Dallas, my love, get a grip

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

When I first moved to Dallas from Washington state in the late 1980s, I had a teacher who said to the class, in what I thought then was a hilariously over-the-top drawl, “I wouldn’t stick my big toe in the Trinity River!”

And so I was indoctrinated to our city’s culture of low self-esteem.

Later I had a professor at Mountain View College who questioned Dallas’ right to even exist, frequently stating, “There’s no reason for Dallas to be here” and daring us to fight him about it. 

I know now that Dallas was founded by idealists and a few … colorful characters who camped and then built homes and farms and businesses and eventually a city on the Trinity River.

But by this professor’s view, the Trinity was a trickle of swill with no value to anyone.

The river is our city’s one major waterway. And yes, it is the original reason that Dallas is here. 

But it’s been constantly abused and chastised for 100 years or more.

The city itself contaminated the river with sewage early on so that by the 1930s, it was a disgrace. A Congressional committee in 1937 said it was “virtually an open sewer” when at low flow. 

Besides that, industry ran nearly unchecked over it even up into the current decade. The citizens and leaders of Dallas just barely killed a plan to build a high-speed toll-road between the levees. What a fight it was to drop that bad idea.

But consider the existing land-use disaster for the Trinity: We literally built enormous prisons on its banks. 

We treated it like garbage, and it became garbage.

But this is not just about our river; it’s about our culture. The Trinity River is a metaphor for the whole City of Dallas. 

Dallas is like that one friend who is perfectly nice but totally lacks boundaries and bounces from one scheme or romance to the next, always blaming others for their problems while at the same time bending over to accept the burdens of others as their own.

And so I say to you, Dallas, my love, get a grip! You are not an open sewer. You are a beautiful, worthwhile city. Anyone would be lucky to have you, but bad things will continue to happen as long as you lack self-respect and healthy boundaries.

Dallas is home to the Great Trinity Forest, a 6,000-acre wood in Southern Dallas. But even with that largest urban hardwood forest in the United States, Dallas is becoming hotter faster than any other big city in the United States besides Phoenix.

That’s because Dallas has too few trees and too much impermeable concrete.

We are constantly paving and building while doing nothing to preserve our ecology.

That behavior has got to stop.

Dallas must have the self-respect to address this serious ecological threat and have the boundaries to put its own health and wellbeing ahead of quick profit.

The Mayor and City Council are moving ahead with an ordinance that would require developers and builders to dedicate land for parks or pay fees that would go in a fund for the city to purchase land for parks.

We should demand this to ensure that when we allow investors, developers and builders to cash in on our “hot” real-estate market that they are giving something back to our deserving city.

Currently, very little is required of developers. If they cut down trees, they have to donate to the city’s tree fund. If apartment builders accept taxpayer funding, they have to offer a few units as “affordable.”

That’s not enough.

The citizens of Dallas must advocate better building practices, such as permeable paving and requirements for developers to create green spaces. We have got to find ways to plant more trees.

Dallas is an incredibly desirable location for development. Our commercial real estate market draws big money from all over the United States and the world.

We are not some sad mistress meeting in shady motels. We are the queen, the number one, and we need to act like it.

If you want to build something in my city for your own profit, what are you going to do for me? That is the attitude I want our city leaders and our city’s policies to take. 

Let’s take a hard look at ourselves, at our whitened teeth and our crooked noses, at our perfectly fine river, and decide that we are loveable and that we deserve better.