Friday, June 5, 2009

We Have Met the Wizard and He/She is Us

Years ago, I was in a meeting with a city leader who was on the inside of major Dallas politics. It was one of the first such meetings I was having with civic leaders when I was a new leader with Dallas Area Interfaith. 

Since I had the opportunity, I asked a question that I had wanted an answer to for years: "Who had the 'master plan' for the redevelopment of South Dallas?" To this day, I'm not sure I have ever gotten over the answer: "There is no 'master plan.'

After the meeting, I told the group I was with that I didn't know whether I was comforted, that there was no master plan, or whether I really wished there was a wizard behind the curtain pulling levers. 

I've grown more and more discomforted, over the years, because I've seen that there is, obviously, no wizard. No wizard and no plan.

This means what most people probably know, certainly what I've learned over the years: communities take their destinies into their own hands or they are at the mercy of a fate that is handed to them. The problem is, the poorer communities get, the fewer options they have. 
The fewer options they have, the more vulnerable they are because they more concerned about survival at such a fundamental level, there tends to be less civic engagement. 

That impacts those who are chosen as political leaders, those who are looked to for community leadership and the social fabric of those communities. 

But the redevelopment of South Dallas will not happen as a matter of course. It will not happen collaterally with the growth of downtown, or any other section of the city - not without serious gentrification or significant displacement. 

The Trinity River Toll road (if it happens), and/or the redesign of the S.M. Wright Freeway is a once in a lifetime opportunity to look at the redevelopment of an area into an economic, cultural and civic asset to the entire city. And to see that in a way in which its never been seen before. That not only takes vision - it takes intentionality and it means taking seriously the hard work of citizens who have decided that in the absence of a master plan, they would try and develop one. 

The question is - in the absence of a wizard with his or her own master plan - will mayor, council and other public officials work on this one?

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