City Hall

Yesterday Was a Sad Day for Dallas

I sat in the front row of the folding chairs yesterday and gazed around the ceremonial "flag room" at City Hall. Mayor Mike Rawlings and a majority of the Dallas city council were ganged up around the podium endorsing a plan to build a two-billion-dollar toll road next to the Trinity River between downtown and Oak Cliff.

Leaning against the long inside wall of the room like crows on a wire were the old rich white guys in suits, representing the city's traditional elite. Most of the chairs behind me were filled with their claque, an array of people who depend on them for jobs or appointments.

At the front of the room in the first row was the ever-dwindling and meager little pack of local reporters who still cover this sort of thing. And then to our right, outside I.M. Pei's glowering wall of glass, was the city, blanched and beleaguered on this warm windy day, gazing back at us as if hoping somebody in here would know what to do.

The whole thing was sad.

The basic concept -- wreck the riverfront to build a highway -- is an absurd buggy whip of an idea, an anachronistic concept so out of synch with modern urban reality it would be laughable if it didn't involve ruining this city's only natural geographic feature.

The mayor engaged in a serious amount of double-talk about regionalism and gridlock, knowing full well that none of that is the reason for this road. It was left to southern Dallas council person Vonciel Hill to blurt the truth -- at least what she's been told is the truth by the rich crows on the wire -- that, "where the road goes go the dollars." They think doing this will make them money. That's the real joke. Their secret agenda is a stupid agenda.

The ancient white leadership of the city has sold the hungry black leadership of the city on the notion that building a superhighway along the river will promote real estate development along its route, eventually including the tail-end of that route in black southern Dallas.

That's the stupid. That's the buggy whip. It won't work in black Dallas. It won't work in white Dallas. It won't work. The crows on the wire don't understand that urban districts don't grow on highways any more, if they ever did. They understand nothing about how the new inverted cities of the 21st century grow or why.

It's interesting that these people who have maintained relatively tight control over City Hall all these years actually made most of their own money on suburban raw-land development, betting successfully on flight.

Their basic template -- "access is success" -- comes from the 'burbs. That's what they are trying to replicate along the Trinity River. In their culture, bicycles are for village idiots; the only people who walk around are burglars; if you really want to see nature, get a plane ticket.

The crows on a wire really and truly believe that building a honking, roaring, stinking expressway on top of the river is going to make a lot of rich people want to come live in condo towers along the expressway. And people like Vonciel Hill really believe that the rich people have finally divulged how they do it, so she's along for the ride.

It's no ride. It's sad. Really. It's a lot of other things, too. But when I looked out through that big leaning window yesterday at that skyline waiting out there for answers, more than anything else I felt sad for our city.

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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