Why Again Would a Golf Course Bring Wealth to Southern Dallas?

The concept of the cargo cult was invented by white anthropologists to explain the behavior of black Pacific Islanders. We shouldn't be surprised if the concept came out making rich Europeans seem smarter than indigenous islanders. To the anthropologist belong the spoils, you know.

But cargo cults really exist. They're based on the use of ritual and magic to cause a large ship or airplane full of rich people, often the Kennedys, to appear bearing a bountiful cargo of gifts.

Several cargo cults sprang up on islands occupied by American forces during World War II after the Americans withdrew, taking with them their plentiful food, equipment and especially their technology — boxes with talking people inside, rocks containing pieces of the radiant sun and murderous volcano poles.

The best known cargo cult still in existence is the John Frum Movement on Tanna Island in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu, where episodes of Survivor have been filmed. Every year the people of Tanna clear landing strips, fashion replicas of radio towers from bamboo and even march in homemade American uniforms in an attempt to cause the American military to return from the sky with rich planeloads of bounty.

To the anthropologist, this kind of magical belief is an artifact of ignorance, but in the view of the late British author Arthur C. Clarke, magic was a force that infused and directed the lives of modern people more than so-called primitives. After all, modern life is a virtual cocoon of technologies most modern people understand not at all yet use every day, and, as Clarke said in his famous third law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, especially in Dallas."

OK, I added the Dallas part. But Clarke did say the thing about magic and technology. I found myself pondering his law the other day, because I was thinking about the other side of cargo cults, the part the anthropologists never seem to even look at. Take the idea that wealth is a magical consequence of having a lot of Americans around: How do the anthropologists know the people of Tanna didn't get that idea from the Americans?

Which brings us a very long way around the world and back to Dallas. I got off on this whole cargo cult thing because I have been trying honestly to come to an understanding of The Dallas Morning News and its fervent belief in and championing of the so-called Trinity Golf Course. This is a plan to build an exclusive and expensive "world-class" golf course for private members on public land, specifically on top of a toxic waste dump in a perennially and bitterly poor portion of southern Dallas.

The golf course will be distant from developed areas, cut off by flood zone and forest. But it will be in the southern hemisphere of the city, which traditionally has been poor and minority.

It is the belief of the city's only daily newspaper — and I believe this is a sincere, committed and fervent belief — that installing an exclusive new golf course with member joining fees already estimated north of $150,000 will cause wealth to occur in the surrounding areas of the city.

I happen to know this area of the city. I have hiked it and driven it and walked it for years. I could even call it a place dear to my heart. But just to check and make my sure my heart was not deluding me, I went back last week and checked the census tract data.

Four census tracts surround and include the area where the new golf course is proposed. The area is a triangle of almost 500 acres of land between Interstate 45, U.S. 175 and Loop 12, five miles southeast of downtown, hemmed in by the Trinity River and White Rock Creek. Some of the area is sparsely settled, other parts are neighborhoods of single-story houses of 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, 40 to 50 years old.

I looked at 2007-2011 data from the American Community Survey published by the Census Bureau. When I saw the census data, I played around with them a little more in my own Excel spreadsheet just to make sure my eyes weren't lying to me. No such luck. It's as bleak as it looks.

In 2010 the census reported per capita personal income for all Americans at $40,584 in 2010 dollars. The average of per capita incomes for the four census tracts surrounding the proposed golf course is $11,097. The tract closest to the golf course has a per capita income of $9,758.

Unemployment in this area may or may not look high to you, depending on how you squint your eyes. It's a little more than 11 percent. But there's a dirty little trick in measuring unemployment in this part of town. You're only unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), if you have been employed at some point and hope to be again. If you are "not in the labor force," you don't count as being unemployed.

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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