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Dallas: ‘City of Hate’ vs. ‘Plague City’

We like to poke fun at Dallas’ perennial striving to be “world class.” It’s a symptom of a kind of self-regarding, aspirational character that is not unique to Dallas, but which does manifest itself in this city in a particular way. Most newer, up-and-coming cities share a sense of wanting to prove their worth. But Dallas’ history has shaped this sensibility in its own way. Entrepreneurialism is the city’s birth right; social status is engrained as one of its highest civic values. But our scars, too, have contributed to the particular substance of our striving, self-conscious attempts to be regarded as great.

As we spent considerable ink exploring last year during the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, the scars left by those terrible events affected Dallas in a particular way. Not every city could have been branded a “city of hate;” that was the result of the particular cultural and political soup that was simmering here at the time.  But also, not every city would have internalized that reputation – and its shame and sense of remorse – with quite the same measure of wounded-ness. Those wounds have taken decades to get over, and they have also contributed to the desire and drive to make Dallas a great city.

In the days following the Ebola breakout, I couldn’t help but think about the assassination.

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City Moves to Save Its Public Art

Back in March, I wrote about a piece of public art at White Rock Lake that the Office of Cultural Affairs wanted to remove because the work had deteriorated over the years. Once a popular attraction on the lake, the city didn’t have the money to maintain and repair Frances Bagley and Tom Orr’s Water Theater. In fact, the city doesn’t have funds to maintain and repair any of the public work in its collection. Rather than let it continue to deteriorate and become an eyesore, the city thought it would simply pull it out of the lake.

Not so fast. The arts community struck back, and the issue got a lot of attention. That got the attention of members of the Cultural Affairs Commission, which is now taking some early steps to figure out how to take care of the public art it commissions. At tomorrow’s Cultural Affairs Commission meeting, commissioners will vote on allocating funds to study the needs of the collection and possibly hiring a conservation manager to implement that review.

The move makes sense. The percent for art ordinance requires municipal capital projects to dedicate funds for the commissioning of art, so the city should have a way to maintain the pieces it commissions. As I’ve argued in the past, it’s not the only change that needs to happen with how this city handles its public art program, but it’s a positive step in the right direction.

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How Many New Ebola Cases Can We Handle Until We All Lose Our Junk?

So, Ebola is no longer a West African thing. We have the first U.S. transmission of the disease right here in Dallas. Officials are urging everyone to keep calm, but that’s probably difficult if you’re a neighbor of Nina Pham, the nurse who contracted Ebola from Thomas Eric Duncan, and police officers are knocking on the door at 5 a.m. with the message, “Good morning, Ebola’s on your block.” Then, I just saw some wacky, unreliable outlet reporting in my Facebook feed that Pham has a boyfriend who was admitted into the hospital. I can’t find any serious outlets reporting that news, but it was enough to get me thinking. It is probably likely that Pham is not the last case of Ebola in Dallas. We’re still waiting out the incubation period for Duncan’s family, and Pham’s infection starts a new cycle of friends and associates who may have had contact with infectious fluids. I could see this growing to 4 or 5 cases pretty quickly. So my question to you: at what point do we all lose our junk? How many cases of Ebola can we handle before everyone goes into panic mode? Five? Seven? Seventeen? Thirty-eight?

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Dallas Needs to Stop Looking for Silver Bullets

Last Thursday, Mayor Mike Rawlings was the keynote speaker at the annual Downtown Dallas Inc. membership luncheon. The mayor has a lot on his mind these days. The talk opened with a recap of the Ebola situation before Rawlings made a stump speech for the proposition on the November ballot that will raise the salaries of city council members. But the Mayor reserved the majority of his talk for boosting downtown, running through recent successes – Main Street, the Farmers Market, residential development, and plenty of commercial real estate activity – before focusing on two big ticket projects.

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Next City on Dallas’ Botched Transit History

Next City takes a look at Dallas’ public transit history and competition in the northern reaches of the region between DART and para-transit companies. There’s not much new in the piece if you’ve been following the issue closely, but perhaps the best part of the article is its summation of how policy and an evolving and expanding region have created a dysfunctional transit network:

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Who Is Clay Jenkins?

Clay Jenkins, a freshman politician in an obscure political office, is back in the national spotlight thanks to the Ebola scare. Yesterday he described Dallas’ response to Ebola to Rachel Maddow as one of “unapologetic compassion.” If those words sound familiar — Maddow, compassion — that’s because this is the second time Jenkins has made the network news rounds. In July, he controversially tried to open county facilities to migrant children.

But who is this guy? That’s what I tried to find out in this profile from the October issue.  Once labeled John Wiley Price’s “water boy,” he has emerged as a local political force. He was a hell raiser in his youth, survived a near-death car wreck, and, after some early term muffs, has demonstrated a knack for the political hardball of county politics. But will he even win his reelection this November? Here’s a taste:

In college at Baylor, Jenkins continued to distinguish himself dubiously. He was arrested twice, once for reckless driving after he led Baylor security and Waco police on a car chase he’d planned and a second time for criminal trespassing in a women’s dorm during a panty raid. Strangely enough, he was never arrested for his role as the famous Baylor Pie Man, a hit man for a student-organized ring that offered to throw pies in people’s faces—professors, ex-boyfriends—for a fee. 

Read the whole thing here.

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Why Do We Need the Trinity Toll Road? Here’s the Answer, and It’s Pretty Lame.

