The Park, ctd.

Aren’t public spaces fun? Finally, Dallas builds a worthwhile one, one that actually gets the people of this city to use it and spend time in it, and what happens? Our prissy side comes out. The side of Dallas that says, “Sweep it up, and keep it clean.”  The side of Dallas that buries pedestrian ways and tries to segregate foot and vehicular traffic. The side of Dallas that reminds us that, at heart, Dallas is a valet town.

Let’s put it this way. Remember when you were about 7 or 8 years old, and your mom or dad’s old friend from college — let’s call him Burt — well, Burt came to visit? And your mom or dad said, “Hey, this is ‘Uncle Burt.’” And you thought, “Burt is not my uncle.” And Burt smelled, and Burt had real weird teeth, and he drank too much, and he laughed from his diaphragm and kept asking you to sit on his lap? Remember how afraid you were of Burt? Then what happened?

Well, for one. Burt went away because he was only visiting. And then, what happened when he came the next time? Well, Burt wasn’t as scary because you remembered him. Burt still wasn’t fun to be around, but you could handle him a little better. You went to your room after dinner. You knew how to half smile and how to take a step away from him so he wouldn’t get too friendly. You pretended you were a little more shy than you actually were. And then Burt, who really just wanted to drink with your dad and talk about the good old days, left you alone. And you, well, you just walked away. And then, when you grew up, you found out Burt had studied all sorts of crazy things — like mirco-ecologies of algae in the Great Barrier Reef — and you found out that Burt was kind of cool in his own odd way.

Well, you see, the homeless guys at Main Street Garden — they’re Burt. Your big papa, Dallas, has been friends with them for a long, long time. I know, it’s the first time you’ve had to actually spend some time in the living room with all these Burts, but don’t worry, you’ll figure it out. You’ll learn how to brush him off, or engage in brief, polite chatter. Maybe he’ll make you laugh because, you know, he’s actually kind of funny. Maybe someday you’ll find out what Burt likes to eat or dreams about while sleeping on that park bench. Or maybe you’ll just get by by figuring out how to give Burt the polite cold shoulder. Either way, it’s going to be okay. You’ll get it. I know. It takes time.

Now jump to watch the first 10 minutes of the documentary Dark Dayz, which you all must now rent. Don’t worry, Premiere Video has it. That’s in a strip center. There’s usually ample parking.

46 comments on “The Park, ctd.

  1. Thanks for bringing this truth to the masses. These humans who are sent to the margins, are just as human, as anyone else. We all want and need love, friendship, protection, shelter, and food. They are not “they” for “they” are us. One Love!

  2. But Burt never whipped out his ding-dong, or went doodies in the living room.

  3. If I say publicly that you and Krista are tres cool and oh so urban will you shut up and quit trying to prove how cool and urban you are?

    Your condescension is absolutely breathtaking. I have no desire to engage any of the “bums” in the Park or elsewhere, but between them and this post, they and you are a pick ‘em.

    I live downtown. My most recent experiences in the Park involve a (i) “bum” asking me for money and then following me home for more than a block offering that I was fat enough that I could buy his dinner instead of mine, (ii) another, wearing a licensed sports jersey while eating a styrofoam container of tacos, hitting me up repeatedly for change so he could buy a soda to go with his lunch, and (iii) a lady “bum” who squatted to pee in front of the bench where I was sitting (she at least murmered ‘scuse me).

    I guess I am too uptight to appreciate the urban experience.

  4. Peter, the poop from the homeless around MSG does not smell nearly as good as you believe yours does.

    Do us a favor and visit (move to?) your mecca of new urbanism, NYC, and see how they handle drunk/high/disorderly vagrants – they throw them in the drunk tank. The city changed for the better once they started caring about that problem. For reference, see Windows Theory, Broken.

  5. How dare some “bum” ask you for change! My God! Doesn’t anyone have any civility left? You sir/ma’am, are lucky to be alive! Just think? They could have followed you another block! The murder rate, goes up everyday, do to these rapscallion homeless folks! Thank you sir, for you erudition.

  6. Peter,

    You sound like some of my friends and relatives in NYC who love to say the city was “better” when Times Square was a whorehouse and the Lower East was a shooting gallery.

    No one wants to sweep homelessness under the table, but “Burt” is more likely to be mentally ill than be a micro, uh, micro, uh… what the hell are you talking about?

