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Making Dallas Even Better

Is Dallas Sliding Towards Chaos?

The mayor believes his Grow South initiative is going swell. He and Dallas Police Chief David Brown announced a new plan to deal with the spike in violent crime. Regardless, in a city in which residents who are unlucky enough to live in the part of town where you can be attacked and killed by packs of dogs, in the past 5 days, 7 people have died in shootings, all in southern Dallas. That brings the number of people murdered in Dallas this year to 57, a 42 percent increase over last year.

Clearly this city has leadership problems. But will anyone ever be held accountable for anything?

This Friday, Someone Will Finally Ask Local Kids What They Want Fair Park to Be

Even though city and civic leaders have been chattering about Fair Park’s future for months, this Friday a non-profit called U Got This will do something that no one has thought of thus far: ask local kids what they want to happen with their park. U Got This will hold a conference with students from nearby James Madison High School in an effort to educate the students about the history of the park and listen to their thoughts about what they would like to see Fair Park become.

Makes sense, right? Who could benefit the most from a community-minded Fair Park? Who will live the longest with the impact of whatever happens with Fair Park? Probably the kids who go to school within two miles of the park.

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Why It Is Not Enough for Fair Park Leadership to Merely ‘Cheer’ for South Dallas

Amidst all the hubbub over homelessness that has erupted over the past few days, I feel like an important article by Robert Wilonsky about Fair Park hasn’t received the attention it deserves. On Tuesday, Wilonsky wrote about the many parcels of land that the State Fair of Texas owns outside the boundaries of Fair Park. These lots are dispersed through the community of South Dallas. Some are unkempt, others vacant, and others used to enforce arbitrary parking restrictions. Like the moats of parking around Fair Park, these lots remain a real, active agent of disinvestment in a community that has been the victim of a bully neighbor for decades:

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Leading Off (5/4/16)

Ciao, Ted Cruz. Your senator, the man whose father, a Carrollton preacher, believed that God himself ordained his son’s White House bid, lost the Indiana primary to Donald Trump yesterday, prompting Cruz to withdraw from the race for the Republican nomination. Cruz’s announcement came in the form of an insult-laden speech (Update: this particular speech came earlier in the day. H/T: the comments) in which Cruz called Trump a “pathological liar” and “utterly amoral.” That kind of language feels tame in an election year that has also seen Cruz compared to “Lucifer” and Trump accusing Cruz’s dad of involvement in the JFK assassination. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of the many intellectual luminaries who occupy positions of power in state government, suggested Trump nominate Cruz to the Supreme Court. At this point, you could follow the rest of the 2016 election year, or you could just watch Robert Altman’s Nashville on repeat. Your choice.

The Mayor Thinks He’s Helping Dallas Grow South. During a Grow South update, regional marketer-in-chief Mike Rawlings gave his southern Dallas development initiative straight A’s, but also admitted that he wished Grow South could happen faster, better, and cheaper. I read about his perceived accomplishments, thought about the people who actually helped realize many of them, and wondered if what makes Mike Rawlings a poor mayor is the precisely the fact that he thinks of mayoring in terms of “faster,” better,” and “cheaper.” Does our mayor have the patience, vision, or political seriousness to actual plant seeds of substantial change in the impoverished, historically segregated city south of I-30? Or, as a developer rather acutely commented to me recently, is he merely “a quarterly returns guy?”

Susan Hawk Back in the Hot Seat. The DA’s department is under fire once again after an innocent man accused of heinous crimes and sent to prison for two years may have been convicted because prosecutors deliberately withheld evidence.

Suspect in Gruesome Church Murder Still At Large. Police in Midlothian are looking for help identifying a man caught on surveillance camera at Creekside Church of Christ on April 18. He was wearing a black helmet, balaclava, and vest with the word “police” on it, and he is seen brandishing a hammer and breaking windows while going through an office. Moments after the footage was taken, a fitness instructor arriving for an early morning class was bludgeoned to death.

Southlake Murder-For-Hire Trial Continues to Shed Light on Drug Cartel’s Inner Workings. The murder was cold, methodical, and it wasn’t supposed to happen in Southlake.

Time to Pine for Seguin. It’s not just that the Blues are up 2-1, it’s that after a gutsy comeback in a game 2 they eventually lost, the Stars fell to pieces in a 6-1 rout in St. Louis last night. Prediction: the Stars somehow scrape together a few wins and force a game seven. Then, a still half-injured Tyler Seguin enters the game in overtime and scores a goal that is likened to the hockey version of Kirk Gibson’s walk-off.

