Monday, May 17, 2010

No Harm No Foul Neighborhood Deconstruction?

The Dallas Morning News' article in yesterday's paper highlighted the controversy regarding S.M. Wright Freeway.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), has proposed a that a new graded boulevard like transportation artery of six lanes, which would carry some 40,000 vehicles through the middle of South Dallas at a proposed 35 mph, is significant a project enough.

Unify South Dallas proposes a four lane high at the same speed (TxDOT, at this point has actually incorporated a suggestion of USD), but is challenging that this plan be more than a road project. The opportunity exists to leverage this change into a real economic development plan which will include the correction of environmental injustice inflicted by the highway and the heavy industrial companies less than a mile west of S.M. Wright.

"Unify South Dallas wants the new S.M. Wright to be just four lanes wide. And rather than using right of way for trees and a park-like setting, they want TxDOT to give that property to the city."

"In turn, the group wants Dallas to create a community land trust that would give neighborhoods a role in selecting tenants lured to open shops or restaurants with low-cost or even free long-term leases."

""Build us a beautiful four-lane road and give the rest of the land to us to do something with it," Lawson said. "The current plan does not do justice to the potential for economic development along S.M. Wright. We need to correct that now.""

"But to TxDOT engineers, the neighbors' demands are unsettling. After all, Texas already plans to spend $40 million to lower the freeway to ground level and transform it into a scenic boulevard.

"TxDOT is not in the development business," said engineer-in-charge Tim Nesbitt. "We feel we are striking a healthy balance with our current plan. ... Any way you look at it, there is going to be a lot less concrete and asphalt in the future with this particular design.""

"Dallas City Council member Carolyn Davis, who represents this area of South Dallas, supports the department's plan to build six lanes and concentrate development to a couple of segments along the road."

"She said expecting redress for past harms is unrealistic."

Aside from being a tremendous struggle, it's an interesting question: is there a public responsibility to correct past unfairness and injustice caused by public policy? S.M. Wright Freeway was built before it was named for the former longtime Dallas pastor and civic leader.
It split a neighborhood in two leading to unfair zoning, depressed property values, the destruction of neighborhood cohesion and the diaspora of young, working class families and the businesses that accompany them.

Often when people talk about redeveloping poor neighborhoods, their conversation conveys a misguided and naive notion that it is all a matter of 'personal responsibility'. They posit the idea that suggest that people living in these areas decided to be poor and after making that decision, businesses, dollars for education, code enforcement, public safety and the like left as a consequence of a momentous decision on the part of people to resort to poverty as a way of life. There can be no such thing as decisions made by public and elected officials which consequentially led to disinvestment and deterioration. No policy decisions that were made which could have detrimentally impacted the quality of life for people who did not have the capacity to fight back. Highways that bifurcated neighborhoods, the devaluation of the tax base, and the lack of responsiveness to the very things which people in communities more affluent, if only by comparison, take for granted.

But for those of us who believe public decisions do have a part in impoverishing neighborhoods, we have to ask whether or not correcting the devastating impact of those decisions is the responsibility of those public bodies? Or are we absolved of those decisions because of 'fiscal realities'? What happened to the money made on those 'mistakes' when times were good? What of the financial benefits received by those who scarred the land and filled the air with pollution? Are they in no way culpable simply because the decisions were made before they were born, even though the damage exists in their lifetimes?

Or do we allow officials to simply terminate the discussion with statements like "TxDOT is not in the development business..."

The plan that Unify South Dallas is supporting and promoting is called 'The South Dallas Plan". Victoria Loe Hicks, made it available last week to DMN in a tremendous apologetic regarding the redevelopment effort focusing on the scrap metal industries located near S.M. Wright. You can check out the plan below.

SDAP Visual Exec Summary v1 2


Anonymous said...

"environmental injustice" - nice phrase! You do like to append "injustice" to your rants. Let's see- social injustice, economic injustice, environmental injustice, and might I add cliche injustice?

Gerald Britt said...

Anon 9:41 - You do have a point. But call it what you will, each of those cliche's are at play in historically low income communities.

Pretty interesting, however, that 'injustice' can be labled a 'cliche', while there are those who consider 'socialism', 'communism', etc. fresh and relevant terms...