    I like my parks bum free.

  7. “The side of Dallas that says, ‘Sweep it up, and keep it clean.’”

    Please. I doubt even the smelliest flannel-wearing Brooklynite could match this level of pretension.

    We are paying for the downtown shelter, which was sold to taxpayers as a solution – if not the solution – to homelessness in downtown Dallas. There are laws on the books that prohibit panhandling, public urination and defecation, bathing in fountains and sleeping in public parks. It would be nice if the existing shelter we are all generously paying for was used as intended. It would be nice if the police would enforce existing law. It’s not that complicated.

    But failing that, here’s Plan B: Let all the bums back into the Dallas Public Library so they can do their begging, peeing, pooping, harassing, sleeping and sink-bathing in air conditioned comfort, just like the good old days, and leave the parks to the rest of us.

  8. @thufir – Did you at least tell Bum No. 2 that he shouldn’t eat the styrofoam, just the tacos?

  9. Rallying around homeless smells is pseudo or wannabe urban. Don’t try and be something you’re not pete.

  10. Having an awkward encounter with an “Uncle” Burt and urinating or panhandling are two very different things. If the park becomes a haven for homeless, it will drive away the residents it was meant

  11. I’ve lived downtown and in Deep Ellum since 2000. The bums suck – and, I vote Democratic. I’ve run out of compassion, I’m tired of seeing human waste on the streets, and the constant stream of folks making their daily walks from The Bridge to the Cost One on Elm to pick up their alcohol.

    They hang out at the bus stop at Elm & Ervay and yell crap at my wife and me when we’re walking to any number of places to grab some food or something to drink. We stay on the east side away from Cost One because there is a space midway down that dilapidated building where they urinate.

    Mix that with 100 degree heat, and it’s a great welcome for the tourists walking over from the Sheraton. I’m sorry that life dealt these folks a bad hand, or they are mentally ill, or they gave into drugs or alcohol, etc., but too bad. And, this BS about it being a public park and free country – I pay a boatload of money in taxes, some of which may trickle down to that park – I have more of a right to it then these leaches on society. Adios Bums.

  12. Really? Many of the homeless men on the streets Downtown are convicted felons. Violent crimes, sex crimes and crimes against children. Substance abusers, them all. Some of you read as if you are pit bull owners trying to defend your pet breed. Awwww, but they are so cute. SNARRRRRRRL, BIIIIITE, BLOOD.

  13. Yes Ben, they are all the scourge of society. That’s why there are constant killings and rapes on the downtown streets! Your ignorance shows.

  14. Sweet, gentle Frontburnervians, I’m not saying let crimes go unpunished or let homeless men who aren’t potty trained overrun the park. I’m reacting against a general vigilante uproar against “the homeless” using the park at all.

    Are some homeless people crazy, aggressive, con men/women? Of course. You can’t live in a dense urban area and not deal with the occasional crazy. But there are ways to keep a bum from following you home. Learn them.

    But often the problem people have with the homeless is simply that they make people uncomfortable. They obviously make Angela Hunt uncomfortable. The pictures she tweeted didn’t show anyone defecating on anything. They were just people lounging and enjoying the park. Maybe they weren’t even homeless; how did Ms. Hunt know? Maybe they were just more rag-tagged and less economically advantaged than the kinds of people Ms. Hunt normally hangs around. Yet she snapped photos of them like they were squiggles of graffiti that needed to be wiped out.

    And that’s my point: in an effort to make public space more comfortable for a certain demographic subset of Dallasite, we objectify and demonize another demographic subset of Dallasite. Yes, sometimes homeless people are bats**t crazy and they do bats**t crazy things. But Ms. Hunt’s dismay was over their mere presence in the park, suggesting that public space is reserved only for certain kinds of people. This speaks to a misgiving I have with New Urbanism and this fervent desire to resettle and remake our cities in general: it can feel like the desire is to build a gated community that looks like Paris or Brooklyn, and yet is no less sterile than a exurb subdivision, the economic gate following the circumference of the reclaimed inner city.

