Thursday, September 29, 2011

Economic Development Should be More than Just Garbage

Meetings.

On the one hand they're necessary. Hardly anything worthwhile has ever gotten done where at least two people didn't get together to talk about it. That's called a meeting.

Sometimes they get in the way, though.

A day full of meetings...scheduled meetings...impromptu meetings...side bar meetings...kept me from attending yesterday's City Council meeting, where the council decided to approve the 'flow control' solution to Dallas' need for revenue. I've written very little about it but here's the upshot:

Dallas has decided to force commercial businesses to use the city's landfill to dump its trash, versus the private dump yards they already own. The problem? Well, from my perspective it expands a municipal dump yard that is already too close to residential neighborhoods. Less than a mile from single and multifamily homes and about a mile and half from Paul Quinn College, Highland Hills and College Park communities in the southern part of Big D.

It was a split decision: 8-7, with newly elected mayor Mike Rawlings casting the deciding vote in favor of 'flow control' - I'm sorry, I still don't get the rationale for calling it that. The Mayor has bought into staff projections that the potential revenue to be brought to city coffers are in the range of $15 - $18 million. Those who have followed this story much more closely than I can argue the numbers. I won't.

However, the reason I wanted to be at City Hall was in support of Paul Quinn students and the residents of the neighborhood. Rawlings, city staff and council members may be right in betting on the come that this will be a boost to the economy. There is a promise on the table that a million dollars a year will be put into a fund for economic development in the area. To which I say...PHOOEEY (to be nice).

Paul Quinn and the residents of the surrounding area were there to say two things: perhaps this may bring some economic development to the area through high tech recycling and the fees associated with more huge dump trucks coming through the area - we want to see the numbers. They were also saying, 'We want more than heavy industrial crap in our neighborhoods, sold to us as economic development; we think we are better than that.'



These are the arguments to which the city needs to pay attention. Most critics of flow control concentrate on how unfair this is to business. Secondarily, there is a nod to the concerns of the neighborhood. And that is the problem with Dallas. Our belief that business will 'save' Dallas is a warped construct. Dallas' idea is currently that business won't save Dallas by serving its citizens; its that business will save Dallas despite its citizenry. Business can't be partners in addressing neighborhood concerns, business concerns trump neighborhood concerns. And the less money you have the more the interests of business supersede whatever concerns neighborhoods may have. McCommas Bluff is located across I45 west of Paul Quinn, in a neighborhood of about 4300 homes. The area is comprised of some low income, but mostly working class, retirees and young families. I lived in the area for 25 years. The nearest grocery store is nearly 10 miles away. The nearest shoe store? Farther still. Restaurant? Much farther. Auto repair supply store, yeah, you need to keep going a little bit. You get my drift...

Every rooftop represents families that buy groceries. They have automobiles. They actually wear clothes. There are homes that have appliances. But the way to bring economic development to the area is to expand the landfill???

Seriously?

A new school has opened up nearby, as well as a new high school. A little further west, is University of North Texas Dallas and next to that a new high school - all across the street from another subdivision of homes by the way. And the best anyone at City Hall is thinking about is a quick $15-$18 million in fees from the city dump?

Let me make something clear: my criticism of business is not of the businesses that will be forced to dump their trash in McCommas Bluff. They don't want this anymore than the residents do. But it is the attitude at 1500 Marilla (address of City Hall). To go for the quick fix, toss the surrounding community a bone and then expect business to make everything better.

Here's a question: has anyone thought about what will happen to property values around McCommas Bluff? There are single family homes and apartment complexes there. Is the potential for depressed housing values offset by the $15-$18 million? What would be the economic benefit of having an expanded dump vs. a serious economic development which attracts a grocery store? A restaurant? A dry cleaners? A movie theater (yes, there really is enough land around that area to put a movie theater!). All of the amenities for which people in that neighborhood drive to the suburbs to enjoy.

Business will 'save the day', but only as a catalyst to keep and attract people. There seems to be a culture, a spirit if you will, at City Hall which keeps decision makers from getting it. Citizens need to be more vigilant - if we're not careful, even $15-$18 million can become garbage in a very short time...

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