Thursday, February 7, 2013

S.M. Wright Freeway - Being Reasonable vs. Being Right

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Yesterday, at a press conference at City Hall, the official announcement was made that redesign of a dangerous roadway in  and of  a concrete scar which divided South Dallas neighborhood for decades. 

And yes, that is me at the press conference...

The S.M. Wright redesign has been a point of contention for CitySquare and other leaders with whom we have worked in the South Dallas area. The proposed design by TxDOT calls for a six lane highway to go through the neighborhood. Working with the South Dallas HOPE Initiative and Unify South Dallas, we proposed a four lane highway, which we believed would be better suited for the neighborhood and would provide greater opportunities for economic development and neighborhood redevelopment. 

What changed? A couple of things...

First a conversation with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who, in facilitating a meeting with those of us in opposition, TxDOT, North Texas Council of Government and City of Dallas officials, including councilwoman Carolyn Davis, explained to us, that the money for this project, upwards of $150 million wouldn't necessarily be there forever. In fact, one of the reasons for the delay in the project was the economy which made some of us doubt it would happen at all. Congresswoman Johnson, explained in very real terms, that whatever the merits of our arguments, further delay in the project put that money at risk and could possibly be diverted elsewhere. 

The other reason was conversations with urban designers, TxDot and NTCOG officials which assured us that they had heard our concerns and that modifications could be made to the design to accommodate economic development within the scope of the project. 

Finally, there is the opportunity for jobs in the community. CitySquare with our WorkPaths program has experience working with Dallas County Community College District, WorkSource Dallas County and other partners, in recruiting and training the hard to employ, unemployed and underemployed in commercial construction. If the project needed to go forward, six lane or four lane, we wanted to be a part of the training that expanded the asset prospects of this project by providing an opportunity for as many southern Dallas residents as possible to work on the road. We could easily adopt our model of training for commercial construction, to highway construction working with the same partners. So we will work with WorkSource and the Community College District to identify the resources, and begin the process of training, what I know to be many men (and women), who are willing to work hard to have an opportunity that can lift them out of poverty and provide for themselves and their families. 

Frankly what changed was the political and economic realities of the fight. And having to accept the fact that larger victories can be won if you stay engaged and make have larger principles for which you are fighting. Were we right about the four lane highway vs. six lane highway. Frankly we are. But you have to ask yourself, in an area like South Dallas, whether or not a 'scorched earth' policy would yield a better result than getting the most benefit you can out of a battle. To put it another way, as my mentor, Ernie Cortez would teach us in Industrial Areas Foundation training, 'You may be right, but you also have to be reasonable'. I think this is reasonable. 

There are times when you don't compromise. And every case is different. But in this case, I think it's the best we could get in this situation. 

Now its time to go to work!

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