    Public space is our space, whether you live in a home or not, and we should all be able to use it as long as we all respect it. Yes, security should help protect it. And we should help protect it. This is one of the civic virtues that functioning public spaces help foster: a sense of personal responsibility for the common good. If someone is relieving themselves in front of you, tell them go screw off. Or, if that is too scary (or if they resist) go find security. Say what you want about New York, do you know why the city pulled together fraternally after 9-11? Because this kind of common stewardship of the public good — sometimes achieved by being the needed loudmouthed jerk in a given situation — is with them from birth.

    A public space offers the opportunity for us to actively participate in holding a corner of our city in trust, and it also offers a setting within which we may encounter individuals with whom our social spheres would otherwise not intersect. This doesn’t mean we have to socialize with them, but the physical proximity of individuals in a public setting forces us to recognize that we do share a city with people unlike ourselves. That realization is exciting — and dangerous, not just physically, but existentially.

    I think the comment about having voted to build The Bridge to take care of homelessness once and for all is telling: it reflects our expectations that we can vote, pay, request, or demand away this city’s problems or even some of its residents. It suggests a disconnectedness between the people who live in this city and what this city actually is. We can’t clap our hands and have undesirable people disappear, round them up, impound them, or herd them off just because they make some of us feel uncomfortable. You know why? Because it is their city too. And if this is not their city, then where should they go?

  15. Hey Pete – you lost me at “Sweet, gentle Frontburnervians.”

    Come, live downtown for a decade and get back to me about how it’s their city, too.

    These people blow in from all over the country looking for free services, and hand-outs. Many, don’t want to work, even if given the opportunity, so spare me with the existential BS.

  16. Peter, It’s not that we don’t get what your first post was saying. We get it, feel free to stop waxing pretentiously.

  17. Pete I understand your point, but what you don’t understand is this: The city of Dallas is trying to revive downtown. If the homeless and the bums overtake downtown before shoppers, diners, and tourists do, the downtown revival fails. If downtown Dallas was thriving, I don’t think this would be such a big issue. But sorry, the bums are an obstacle to downtown’s revival.

  18. Really? Still? Then if that’s what you people want, fine. You want people pooping and peeing out in the open, drinking and street busking, fine. If that’s the crowd you want Downtown to attract then the city does not need to spend another nickel revamping Downtown. You will never attract large companies to move into Downtown when homeless advocates like you people allow them to continue their idiocy. It’s your fault for allowing this.

  19. Well said, Vince.

    Only in 2011 would anyone be prolix ad absurdum reacting to a (pretender) Ruling Class burgess tweeting “bum”.

    Does the fact that those reacting have to put on such a show so as to be perceived as being insulted by such a retroactive term as “bum” in anyway help the bum? NO.

    But it helps at the distant-from-downtown cocktail-parties!

  20. I think the parks should have fair rules for all, that apply to everyone, whether they live under the open sky or in a mansion.

    Rule 1 – No sleeping/laying on the benches. They are for sitting. Laying down leaves little room for other visitors. I’ve seen this rule enacted in Central Park, people can lay on the grass but not on the benches.

    Rule 2 – No going potty – unless you are a dog in which case owners, scoop the poop. People going potty in the open indicates a certain hatred for public expectations, which probably extends to the pretty park they’ve been given to pee in. I mean, a modicum of propriety would indicate they would go somewhere unseen to potty outside, right?

    Rule #3 – You have the right to say “No” to any requests for money, sex, or anything. Freedom of speech and all that. Crossing the line of speech would indicate a time in jail is needed for either party.

    Peter, I disagree on one factor of your closing argument. I think we face a “build it and they will come” problem. In that once the Bridge was built it was oversold, so now we need something else. In the meantime, our suburban neighbors can just solve their bum problem with a one-way bus ticket to downtown Dallas. This is a regional issue, but Dallas seems to be the only one taking any action. After a while, that smells older than a bum’s overcoat to taxpayers.

  21. And then later they tell you Burt is actually your biological dad? And you go through a period of introspective anger and searing shame, followed by an early adulthood in which you “act out”? And have “poor barriers”? And wind up “a poor candidate for probation”? This metaphor is falling apart fast, Peter. At least for me it is. Help me, Jesus.

  22. Peter,

    “Sweet, gentle Frontburnervians . . .” Are you serious? When you drip such condescension, your message is lost.

