Friday, June 8, 2012

A Disparity of R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Regular readers of CTW know that CitySquare has worked with Unify South Dallas, a coalition of civic groups, faith and business leaders and non-profit agencies, to address the need for more inclusion in conversation about growth in south Dallas. 

While the coalition is no longer active, one of its most challenging confrontations involved the presence of heavy industrial businesses in a residential area along Lamar Street. Ironically, residents of Frisco, TX, a suburb to the north of Dallas, considerably more affluent than the residents living along Lamar Street, won a victory by forcing a battery recycling plant to shut down its operations. 

Lamar Street and Frisco are separated by quite a few miles. They are also separated by how they are treated when the summon up the nerve to have a voice in their quality of life and what they do - and don't - want in their neighborhood. 

For those who can't get behind the pay wall, my column in this today's Dallas Morning News deals with that disparity...and what it says about all of us...

Taking Frisco’s activism to Lamar Street

"One of the best recent examples of effective community organizing can be found in Frisco, whose residents should be congratulated in their victory over Exide Technologies, the world’s largest battery recycler. Exide has been forced to accede to the power of organized citizens and agree to close its plant due to concerns about lead emissions."

"The relentless pressure by Frisco residents and their elected representatives sets a precedent for dealing with businesses whose operations are deemed incompatible with their neighborhoods. It sends the strong message that the interests of commerce cannot trump those of citizens.
For decades, residents along Lamar Street in South Dallas have faced a situation similar to that of their Frisco counterparts. Heavy industrial businesses, including recyclers, are less than a stone’s throw away from churches, homeowners and renters. The situation exposes a hole in Mayor Mike Rawlings’ otherwise impressive “Grow South” strategy: How do we redevelop southern Dallas without addressing incompatible business uses near residential neighborhoods?"

"Frisco and South Dallas residents both have been concerned about the impact of recycling operations on community health. In Frisco, it is concerns of rare cancers usually traced to lead pollution; in the community along Lamar Street, asthma, heart disease and cancer have been reported."

"State Sen. Florence Shapiro, who has represented the Collin County area, allied herself with residents saying, “It is critical that steps be taken to protect the citizens of Frisco.” The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality paid for blood tests, although the tests showed no substantial impact. In South Dallas, a study commissioned by one of the recyclers confirmed decades of pollution that the company declared to be “contained,” but no independent tests have been conducted to verify or disprove that assertion."

"Frisco officials were concerned about the quality of life of the residents in the area. Mayor Maher Maso testified in Austin that the city had lost businesses and residents because of Exide’s operations. South Dallas residents and their allies have expressed similar concerns — worries that a drive down Lamar Street confirms. Owed significantly to the presence of recyclers and the crumbling remains of night clubs and urban nuisances, more wholesome economic development has been effectively choked out."

"Exide Technologies’ attempt to reassure Frisco of its willingness to be cooperative, to the tune of $20 million worth of improvements, was unsuccessful. However, recyclers along Lamar were able to get unanimous council approval to expand their footprint with fa├žade improvements, landscaping, vague commitments to lead neighborhood redevelopment and the purchase of property — from the city — to reroute heavy traffic, albeit in the same area."

"The result of Frisco’s activism is hailed as a victory. In South Dallas, the owners of the recycling operations have been portrayed as victims who are being preyed upon by mischief makers with nefarious motives."

"The difference between the activism in the two communities comes down to money. The community near Lamar Street is one of concentrated poverty. Frisco’s is not."

"We cannot and should not blame Frisco residents for possessing financial wherewithal. But the message that business trumps the interests and health of poor communities is just one message being sent to the residents in South Dallas. When our elected and public officials are unwilling to stand up for our most economically vulnerable citizens as vigorously as those in more affluent communities, it’s a message about those whose lives and futures we consider expendable."

"Ultimately, that’s a commentary on us all."

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