Beating a path to a world class city

One article in this issue will at first seem shockingly off-base. It’s a piece by former Dallas Morning News theater critic Jeremy Gerard, whose recent re-entry into his native New York prompted some intriguing comparisons between the Big Apple and Big D. Gerard contends that parts of Manhattan are in stages of redevelopment not unlike the “world class” refinements that characterize much of Dallas’ upward and outward sprawl. Manhattan’s Trump Tower, Gerard offers by way of example, is nothing short of a “world market in pink marble”-a vertiginous Gal-leria. The relentlessly upscale Tower on Fifth and other excesses of a culture “hellbent on replacing any stray brick with a mirror” led Gerard, at least, to think the unthinkable: New York wants to be Dallas.

I first pondered the amusing ironies in Gerard’s essay on a plane to Toronto. It was my first trip to this much-ballyhooed North American city, and I was eager to experience what seemed to be the object of intense rapture among urban planners. I remembered reading somewhere that the late R. Buck-minster Fuller had declared that Toronto worked better than any city in the world. And no less effusive rhetoric has been heard right here in the cubicles of our own urban visionaries. It struck me that, in many ways, Dallas wants to be Toronto.

Remember the early days of the campaign to Save Oak Lawn? Which expert did we import to mastermind a strategy to blend Oak Lawn’s eclectic character with encroaching new construction? An architect and urban planner from-you guessed it-Toronto. Canadian Jack Diamond refereed the often acrimonious debates that gave birth to the Oak Lawn Forum-and, eventually, the Oak Lawn Plan. In the process, Diamond laid out the path Dallas could follow in pursuing Toronto.

Dallas is too hung up on the automobile, Diamond warned, adding, though not in these words, that the paving of Paradise with expressways is not the way to world class. My own frantic but invigorating footrace around Toronto hammered his message home: The best cities are made for walking. Up one side of Toronto and down the other, from the tawdry Kensington Market where buckets of live squid sell next to $2 sneakers, to the tony Yorkville where Ungaro vies with Ralph Lauren, Toronto lays itself at pedestrian eye-level with a live concert of sights and smells and sounds.

Twenty-five years ago, Toronto’s downtown was much like ours: a single-use center that virtually died at dusk. Today reaching that coveted high note of urban vitality, it sings 24 hours a day. People actually live there. They hurry through back blocks during the morning work hours. They stop for slices of pizza on the way home from work. They honk support for their beloved Blue Jays at midnight after a playoff game.

Toronto seems the quintessential city: bustling, quaint, clean, contemporary, diverse, real. No wonder the folks who want to bring housing to Dallas’ State-Thomas area near downtown toured Toronto to develop ideas for inner city living. And the people at DART have studied the Canadian city’s mass transit system. City Manager Charles Anderson says Toronto has done some good things in folding low-income families into its mainstream, avoiding “ghetto-izing” the poor.

The city of Toronto has aggressively encouraged developers to bring life to the urban core, and they have made willing bedfellows of public and private concerns. By offering carrots in the form of economic incentives (mostly easing of height and density restrictions), the city has extracted valuable extras in the form of setbacks and streetscap-ing, day care facilities, pocket parks and plazas, to name a few. It is a lesson that has not been lost on our city planners, who envision the decades ahead marked by similar happy marriages. Witness Thanksgiving Square, the Arts District, the West End, plans for the Festival Marketplace and, we hope, much more.

It was with this encouraging vision of Dallas (if Toronto is our role model, it seems worthy), that I returned to ponder an item critical to D’s December issue: the selection of our annual Dallasite of the Year. This is the month we honor an individual who, in our view, has made the most significant waves in the torrent of the year’s events. The process of selecting a Dallasite of the Year begins with a wide view that narrows through a series of staff discussions. Each member of the editorial team draws the name of a candidate, then is given three weeks to work up a presentation on his or her behalf. This year the field was both impressive and varied.

We considered the contributions of the late Sarah T. Hughes, who offered as much to the pursuit of equality between the sexes as to the pursuit of justice; and of Juanita Craft, whose death this year marks the closing of a vital chapter in the pursuit of equality among races.

We heard a stirring account of how one individual-D/FW Maintenance Station Manager Jerry Fenske-worked heroically to save three lives in the wreckage of the Delta crash. We pondered the accomplishments of Mayor Starke Taylor and DART chairwoman Adlene Harrison, both of whom have given countless hours in an effort to make Dallas a better city.

Strong contenders this year were John and Elizabeth Criswell, names that have almost become synonymous with tireless activism on behalf of the less fortunate; in the Cris-wells’ case, needy foster children and the deaf. A compelling case was made for Max Goldblatt, whose humor and iconoclasm have pumped a new energy into city politics that we believe is the dawn of a new day.

But in the end, we settled on a man whose list of honors and accomplishments runs through eight single-spaced typewritten pages, a man whose efforts at consensus-building paid off this year in the long-awaited resolution to public enemy number one: Central Expressway. But the solution to Central was just one more stripe on a shoulder already decorated by a decade of community service. For his inspired leadership in many crucial facets of the city’s life, we honor Walt Humann on page 88. His deft and sensitive leadership style, which is based on the need to build bridges of cooperation among disparate factions, marks a new era and a new way of getting things done in a city famous for getting things done.

Congratulations are in order for D Associate Editor Richard West, who won the 1985 Stephen Philbin Award for Excellence in Journalism, bestowed by the Dallas Bar Association. West’s “Good 01’ Boys, City Slickers and One Tough D. A.” (June 1985), a voyage through the dark continent of county government, took the prize.


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