"The only place you can find a metropolitan area where you can find hundreds of stores that sell a total array of organic products and understand how to do an organic program is right here in the Dallas area," he told me.

Knock me over with a feather.

Based on what I heard last week at City Hall, I think Garrett and people like Gene Helmick-Richardson, an organic pest-control expert who spoke to the council's health and environment committee, are just about to persuade the city of Dallas to back off major spraying programs in favor of much more effective, less toxic techniques to control mosquitoes. Knock me over again with the feather.

This is where I get to my point about Dallas' better nature, and now we go back to the early 1980s, when Dallas was locked in a furious debate over what to do with Central Expressway. The powers that be, led by a Dallas tycoon who happened to be chairman of the state highway commission at the time, were determined to "fix" Central by double-decking it. If they had succeeded, today we would have a great big roaring, stinking, smoke-blackened barrier running up the city's spine. Instead of the cool, sophisticated, revitalized residential and commercial areas beginning to form along the new Central now, we would have pawnshops, hot-sheet motels, warehouses and daily newspaper offices.

It was a horrible idea. It would have devastated the city. But City Hall was absolutely wedded to the idea, because the bureaucrats thought the business leaders were wedded to it. Only when grassroots community leaders fought the proposal to a dead standstill did the business leadership come around. Oilman Ray Hunt came on board against double-decking, and Hunt executive Walt Humann took over. Now you can sit outside Cafe Express 50 yards from Central, sip Chablis and not even know the expressway is there.

Former Mayor Ron Kirk always derided that entire process. He talked about how stupid it was for the city to have wasted 10 years (it was two) debating Central instead of just getting the dirt flying. I think that's why Kirk was so popular with a certain segment of the old business leadership cadre: utter disdain for community politics. And he subscribed unquestioningly to the view that money is intelligence.

Wrong-o. The people who came together to fight double-decking--I'm thinking of neighborhood activists Lynda Ender and C.N. Townsend, Councilman Lee Simpson, state Senator David Cain, Congressman John Bryant, many more I'm forgetting--represented the real underlying genius of the city, the real Dallas, the city's better, wiser, more supple and urbane nature.

By the same token, the people who have fought to save Dallas from some of the more Draconian river plans--10 lanes of pavement on top of an open sewage ditch--represent the city's best and brightest, and I'm not even going to start naming them because I will feel so bad when I realize whom I have left out. Well, I have to mention Ned Fritz. And Mary Vogelson. David Gray. Don Henley. The League of Women Voters. The Sierra Club. I have to stop.

Several days before the official unveiling of Mayor Miller's new river plan, she previewed it for the Morning News and the Dallas Observer. Also present were Rich Morgan of the American Institute of Architects, Gail Thomas of the Dallas Institute and Karen Walz of the Dallas Plan, all of whom had a lot to do with making this new plan happen.

Miller is clearly energized on this issue. She's willing to see the river corridor do some level of duty in relieving traffic congestion, but she sees recreation along the river as a chance to change the city's destiny forever. "Isn't the ultimate goal that we want to have people from all over the Southwest come to Dallas to be on the river with us? That's the ultimate goal," she says.

Thomas, director of the Center for the City at the private Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, sees the new plan as a chance for the city to bind some of the wounds opened by angry debates of years past. "With all the groups we've met with since August, we have attempted to have a bringing together, a healing," Thomas says.

I have to admit I'm not always huge on healing. Many's the morning I wake up with a certain zest for opening a few new wounds. But even I can see that this plan, if it holds together, represents something much bigger and better than even the zestiest fight we've ever had.

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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