Jim Schutze has done a great job of hounding city officials and others about the Trinity Project. But last week he did something unbecoming a journalist of his stature. Worse, he did something that, to my mind, just might disqualify him from the entire debate. Let’s jump!
In the conclusion to a column about why the Trinity Project is in trouble, he wrote the following: “But the really important fact, embedded in all of this, is that we have idiots steering the ship.” Take a second to let that melt in your mouth. Schutze didn’t write that in a blog post, something hurriedly typed before he dashed off to yoga class. He wrote it in his column in the paper. He had time to consider his words. And he decided that the most important fact in the debate over the Trinity is that idiots are working on the project. And then his editor(s) read that and let it stand.
I’ve met many of the people working on the Trinity Project. Gail Thomas, Rebecca Dugger, Theresa O’Donnell, Mary Suhm, Michael Morris — those are the names that jump to mind — and they’re not idiots. In fact, in the conversations I’ve had with these people, I’ve gotten the distinct impression that I’m an idiot. These are intelligent, caring people. The Trinity Project might kill everyone in Dallas, as Schutze says it will, but if that happens, it won’t be because the people working on it are idiots.
I think if you write that down and publish it — if you call these people idiots — you’ve demonstrated something worse than a bias. You’ve shown that your mind is closed. And you’re lazy.
Now. One more thing: yesterday they unveiled the new model for the Trinity Project. See yesterday’s posts on same if you missed the news. And yesterday, on the Observer‘s blog, Robert Wilonsky summed up the paper’s reaction to the model thusly: “We’ve just posted the slide show from Sam’s trip to the Trinity Trust, where they unveiled the world’s most expensive and incomplete model in the history of glue. Seriously, after spending half a million dollars and taking two years, they couldn’t debut a finished model? What’s the rush? Somebody? Anybody?”
Here’s why that post is telling: the Observer, as an organization, can’t even appreciate what is clearly a phenomenal work of art. We’re not talking, for the moment, about whether the model actually depicts what we’ll wind up seeing in earth and water and trees and roads; we’re just talking about the craftsmanship of the model itself.
Susie and Charles Kendrick, the husband-and-wife team that built the model, are among the best on the planet at what they do. And their Trinity Project model is so complicated, so ornate, that it’s hard to get your head around.
It features 20,000 feet of fiber optics to light up street lamps and buildings. One building itself, Renaissance Tower, just six inches tall, has 600 feet of fiber optics in it. Charles said at the unveiling yesterday that it was important to him that people who live near the Trinity can come see the model and locate their house on it. That way, the mammoth project can be brought down to a personal level. So to create that intimacy, he built 40,000 houses into the model, with each foot print and roof line of every house an exact tiny replica of the real thing. And since Google couldn’t give him the detail and data he required, he drove every damn street to gather that data himself. Then he built a computer to store that data. I asked Charles how much data we were talking about and told him a terabyte was the biggest unit I’d heard of. That’s 1,000 gigabytes. He said, “Oh, more than that. At one point, I thought it would be cool to keep track of stuff like that. But it got to be too much.”
So, yeah, it cost $500,000 and has taken two years — so far. At the press conference yesterday, Charles said there was still plenty of work to be done on the model. Because you know what? With any project of this magnitude, you’re going to be forced to unveil it to the public before it’s finished. Six months before you think you’ll be finished, someone is going to say, “Can we send out the invites and do this thing six months from now?” You’ll say yes, and then you’ll realize at some point that you’ve got seven more months of work left. That’s the way it goes.
Point is, the model is very cool. No other model like it has ever been built. And the Observer took a look at it and — whether through close-mindedness, laziness, or both — all they could see was that it wasn’t finished.
As I sometimes tell my 9-year-old: you are not helping.