On Friday, we mentioned the Dallas Morning News’ story about how many of the supporters of the Trinity Toll Road had gone silent since a consumer advocacy group called the proposed road a boondoggle. Well, over the weekend, the DMN’s transportation writer, Brandon Formby, filed a follow-up. Road supporters are now talking, and if you need proof that they are scrambling to come up with any justification for this thing or apply antiquated thinking to its planning, then here it is. Basically, NCTCOG transportation director Michael Morris argues that we need the toll road not because it will substantially relieve congestion along the I-35 corridor (which traffic projections say it won’t) but because it will increase congestion on some streets, decrease on others, and otherwise shift traffic around in a way that will improve economic development. Here’s the breakdown of how Morris believes the road will impact traffic patterns:

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The Dallas Revolution: Will the Next Dallas City Council Election Will Be a Game Changer?

Over the past week, Jim Schutze has been speculating on what the next city council election may mean for the future of the city. Last week – and again in this week’s paper — he writes about the “liars,” the city’s political old guard whom he believes will try to influence the council race in the same way they have sustained support for the Trinity Toll Road through the years, spinning the facts and coercing the city government to stay the course.

Earlier in the week, though, Schutze posted an addendum to his article on Unfair Park changing his tune a touch. The next election won’t be about liars necessarily, he writes, it’s about a change in civic culture. He relates a story about a city meeting in the Great Trinity Forest and how he observed a new alignment of environmentalists and activists who typically mobilized separately around issues like White Rock Lake and the Trinity River now coming together and forming a more cohesive block. It made him think that something else was going on in the city’s political soup:

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Will Automated Cars Revolutionize Urban Transportation?

As we bicker back and forth about tearing down roads, building toll roads, managing sprawl, creating density, improving public transit, and all the hot button issues that will affect mobility in DFW — and therefore dictate what kind of city Dallas evolves into — changes are afoot that may throw all of our assumptions about the future out the window.

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Are We Witnessing The Fall of the House of Michael Morris?

As Liz mentioned in Leading Off, a planned toll road connecting Garland to Greenville has sparked a statistical feud between the Texas Department of Transportation and the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Last week, when 1,500 people showed up at a public meeting in Rockwall in opposition to the proposed road, one citizen brought to light the fact that the numbers the NCTCOG used to justify their new toll road are dramatically larger than traffic predictions made by TxDOT. If you want to dig into how much larger they are and why, read the well-reported DMN story. What interests me is what this current standoff reveals about how our region’s transportation policy is made.

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DART Is Asking Itself the Wrong Questions About Expanding Funding

There’s a good article in today’s Dallas Morning News which digs into how rival transit organizations are grafting business from DART in suburban cities that never elected to become DART members. The DART board now fears that without continued expansion of the DART system, the region will become a patchwork of independent and competing transit systems, rather than a single — and presumably more efficient — system.

However, the problem, as the article clearly spells out, is that suburban cities don’t see the value in dedicating a one percent sales tax to be part of a transit system that only marginally serves their community.

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Should There Be a Moratorium on Tearing Down Old Buildings in Dallas?

The sudden demolition of a 129-year-old Romanesque Revival building on Main St. over the weekend came as a shock and a surprise. It was a reminder that while this city likes to think it has turned over a new leaf in terms of its appreciation of its history and sensitivity towards preserving its past, we haven’t changed all that much. Dallas is a place that tears down the past to make way for the future. The destruction of Dallas’ history is as much a part of Dallas’ history as any vanished landmarks.

Still, this particular demolition raises a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, Dallas has lost so many of its old structures that the demolition of any one of them feels like a terrible loss. On the other hand, the demolisher in this instance is the Headington Company, the driving force behind downtown’s suddenly booming revival. We love old buildings, but at what cost? Does the value of a new downtown outweigh our nostalgic affection for historic structures?

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Is the Dallas Opera the Best Run Opera Company in the United States?

Okay, that headline is going to take a little more to answer than what I have here to back it up. But let’s just put it this way. Last year the New York City Opera went bankrupt. Earlier this year, the head of the Metropolitan Opera in New York said the seminal institution could be facing a “bankruptcy situation in two to three years.” Here in Dallas, after the Dallas Opera flirted with young dynamo George Steele, the kind of up-and-coming hot shot you’d expect Dallas to hire (and the man who eventually marched the New York City Opera out of existence), they opted for a more conservative approach, bringing in the San Francisco Opera’s COO/CFO Keith Cerny. Cerny cuts the profile of corporate accountant. As Willard Spiegelman has written:

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Trinity Toll Road Named to Consumer Advocacy Nonprofit’s ‘Highway Boondoggle’ List

The Texas Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, released a report today that names the Trinity toll road one of 11 road projects in America it considers a “highway boondoggle.” What does that mean? Well, in short, it’s a big, expensive project with little potential positive impact, as the lead in the DMN piece covering the report drives home:

By 2035, the $1.5 billion Trinity Parkway is expected to allow motorists on roads and highways in a 34-square-mile area to drive faster than they do today — by about 2 miles per hour. And 47 percent of lane miles in that area will be congested in 21 years regardless of whether the toll road is built or not.

Still, the road has its supporters, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, who seems to believe the project is critical. Not sure how adding 90,000 drivers to the downtown road network while only reducing vehicles on the Mixmaster sections of I-35 and I-30 by 8,000 to 29,000 is critical or worth the $1.5 billion price tag.

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