Burger Baron Jack Keller Dead at 88. “The secret of this business,” Keller told the Dallas Morning News last year, “is a good, consistent product, year in and year out, at a reasonable price.” Keller delivered that product at his classic, throw-back burger joint on Northwest Highway for 50-plus years. R.I.P.

Don’t Worry, There is Hope and Goodness in the World. Watch a motorcycle cop rescue a stray dog caught in traffic on I-30, and read about the dogs that were rescued from a Korean dog-meat farm that are now safe in a Dallas shelter.

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Is Anyone Else a Little Creeped Out By the Idea of a Homeless Concentration Camp?

Let’s get this out straight away: I don’t really know anything about homelessness. I haven’t read much of the literature. I haven’t studied initiatives in various cities around the country. And I tend to trust that most of the people who are engaged in all aspects of the fight against homelessness have their hearts in the right place. I think that places like City Square, Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, and others are doing good work. I’d like to think the Bridge, which downtown residents love to hate, is also trying to do good work, even if it is easy to point to all of the problems Bridge residents create and see the Bridge as a magnet for trouble.

I also respect the neighbors downtown and in the Cedars who are faced with the brunt of what homelessness brings to a neighborhood: crime, petty theft, vagrancy, drugs, prostitution, irritating panhandling, and random ridiculousness like guys throwing rocks off overpasses. Those are the kinds of little crimes that can kill large scale, long term efforts to revitalize neighborhoods. And  I appreciate that neighbors can often feel at war with the very people who are trying to alleviate homelessness, like church-run soup kitchens that draw people through neighborhoods, creating makeshift pedestrian highways characterized by trash, petty theft, or worse.

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Will Ousting of Dallas Summer Musicals Honcho Impact Fair Park’s Future?

Michael Jenkins’ name is synonymous with Dallas Summer Musicals. For 21 years, Jenkins has been president of the Fair Park-based arts organization that has been bringing touring Broadway shows to Dallas for 76 years. Jenkins’ career with DSM started as an usher when he was 14. At 17, he became assistant to the managing director. As an investor in Broadway productions, Jenkins has earned nearly two dozen Tony Awards. So it is a bit of a surprise to hear that he is leaving the organization not amidst the fanfare of a retirement farewell, but because, the Dallas Morning News reports, he was fired.

The story is a little fuzzy. In an interview he gave the DMN a week ago, Jenkins described his ousting as “a palace coup,” and said through tears that he felt unfairly dismissed because of his age and an unpaid loan the former DSM-chief made to the organization. In a statement from Dallas Summer Musicals published on the website Theater Jones, the DSM board says they are looking for a “new generation” of leadership, citing the desire to find a bridge builder who can create partnerships within Dallas’ arts community and maximize the use of the DSM’s home, the Music Hall at Fair Park.

From Jenkins’ loan to the DSM press release’s repeated references to squeezing more revenue out of the Music Hall at Fair Park, it is not too difficult to read between the lines in both of these statements.

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How Well-Connected Is Your Home to Public Transit?

TransitCenter and the Center for Neighborhood Technology released a nifty little tool last week that allows you to gauge how well-connected any spot in the United States is by public transit. Plug in an address, and the All Transit database culls together information on access to jobs, number of commuters, workers near transit, and other curious factoids.

I haven’t dug into the data too deeply, but I did run the numbers on a few Texas cities just to see how Dallas’ public transit system stacks up. Leaving aside all the usual moaning and groaning over Dallas’ sub-par transit system, Dallas actually has the best performing public transit system in Texas according to the All Transit tool, with an overall performance score of 6.8. Houston comes in second with a 6.2, while Austin (5.5) and San Antonio (5.7) live up to their reputations as transit-challenged cities.

What does it all mean?

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CueCat Inventor Serves Up Craziest Video You’ll See All Day

Remember the CueCat, the digital media punchline to end all digital media punchlines? The device was introduced by the Dallas Morning News way back in the dizzying late-1990s when a feverish hysteria over the magical World Wide Web was turning the shaggy inventors of “slow and cumbersome” online streaming services into billionaire sports team owners. The CueCat was nothing less than one of the worst inventions ever, and it was Dallas’ very own daily that owns the dubious honor of having invested millions in one of tech history’s most buffo footnotes, a device that really only functioned as a way to avoid typing a link into a browser window.

Well, we can rag on the DMN for the CueCat all day, but perhaps their error was not in their own idiotic vision but in being suckered into trusting someone who was selling them an idiotic vision.

