Is it me, or has there been an outbreak of palm trees in our city? I have never been a fan of palms, especially in suburban cities such as Dallas. But the other day, while driving down Oak Lawn Avenue, I got the very real sense that our city has morphed into a giant putt-putt course. It was an unpleasant experience, recalling a dream I once had of being locked in a room full of clowns.
To me, the thick-necked palm trees are particularly graceless—similar to those found at doo-wop motels in Scottsdale or at many of the Hooters in our region. It’s painful to see them in the Park Cities, Bluffview, and regions farther north. As a terrible flourish, local commercial enterprises are wrapping strands of twinkle lights around the thick palm trunks—and it’s not just at Mexican restaurants. I miss Stanley Marcus every day, but I am grateful he did not live to see this.
Palm tree apologists—and there are many—accuse me of snobbery and ignorance. I don’t have a problem with that. “Palm trees are native to Dallas! You don’t know what you are talking about!” they say. I like to point out that fire ants are native to Dallas, but that doesn’t make them desirable. People who love palms love palms irrationally. Local defenders have a go-to exhibit to prove local palm tree suitability; it’s near the Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant, south of downtown, where apparently there is a massive grove of palms growing like crazy on a ridge amid hundreds of acres of swampland. Swampland. I rest my case.
Contrast our palm-endemic to California, where in spite of the fact that palm trees launched a million-dollar postcard industry, they are now out of favor. In 2006, the Los Angeles City Council voted to plant a million deciduous trees throughout the city so that as the palms died, native trees could fill in. When the famed Santa Monica Boulevard required 1,000 new trees, only 40 palms were purchased. The reason? Palms offer no shade. They do not create a meaningful amount of carbon dioxide. And they were a big fat mess, costing the Los Angeles public works department some $600,000 annually in shard trimming alone. As a possible replacement, the city considered investing in the lower-maintenance date palms, but Las Vegas had already depleted the supply. Las Vegas. I rest my case again.
If fingers can be pointed to explain Dallas’ current infatuation with palms, aim them at Southern California circa 1960. But, guys, we are a little late on this one. In the early ’60s, when the palm craze started, suburban tract developers there created thousands of acres of ranch houses with palm trees and swimming pools and sherbet-colored interiors. They stuck plastic flamingos in the front yards. Subdivisions were dubbed Paradise City or Island Place, so homeowners could pretend that they lived in a tropical resort. I’m guessing no one was fooled. So, Dallas, is there a reason we are importing a dated marketing ploy? Can’t we just be us?
I realize my little palm campaign is petty in a world where the economic crisis and the jobless rate and world hunger weigh heavily upon all of us. But beauty is a powerful salve. And good taste doesn’t cost a dime. Let’s be simple and real.
Then we’ll really live in paradise.