What do the people of Dallas expect in a mayor? The answer is not an administrator with a Jimmy Carter-like concentration on the details of government. We have a city manager for that and a good one in Mary Suhn. Ironically, since the powers of the mayor are weak, the force of that mayor’s imagination must be especially strong. The great mayors of Dallas have been champions of great projects.
Eric Jonsson will be forever associated with Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and it was he who first brought I.M. Pei to Dallas, to design City Hall, which came to fruition under Wes Wise. The germinal idea of the Arts District can be attributed to Bob Folsom though many pursued it, including Annette Strauss who saw the Meyerson Symphony Center through to completion in a desperately difficult economy. Starke Taylor was instrumental in the expansion of North Central Expressway, and Jack Evans did much to build DART. Reviving the Trinity River was Ron Kirk’s happy obsession, and Laura Miller has carried it forward.
So it can take many mayors to bring a dream to life. Whoever is elected June 16 will inherit two vital enterprises that must compel the judicious application of time and attention.
(1.) The Trinity River has only begun to go the necessary distance. Much lies ahead, but the agonizing effort, over 35 years at least, with nine in the latest iteration, is about to pay off. One bridge, by Santiago Calatrava, already has parts in the assembly stage in Europe, and another will follow, creating a beacon for everything Dallas aspires to be. It is critical now that these soaring structures not be bridges over troubled water, or no water at all. They deserve the parks and all the pleasures implied in wave after wave of planning. The next mayor must make the Trinity River work, somehow.
(2.) The Arts District is equally crucial. If Dallas has a claim on the future, it will be through culture. Indeed, the Arts District and the Trinity project are bookends for a new downtown, with high culture at one end and the joys of natural beauty at the other, something that does not come easily to Dallas and must be cultivated at every opportunity. The Winspear Opera House, the Wyly Theater, the Booker T. Washington School of the Performing and Visual Arts are not just a few nice things to have around. They are essential to attracting and keeping the innovative talent without which a 21st century city has no hope of success, or even survival as a big-league urban area. It is not hard to become a has-been place. Just look at Cleveland or Buffalo.
There are other issues that cry out for consideration and must be added to the list:
(3.) Water, not just for sport but for daily living, is neither glamorous nor greatly appreciated. But try neglecting this vital element, assumed to be a given and a guarantee, and the next mayor will be ranked with the holes too dry to drill in East Texas. That is to say, as useless.
Four new reservoirs are needed in this part of the state, and two should begin immediately. A long, rough ride lies ahead, with 30 years required to gain a permit, plan the project and actually get it built. Far-sightedness is the order of the hour.
(4.) Architectural guidelines for development seem well worth considering. It’s important not to be excessively prescriptive, but some thought could be given to scale, materials and design on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
(5.) Crime, of course, must be combated, with more police and more money. Allocate them both to the chief and the city manager.
(6.) Beautification would be an ideal trademark campaign for the next mayor. Parks, large and small; planting, in median strips, in pots and boxes on the streets, hanging from light posts overhead, some of it typically Texan like the wonderful grasses and black-eyed Susans now along the Katy Trail–all would relieve what one observer has called “the industrial park” look that is descending on Dallas, belying the excitement of the cranes all around..
It will be a new day come January 16th. The new mayor must make the most of it.