Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bad Form to Suggest Investment in Poor Neighborhoods?

Interesting article in yesterday's Dallas Morning News. It's about the transformational impact Dallas' wealthy philanthropic community...

"[Dallas'] philanthropists may be the most civic-minded in the country. Over several decades, Dallas’ superrich have transformed their city, making it the “American capital of philanthropy,” according to Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and himself a member of the giving class."
"“Dallas has always been a city driven by private philanthropy, with active civic involvement going hand in glove with the accumulation of wealth,” Fisher says. “Now, with the enormous riches that have come with Texas’ economic boom — not just in oil and gas but in financial and business services, technology, health care and other areas — the levels of philanthropic giving have skyrocketed to levels that would be unimaginable most anywhere else in America.”"
"The Dallas donors have funded everything from world-class cultural institutions to parks and even bridges, showing the power of American philanthropy to contribute to urban flourishing..."
"The city’s wealthiest philanthropists are also sometimes called the new Medicis, and there’s something to the comparison: Not a single major cultural institution in Dallas would exist in its current form — or exist at all, in many cases — without their help, whether it’s the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science or the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The George W. Bush Presidential Library arose on property donated by Ray Hunt, head of a global petroleum company."
"The philanthropists’ generosity extends beyond cultural organizations. The superb new bridge that spans the Trinity River, designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was partly funded by Margaret McDermott, the vivacious centenarian widow of the founder of Texas Instruments and the “queen mother” of Texan philanthropy. (McDermott attributes her longevity to the vodka martinis she drinks with her meals.)"
"Yet Hunt rejects the Medici comparison. “We are new rich — we’ve made our own fortunes, starting from nothing, in one generation,” he says. This swiftly made wealth, he thinks, motivates generosity: “We know we have been lucky.”" (Full article can be read here).
To be sure, Dallas looks different - especially downtown. It looks positively wealthy!
But Sharon Grigsby, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, raises a question I've been chewing on in a different way: why doesn't this largess extend to some of Dallas' most poor citizens?!

"Yes, philanthropists in this city knows how to lift up a beautiful building or urban park, but what about lifting up a neighborhood?"
"I know that a lot of do-good groups in the city raise money for all sorts of worthy causes — from literacy to prevention of child abuse. And lots of those big shiny new buildings offer programs for the so-called “underprivileged.”"
"That’s not the kind of spending I’m talking about — I’m talking about doing something transformative — transforming the neighborhoods in this city that need to be healed in the same way that the philanthropists have transformed the Arts District."
"This isn’t the first time I’ve written these sentiments — and I’m far, far from the first person to write them. But the Points cover just got under my skin. I think it’s great that the private sector steps up to the plate — but how about stepping up to the plate on behalf of social justice? And stepping up in a big all-out way."
"It was tough to see our city gushed over in print for its success in creating sparkly baubles and to see “givers” lionized for their can-do-great-things spirit. What we need is a lot more projects that are at least as big as Jubilee Park — and preferable a lot bigger."
"When Dallas philanthropists are ready to write some huge checks on behalf of healing needy neighborhoods, then I’ll think it’s time to gush over them."
Ok. It's impolite to tell someone how to 'spend' their money. But there are rich people who prioritize transforming human lives over civic projects. There's nothing wrong with these projects, by the way. They contribute to our civic vitality. Yet there are poor and homeless people who will never be able to enjoy that benefit. With a fraction of that generosity, we could practically end homelessness and strengthen whole neighborhoods.
Sharon's right: investing in people and their neighborhoods isn't glitzy - it just makes a city an even better place to live...

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