Friday, June 7, 2013

South Dallas Revitalization: We Know the Problem - Do We Have the Will?

Last Sunday, Tod Robberson wrote a very good article regarding the need for Dallas to have a more strategic, engaged, focused attitude toward South Dallas. In doing so, Tod makes the point that many of us who have lived, worked and loved South Dallas for decades have made - you cannot piecemeal redevelopment and you have to attack and overwhelm poverty and it's impact. 

"Here are a few to get the conversation going — and, we hope, to encourage the city’s philanthropists to get involved:
"Establishment of Baby College, an ongoing, well-structured series of parenting classes modeled after those Canada introduced in Harlem. Abysmal parenting practices and bad nutrition are what put infants at an instant developmental disadvantage from which they rarely can catch up. Good parenting skills are fundamental to raising a new generation of healthy, mentally active babies who get all the right kinds of brain stimulation they need."
"Expansion of early learning centers wherever neighborhood day care centers exist today. The prekindergarten years are crucial to proper brain development. Young children need age-appropriate instruction, not baby-sitting."
"Specialists at the nonprofit group Educational First Steps know exactly how to convert day care centers into learning centers. Anyone who wants to see a model of this success should visit the Good Street Learning Center on Hatcher Street."
"Help for at-risk students. Lincoln coach John Carter’s Turner 12 program has demonstrated remarkable results putting youth on a path to graduation and college. The program relies on mentors, a disciplined study regimen at home and heavy emphasis on parental involvement. Turner 12 needs to be expanded and duplicated."
"Change the ratio of rental to owner-occupied properties, with emphasis on absentee landlords. Revitalize South Dallas has some good ideas for how to get property owners who don’t live in South Dallas to raise their standards. Likewise, Habitat for Humanity has an excellent program to expand home ownership among poor families and a demonstrated track record of success around Lincoln. City Hall should think of ways to fund projects based on Habitat’s model instead of plowing millions of dollars into rental public housing."
"An entrepreneur mentoring program to help aspiring business people succeed. We’ve seen scores of corporate executives and managers volunteer in the Lincoln community at Habitat construction sites. Mentoring is a way volunteers can go beyond swinging a hammer and put their management expertise to use."
"Some philanthropists are comfortable to just write a check. Others might see a donation of their time and expertise as more valuable than cash. All of them want to know their largesse won’t go to waste. That’s why we’ve started our list with ideas that have demonstrated records of success and sustainability."
"Philanthropy must not be defined solely by deck parks or beautiful bridges. And it must not end at the Trinity River and Interstate 30."
I would like to take Tod's recommendation a little farther, though. While I agree that philanthropy is going to pay a necessary part in redevelopment - so will the market. For too long, Dallas - no matter who the mayor has been, no matter who sat on the council - have found excuses for not investing, or incentivizing the investment in South Dallas. As a pastor in South Dallas, when times were good and we asked for such investment we were told it wasn't profitable; when times were bad, we were told there is no money. What Tod points to in his article; what Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell and I pointed out in our column, is that even when it comes to education in poor communities like those along the Lincoln Feeder Pattern, you cannot have success by simply figuring out ways to hike test scores. We need healthy, economically viable communities that promote safety and security. Some of that calls for individual responsibility, of course, but policies, infrastructure, equitable delivery of city services, public safety, etc., are not just matters of personal responsibility, they call for a strategic utilization of public resources and indomitable public and political will. 
This will call for a special type of visioning and an almost incessant communication of that vision that knits all opportunities together: the Inland Port, the S.M. Wright Freeway Redesign, Fair Park Redevelopment, economic development along main commercial arteries like Martin Luther King Blvd, Malcolm X Blvd, Robert B. Cullum and Second Ave. and Hatcher and Scyene. Closed schools must be reopened or repurposed, and more new housing that will attract young families must be a part of neighborhood redevelopment. 
For more than 60 years, we have watched poverty overwhelm communities to the south. We now blame those same communities when the pathologies of that poverty manifest themselves and families don't manifest middle class values and aspirations when they are literally in survival mode. The strategic and intentional disinvestment of our neighborhoods to the south which resulted in the growth and prosperity of neighborhoods to the north must now be reversed. Everybody knows this. Catch business leaders and politicians in their more sober and honest moments will tell you this is what it takes. Now its a question of whether or not we have the will to make it happen...

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