Local Government

When It Comes to Poverty, Dallas Is World Class

There are more people living in poverty in Dallas today than there are people living in Plano.

Read Robert Wilonsky on Dallas’ epic-scaled poverty problem. Mull for a minute on this one, scathing fact: there are more people living in poverty in Dallas today than there are people living in Plano. Take a second to pursue the stat box in the article that shows how the problem of poverty is concentrated in the south of the city, but also spread throughout the city – every council district has people living in dire poverty. Remind yourself that Dallas leads the nation when it comes to income inequality by neighborhood.

Then read this set of paragraphs a few times over:

When the childhood poverty issue was raised two years ago, “people were shocked,” Montoya told me. “They wondered: ‘When did this happen?’ And they didn’t keep their eye on the ball.”

Yet, two years after Rawlings started lamenting the city’s “barbell economy,” all we have to show for our hand-wringing is a poverty task force, because that’s the one thing Dallas City Hall does well. See: domestic violence, education, homelessness, Fair Park. And in the end, they’ll propose a proposal, even if peer cities across the country found a solution to what ails us years ago. It’s the arrogance of the so-called world-class city: Thanks, but we’ll do it our way.

There are a lot of things we could blame for poverty in Dallas, but Wilonsky really nails something here. At the end of the day, there is a bizarre arrogance that cripples this city: a myth of exceptionalism – Dallas as the self-made city-on-a-hill. We talk about Dallas’ boldness, of its penchant for dreaming big dreams. Every new city initiative is sold on the promise of Dallas’ glorious, soon-to-come future, as if the city were careening on a path towards some divine civic salvation for which Dallas has been forever predestined.

The truth is Dallas is already mostly what it was always meant to be and will always be unless these latest poverty numbers provide a wake-up call. Dallas is a city managed and governed to be a fine place to live if you have a little money, can afford a house in a decent neighborhood, can buy nice cars and keep them well-maintained, can send your kids to private school, eat in all the great new restaurants, enjoy Sunday afternoons at the Arboretum followed by Mambo Taxis in Highland Park Village, treat yourself to some Botox when your face begins to sag, attend performances in top-notch arts venues, and golf on world class links.

But it is also a city that continuously fails to adequately support or maintain every arena in which life touches the public sphere – transit, schools, public safety, infrastructure, community cultural and educational programs, public parks and facilities. Sometimes that ineptitude can look like inaction, or endless bickering among interest groups, or political dysfunction, but underlying it all is a kind of arrogance that has long been woven into the mentality that has dominated Dallas’ political and philanthropic climate.

In Dallas, “world class” is a euphemism for self-delusion. It is a motto for those who gleefully wear blinders that allow them to see only visions of progress, and not the fact that what makes this city truly exceptional is the scale to which those who can’t afford the vision of the sweet Dallas life are left to their own miserable fate.

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