Trust was once a word more intertwined with the concept of hope, as opposed to the way the word has evolved to become more aligned with certainty. Currently, the landscape is littered with examples of public and private sector figures who have broken the egg of trust they have either created themselves or have been entrusted with, and they are ahem scrambling to regain their lost footing and stature and credibility. The certainty, the guarantee, at the center of modern trust might be part of the problem.
For the leaders of Dallas—civic, academic, and business leadership—trust is increasingly hard to earn because so much of what is being decided, at a civic and business leadership level, is necessarily on a case-by-case basis and the scale of the challenges has grown with the dramatic increase in population over the last 10 to 20 years. Complexity engenders more complicated forms of trust.
Maybe the antique notion of the word trust is worth revisiting in these complicated times because I believe that—more than counting on guarantees—we want to trust/hope our leaders and our neighbors will mostly do the right thing … and always be transparent about why. Part of the dynamic in our hope for a constantly improving Dallas is that we all want to believe there is such a thing as consensus. Absent from much of public, national discourse in the last few years, consensus is the key ingredient required to get things done on the scale required to manage the next stage of growth for Dallas. This is not to be confused with blind allegiance. An open and honest pursuit of shared attitudes has contributed mightily to the growth of Dallas and Texas. Where we don’t share attitudes, our commitment to transparency allows for the community to go forward despite our differences, in pursuit of our mostly shared goals. A lack of transparency will keep a part of our community skeptical, on the sidelines, or, worst case, in active opposition.
In my nearly 40 years here, this willingness to be flexible has been one of our great civic strengths and, ironically, has knit Dallas together. In my role at HKS, I travel the world and the civic fabric in other cities can be brittle and potentially unsustainable, a truism in the U.S. and globally. We have come by the trust that is present in Dallas through years of open political give-and-take and shared civic responsibility. In fact, we should pat ourselves firmly on the back for raising water prices to support supply needs that will be with us into the back half of the 21st century. Connecting the outside lakes into our city is a very visible signal to those moving here from all over the country and all over the world that we are trying to expand our boundaries, inclusively, and take the long view of what community means.
Other places haven’t been so fortunate. There is a water crisis in South Africa such that residents of Cape Town and Johannesburg can’t turn on their taps with confidence that anything will come out. How did something so essential to modern urban success get overlooked by the S.A. infrastructure planners, utility management and political leaders? The next step is water rationing at military outposts, and the next step…is frightening to imagine.
Edelman, the global public relations firm, measures the ebb and flow of our trust in institutions: government, media, corporations. In some sectors, the decline is stark and worrisome. In others, there is a renewed willingness to believe in the evenhandedness of expertise. Ultimately, as an architectural firm, we at HKS ask our clients to trust in our science, our research, our faithful pursuit of their interest with our expertise. Over time, this pursuit has allowed our clientele to grow and prosper, as have we.
At the civic level, all of the institutions that comprise the Dallas we have loved and will love extend their expertise in good faith, and community trust ensues. We can probably quibble with the portion size of what is extended and there is room for improvement, always. Still, progress is undeniable.
Let’s recommit to preserve the legacy we have been entrusted with and created for ourselves. This is a pivotal time for many of the institutions we rely on. Our handling of civic water issues in this period of unparalleled growth is something we’ve gotten mostly right. This consensus building can serve as a template for thoughtfully resolving what are certain to be tough, contentious issues that we’ll all have to face together, into our shared future.
Dan Noble is president and CEO of HKS Architects.