    As you seem to really be tied to your metaphor, Burt may have smoked a little pot but he was not smoking crack or meth, mentally ill, or out on parole for who knows what. Burt was invited into your parent’s house and lived by their rules while he was there; he was not a stranger who set up shop and squatted in their house, and he didn’t pee on the carpet, try to take your allowance, or break anything.

    What appears to be the baseline of your point (if you have one ) is that the burden of changing behavior lay with the taxpayers (“But there are ways to keep a bum from following you home. Learn them.”; “it’s the first time you’ve had to actually spend some time in the living room with all these Burts, but don’t worry, you’ll figure it out;” “Or maybe you’ll just get by by figuring out how to give Burt the polite cold shoulder”). Or maybe, instead, or at the same time, the “bums” can learn to how to act in a society that has evolved past the stone age.

  23. The common thread through most of the comments is personal responsibility. Whether it’s the parents of the unsupervised child/ren in the first post, the city council in member who might need to fact check the subjects in her pictures, downtown residents who wish to eschew homeless people, current and future downtown businesses, the Bridge, and the homeless people themselves; everyone needs to take responsibility for maintaining our public spaces and making them desirable for others to come and enjoy. MSG is in a great location and position to be an attraction to people both in and outside the downtown area. Lots of hard work has gone into the concerts, movies, and festivals in the area. However, if any one interest does not do their part to maintain and better the park, then we are all doing downtown a disservice. Neal said it best when he discussed the obstacles for revitalizing downtown. If the homeless (or any other group) did not urinate/defecate in the park, bathe in the drinking fountains, panhandle or litter, they would be upholding their responsibility. Similarly, if the vendors at the festivals cleaned up the trash that left behind, they, too, would be upholding their responsibility (and they have not done a spectacular job after the past several festivals). The parents need to supervise their children and pet owners need to scoop the poop. But all of this is part of a general responsibility to OTHERS and ourselves. This park and many other initiatives are an investment in quality of life and it is everyone’s duty to uphold it. That means not writing off any one group and holding everyone to the same standards.

  24. How many of the “You elitist uppity-ups! Why don’t you care about the downtrodden?” postings are being made from the free computers at the downtown library, I wonder?

    No one on here is saying that the homeless need to be sent to concentration camps. Yes, there are homeless people who have some serious problems. There are homeless people who are trying to get back on their feet. I think every single person here would help those people.

    I just don’t think it’s my job to buy drinks for a guy who wants to sit around the park/sidewalks/7-Eleven/corner of NW Hwy all day. I believe I should be able to walk 2 blocks downtown or buy some gas without someone asking me for some of my money so they can go get a beer.

  25. @thurfir,

    Burt did squat, at least in a literal sense; that was his way with children — to lower himself to their eye level and speak as if imparting hard-won wisdom in a campfire setting, although the majority of what he said was sheer gibberish involving Betsy Ross and the solar system of Sirius. Also, he did break Mom’s etched glass lamp with the fleur-de-lis design, when he was gesticulating wildly about how it was really the Indians and not the white man who had killed the buffalo.

    Your story does not square with my recollections, Sir.

  26. Our neighbors in Old East Dallas have had their cars broken into at least 4 different times. Everyone has the right to public space, no one has the right to be a nuissance.

  27. @Minh

    None of those times could have been Burt. The first break-in, he was in Sterrett on that whole trumped-up bullshit charge with the neighbor’s pet mongoose, and the second and third times, he was in Kentucky doing contract fieldwork for the University of Kentucky Micro-Ornithology Department, which turned out to not exist, but we know he was in Kentucky because we got two postcards from him — if that was a ruse, it was an awfully elaborate one to merely create an alibi for a lowly smash-and-grab. And during the fourth break-in, he was right in our living room, showing off the collection of dirty-looking quartz fragments he had gathered in Arkansas, which, he claimed, could power spaceships just as surely as they power your wristwatch.

    Oh, but please do keep on with the half-truths and unfounded insinuations, Minh. They’re making me feel so righteous inside!

  28. It would be interesting if all the commenters would state if they live downtown; if so, for how long; and how often do they visit the park.

    I’ve lived downtown for two years now. And visit the park about 2-3 times a week for about 30 mins to 1 hour at a time.

    First, I’ve never noticed any persistent “problem” with homeless people in the park. Sometimes, at the Lilypad, a group of homeless people might be congregating at a table, but when that has occurred, they have always been patronizing the establishment, and been talking amongst themselves….like every other customer. Also, I’ve never been solicited for money while at the park.