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Dallas Arts District Turns to Booker T. for New Chief

Ever since Catherine Cuellar left her position as executive director of the Dallas Arts District for a gig with the Communities Foundation of Texas in July 2015, the largest arts district in the U.S. has sat without a leader. During that time, a lot has happened.  The Dallas Arts District contracted with a design firm to update its decades-old (and woefully out-of-date) masterplan, the Sasaki Plan. New developments in the district have opened, and construction on others is underway. The beleaguered Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund threw up its hands over the ongoing controversy with the Nasher Sculpture Center and the blinding light the pension fund-owned Museum Tower beams into the museum’s galleries. Meanwhile, the Dallas Arts District board revamped its structure and changed its bylaws, and Max Anderson, once the chairman of the Arts District board, abruptly left the Dallas Museum of Art — and the city.

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Does the Federal Government Really Have the Power to Wage War on Divisive Highways?

The big news in the world of transportation policy this week has been the somewhat landmark announcement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that the federal government will set about addressing the impact urban highways have on cities. In short, Foxx — who grew up in a predominately African-American neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, that was walled off by highways — wants to stop building and expanding highways that cut people off from jobs and opportunity. To that end, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched its Ladders of Opportunity initiative.

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Can Dallas’ Two Most Notable Film Festivals Survive a Scheduling Overlap?

In a world where Dallas has two film festivals.

A world where a second festival, backed by the American Film Institute, burst on the scene 10 years ago with a slate of B-list celebrities and new films from Sundance and SXSW. A world of bitter feelings, backroom character attacks, and donor base pillaging.

Now comes what is perhaps the most awkward programming clusterf*ck since the heavens unleashed an icy hell on Jerry Jones’ Super Bowl.

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The Real ‘Dallas Way’: Illogical, Absurdist Thinking

Here’s a pretty efficient summary of why the Trinity River Project is completely bonkers via DMN architecture critic Mark Lamster.

Only in Dallas would you design a highway in a park, and only in Dallas would you design a highway in a park before designing the park itself. Or even developing a general concept of that park, much less creating an authority that might actually be charged with building and paying for it.

No wonder, then, that we have a project that has been meandering along for the better part of two decades with no tangible result beyond an endless series of conflicting reports, studies, and briefing documents.

As I mentioned yesterday, other places don’t think like this. The Dallas Way of doing things has been alternatively described as bold thinking bolstered by a relentlessly entrepreneurial can-do spirit or — as Ambassador Ron Kirk recently put it — inefficiency brought on by endless bickering between  interest groups. But the reality is “the Dallas Way” describes a city so mired in the overreach of private interests and a city government set up to cater to those interests that it produces plainly and absurdly dysfunctional thinking.

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Meanwhile in New York, Governor Dedicates $40 Million for Parkway Removal

While we in Dallas debate whether or not to build a billion dollar road in the Trinity River flood plain, the city of Niagara Falls, NY is planning to tear out their own four lane highway because it separates the city from its waterfront.

The Robert Moses Parkway (yes, that Robert Moses) was opened in the 1960s, and it was constructed as a way to bypass Niagara Falls, looping around the city’s downtown and cutting off access to the adjacent Niagara Gorge. Its removal will allow the land formerly occupied by the highway to be turned into trails and green space.

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As Mayor Seeks Public Input on Trinity Road, It Is Time for the Project to Truly Evolve

The Dallas City Council’s transportation committee just wound up its briefing on the now-vetted plans put forth by the mayor’s so-called “Dream Team” of urban designers to rethink the Trinity Toll Road. There’s much to sort through in the back-and-forth conversation that unfolded this morning between council members, city staff, and the members of an oversight committee that was appointed to review the early technical adaptations of the conceptual plans for the road. I won’t get into all of it in too much detail here, but here are the key takeaways from my perspective.

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The Racist Legacy of America’s Inner-City Highways

There’s an article on Vox today that offers a concise summary of just how we went from being a nation of streetcar riders to a nation of long haul auto commuters. Its a familiar story to anyone who knows the history of urbanism in the 20th century. First came pressure from the auto industry to build new roads for their cars, resulting in a push for public funding of “freeways.” Then came the vision of a future America modeled after the modernist Utopian dream so compellingly depicted in General Motor’s Futurama exhibit at the 1939 Worlds Fair.

With public sentiment favoring a world made easy by zipping to and from suburban homes and downtown offices on ribbons of concrete — and a booming post-war economy that made car ownership more possible — President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, kick-starting the interstate system. Eisenhower didn’t want the highways to extend into the cities, but once he signed the federal legislation, the highway engineers took over. There was no turning back.

In America’s cities, highways became more than a transportation amenity.

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