Monday, March 28, 2011

Dueling Columns?

My column in last week's Thursday addition of the Dallas Morning News dealt with the need for the Mayor and council to be elected in the city's upcoming May 14th election to adopt a new, aggressive pro-growth agenda for the southern sector. 

Here's an excerpt...

'According to the 2010 census, Dallas grew by only 0.08 percent, a fact that should be on every voter’s mind as the May 14 city elections approach. The growth figures of some of our sister cities should also be etched in our minds: San Antonio grew by 16 percent, Austin by more than 20 percent, Fort Worth by 38 percent, El Paso by 15 percent, Arlington by nearly 10 percent and Plano by 17 percent. Even Houston grew by 7.5 percent. Dallas grew by less than 1 percent. The new mayor and City Council can reverse this trend with an unapologetic commitment to a significant and strategic pro-growth agenda for southern Dallas. Efforts to attract major businesses to our city’s core, increase downtown housing and add to cultural and entertainment opportunities will fall short if the southern Dallas piece isn’t the centerpiece.'

'The lack of a pro-growth attitude and agenda toward the southern half of our city has led to disparities spoken of far too seldom: Much of Dallas south of Interstate 30 is woefully underdeveloped and contributes only 16 percent to the city’s tax base. In the South DallasFair Park area alone, nearly 200 vacant lots and a plethora of abandoned vacant structures amass uncollected property taxes and liens because of our city’s “can’t do” attitude toward these communities.'

Dallas' efforts to redevelopment in South Dallas in general and the southern sector in particular led to a project based, inchoate, haphazard approach that produces minimal results and often fails to take advantage of large scale projects that present significant opportunity. Dallas remains a 'can't-do' city when it comes to redevelopment south of Interstate 30. The results is Dallas' population north carries more than 80% of the tax burden for the entire city. In the meantime, the southern part remains underdeveloped. Currently an emphasis has been on redeveloping downtown. But an arts district, entertainment venues and a deck park can only promote so much growth. You can't have nearly two-thirds of the city's land lying fallow and claim to want to turn around dismal prospects for the future, such as less than 1% population growth. 

The illustration of what the result of the neglect of southern Dallas is the Diaspora of African-American middle class which have fled Dallas. Where have they gone? Lancaster, DeSoto, Duncanville, Grand Prairie, Cedar Hill, Red Oak, Ovilla, WAXAHACHIE!  All the while, city officials give every excuse in the book for why more robust growth can't happen. 

What we have been doing, has not been working. We shouldn't need growth figures in the negatives to tell us that. We will need creative, meaningful, transformational strategies in which business, government and non-profit organizations partner to bring health, growth and redevelopment to this area. 

Jim Schutze, columnist for the Dallas Observer seems to think this can't happen. He rebuts my column in his own saying...
'For perfectly understandable reasons, he [me] interprets this as a bad thing. He's like any guy writing about his own town and his own neighbors and friends. Nobody likes to see everybody leaving.'
'But then he comes to this awful conclusion -- a sadly common theme from black southern Dallas leadership. He says the trend should be reversed -- a terrible idea -- and that it's the job of the "business community" (read, the money) to do something about it.'
'"The new mayor and City Council can reverse this trend," Britt writes, "with an unapologetic commitment to a significant and strategic pro-growth agenda for southern Dallas. Efforts to attract major businesses to our city's core, increase downtown housing and add to cultural and entertainment opportunities will fall short if the southern Dallas piece isn't the centerpiece."'
'The outflow of black families from southern Dallas is all about upward mobility -- a marvelous thing for those families and a wonderful fruition of the Great American Promise. Nothing has endorsed the truth of American democracy more than the dramatic success of black people since the lifting of the barriers of segregation.'
'But why on earth would successful black families want to keep their kids around the dysfunctional morass of South Dallas?'
But Jim doesn't understand. It's not that I hate to see my friends leaving. And I'm not decrying what some have called the 'unintended consequences of the Civil Rights Movement'. As a matter of fact, that argument actually supports what I call for in my column: if Dallas does not commit itself to the economic, social and civic health of every sector of this city, the city itself will die. The 'dysfunctional morass of South Dallas' is just that, because the city has allowed it to become scarred with highways, polluted with unhealthy economic development, proliferate with alcohol related business, other healthy businesses to decline or leave, land to become cheap, housing stock to deteriorate, irresponsible landlords and speculators to gobble up land and remain invisible and unaccountable and the middle class to migrate further and further south until they have left the city. 
I hate to see our city not put up a fight to attract and retain the hope for viable communities. Nearly every pathology you can associate with concentrated poverty can be traced to the fact that we've allowed our urban areas, by design and default to become places where the middle class don't want to live. It's not a story unique to Dallas, but it is one for which Dallas officials make excuses when confronted with those facts. 
We need economic development that will bring jobs, new housing, a stronger tax base that can be the beginning of better schools and to change areas of concentrated poverty which do indeed result in troubled schools and troubled neighborhoods. Philanthropy and charity can address some of these, but serious redevelopment cannot rely on philanthropy. Government cannot fool itself or the populace by allowing the perception to be that churches and non-profits are not doing their jobs and that's the reason why poverty persists in those areas. 
Dallas is failing to grow. Mine is not a sentimental concern for the community my family's lived in for generations. I'm concerned because our city is in decline. And its in decline because we are not serious about poverty, we're not serious about economic justice and because our interim, piece-meal attempts to stave of failure are just plain silly. 

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