    As for the homeless situation downtown in general, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in the two years that I’ve lived here. I do a lot of walking downtown (from West End to Harwood generally) and I’m a daily commuter on DART (trains and buses). I might get asked for money once a day. Maybe once every two days. And, 99% of the time, its a soft-spoken question and a muted reaction when I don’t have the change to spare.

  29. Minh,I suppose those car break- ins were do to the homeless? Or was it Uncle Burt? I heard that rapscallion bastard had got back on the sauce and nodoz again and has been acting up lately.

  30. I’ve lived downtown for 10 months. I have walked to the park literally every day (well, almost every day, sometimes I’m out of town). I have never seen a single person peeing in the street or the park. Is there a certain time this is happening? How am I missing it and everyone else is seeing it?

  31. This is the dumbest post I’ve seen in a long time. Burt? What?
    Look, every city, _every_ city, tries to make the homeless go away. It is in the DNA of city councilmembers. Yes, Dallas is a valet sort of place, but when it comes to trying to push the homeless aside, we are no different from Austin or New York.
    Doesn’t make it right, but it’s not a prissy Dallas thing. That’s just the way politicians behave. And Angela Hunt, despite how much FB luuuuuvs her, is a politician.

  32. I’ve lived downtown and Deep Ellum for the past decade. Downtown for the past 5 year. I’ve seen homeless peeing on side and back of building that houses Cost One (Elm @ Ervay). I’ve also seen plenty ‘o number twos on the path between said building and Thanksgiving Tower – and, it ain’t dog crap. Plus, large groups of vagrants hang out constantly at the bus stop at the same intersection and the covered stop on Ervay – never catching a bus. Not good for business, and there are times we’d like to move – accept I like living downtown, and I’m not letting vagrants run me out to the ‘burbs or Uptown since I don’t drive a Hummer or own an Affliction t-shirt.

    Bottom line – if they are breaking the law, which many are – they should get a nice tasing, and some R&R in the clink.

  33. This hipper-than-thou defense of bums is getting tedious.

    I find myself agreeing more with Scrooge.
    —-

    “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

    “Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again. “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?

    “They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

    “The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

    “Both very busy, sir.”

    “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge.

  34. Isn’t this what we have Jason Roberts for? To make little unicorn hats for these people to wear and a pop-up park for them to gambol about and poop in while eat street food and watch?

  35. @Daniel I’d like to extend the thanks of a grateful city for your contribution to this topic.

  36. Shorter Trey Garrison: “The only useful purpose of government is to remove unpleasant persons from my sight.”

  37. I guess a part of the problem is that compared to other urban areas (let’s use San Francisco, NYC, Chicago as examples) the number of people on the street and in the parks/public areas is so much larger than in Dallas that the “problem” of bums isn’t quite as noticeable.

  38. If you were a little older you would know the archetype for Uncle Burt was “Uncle Billy” a.k.a. Edgar Buchanan on “Leave it to Beaver”. Even free-wheeling Uncle Billy had his limits, however.

  39. @Daniel I’m sure those are privately-contracted prisons to which Trey refers.

  40. Extending the metaphor- Finally, one evening Uncle Burt has a few too many nips from his flask and gets in an altercation with your dad. The kerfluffle drifts to the back yard, where Uncle Burt picks up a large flagstone and smashes it on the crown of your poor pappa. Concussed and with blood running down his face, Dad goes inside and grabs his pistol and .22 Marlin rifle. As he walks out the back door, with muted senses and blood clouding his eyesight, he begins to shoot at whatever moves. Police arrive and proceed to seek positions to “take down the shooter”. Now you are forced to act as a human shield to prevent the police from killing your father. Without a clear shot and with some fast talking by you, the police disarm your father and get him into a waiting ambulance.

    Meanwhile, Uncle Burt wanders down the road to visit his other ‘relatives’.

    I don’t care for Uncle Burt. Not at all. (True story. ‘Uncle Burt’ was just a guy my family felt sorry for because he was down on his luck. In reality, Burt/Paul needed more assistance than we could give.)

    Life on the street is hard. Programs should be in place to remove the homeless to places where they can get treatment and an opportunity to reenter mainstream society. Tolerating the homeless is one thing. Letting them harm where they live is another.