They have come to square off over a growing rift between Dallas and its surrounding suburbs. The scene is a lunch sponsored by the local Harvard alumni group. Both speakers are consummately polite. He goes first. Though he is smiling and upbeat, there is nothing lost in his message: Dallas, abandoned by its neighbors, is heading down the sewer toward Philadelphia. Her tone is equally solicitous, her rejoinder equally clear: don’t blame us, and don’t expect us to bail you out.
He is Forrest Smith, a Dallas lawyer, a potential candidate for mayor, and the chief architect of a controversial study probing for regional solutions to the city’s growing problems of crime, education, deteriorating infrastructure, et al. She is Florence Shapiro, newly elected mayor of Piano, one of the area’s brightest and most admired municipal leaders. They have been asked to debate the “Dallas First” report, commissioned by Smith’s law firm. Arter & Hadden.
Both Smith and Shapiro make excellent points about the need to pool resources and work more toward acknowledging each other’s strengths rather than emphasizing each other’s weaknesses. They quibble over the study’s tone, over the idea of sharing taxes, and over whether it’s “productive” to incite inter-community rivalries (as if they didn’t exist before the report).
But what’s really fascinating about this whole Dallas vs. the Suburbs debate is the emotional fault line that lies below the surface. Like empty nesters watching their children fly away, Dallas has sat in a rocking chair while its brash young offspring have grown and prospered. That hurts. Hey… y’all didn’t even vote to build the D/FW Airport when you had the chance, and we had to go and build it ourselves, and now you’ve gotten jot and sassy because of it, and you don’t even write your ol’ mother a letter now and then…What are we going to do? Hit em with guilt-or charge them rent every time they come home?
Don’t laugh-both tactics are already in play. There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly reminder to the suburbs that as Dallas goes, so goes Richardson-and DeSoto. and Coppell. But internecine warfare isn’t the answer. We don’t have the luxury of slamming down the telephone and going our own way. At this juncture, we need them as much as they need us. How we develop this delicate relationship will depend largely on the temperament and inclinations of the next Dallas mayor.
Which leads me back to Forrest Smith, who will probably fashion a campaign on the platform of Dallas First. He doesn’t just whine that the kids are ungrateful little wretches. He makes some suggestions: forget the city’s preoccupation with its prized Triple A bond rating. Beef up local services and infrastructure, and use debt or taxes to pay for it. Adopt major reforms in DISD- things like choice and total school autonomy. Create a tax-base pool across the region as a means of sharing fiscal burdens. Increase user fees at places like the zoo and the Meyerson symphony hall. Smith suggests a new means of raising needed monies: sell off public assets like the parking garages at Reunion and Love Field to private concerns. Smith figures the city could add S5 million to $700 million to the local coffers that way.
Even Mayor Shapiro credits the Dallas First report with opening a long-overdue family talk. And like a family, for better or worse, our futures are inextricably linked. As Shapiro said some years ago, “When Dallas sneezes. Piano catches a cold.” Yeah, and when Piano-or any of our other burgeoning burbs-catches a cold, Dallas bet-te be there with chicken soup.
Whatever we do, one thing is certain:Dallas is moving inexorably outward. Beginning on page 53, writer Richard West offersthe culmination of a six-month tour of TheBurbs, during which he estimates he drovethe entirety of Belt Line Road some thirteentimes. Don’t miss this colorful thinker’sdepictions of the places where more andmore of us are living.