EDITORD’S PAGE The 800-pound Gorilla and Its Neighbors

Can Dallas and the suburbs learn to love each other?

LAST YEAR, DALLAS CITY COUNCILMAN Chris Luna set off a furor when, amidst the apparently endless struggle over the location of a new sports arena, he delivered his now-infamous analysis of the relationship between Dallas and its suburban neighbors. Dallas, Luna declared, was the 800-pound gorilla. As for the suburbs, they were nothing but a pimple on the gorilla’s posterior,

Luna’s statement, which has become part of the local lexicon, was cussed and discussed for months. To many people in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Irving, and the 38 other suburbs we rate in this month’s cover story, “The Best (And Worst ) Places to Live, ” the quote exemplified the arrogance of big-city power.

For others, the line was interesting mainly because it seemed to come out of a time warp, expressing an insular view of Dallas’ primacy that no longer fits the facts. To many students of the city, Luna seemed to be whistling past the graveyard, his pungent rhetoric obscuring the fact that today, Dallas is no longer the sole raison d’être for North Texas (and some would deny that it ever was). Cedar Hill, Sachse, Addison, DeSoto, Garland, and the other suburbs have their own reasons for being, thank you. The population figures underscore that truth: This year, 52 percent of Dallas County’s residents live in the city of Dallas, while 48 percent live in the suburbs. That’s an awful lot of pimples,

And indeed, looking at the wealth of statistical information unearthed by our researchers at the M/A/R/C Consulting Group for this month’s cover story, even the most fervent Dallas-Firster must admit that suburbs like Rockwall, Colleyville, and Piano are powers in themselves that will work out their destinies largely unaided and unhindered by The Big City. Despite halting efforts at regional cooperation-it’s Dallas Area Rapid Transit, remember-as time passes the suburbs are tied less and less to the mother ship. The 25,000 residents of The Colony do not consider themselves Colonists of Dallas or any place else.

Dallas’ relationship with the suburbs has sometimes been cordial and sometimes strained, but it has always been interesting- from the 1940s fight to annex the Park Cities, to the loss of the Dallas Cowboys to Irving in the late ’60s, to the gorilla-and-pimpleflap of the ’90s. And the city’s sense of itself is shaped in part by competition with the suburbs: Dallas’ “loss” of this or that corporate relocation is billed as a “gain” for Irving, Piano, or some other suburb-though advocates of regionalism would argue that every relocation to the area is in reality a plus for the “metroplex” (dreaded word) and a defeat for Phoenix or Tacoma.

In the heated debate that has surrounded the downtown-or-the-burbs arena controversy, you can hear the confused bellow of a giant afraid that he is being outsmarted by pygmies. Dallas wants, needs to see itself as something more than the hole in the doughnut. Surely one reason for Mayor Ron Kirk’s victory last spring was his repeated promise to put the “swagger” back in Dallas’ gait. Dallocentrism dies hard.

Healthy competition is one thing, but that “us vs. them” tension between Dallas and the suburbs occasionally turns sour, leading not just to zoological epithets but to threats of economic warfare. In the early 70s, Dallas City Councilman George Allen, the first African-American ever elected to the council, thought it was time to draw the line. Suburbanites who make a living in Dallas use Dallas streets and bridges, he argued. Dallas cops protect them (or try to) while they’re here. So why shouldn’t those suburbanites help pay the freight, either through some kind of income tax or user fees? In 1991, the city budget staff determined that a $10 “suburban surcharge” on parking tickets and traffic violations could add an estimated $3 million a year to the Dallas treasury. The bill-the-burbs idea has gone nowhere every time it’s been proposed-and if it was adopted, the suburbs would no doubt counter by taxing Dallasites- but you watch: Sometime in the next year or so, you’ll hear a Dallas city council member or park board member resurrect the notion.

Of course it’s possible to make too much of the Dallas-suburbs rivalry, as if everyone is strutting around in “Dazzling Dallas” and “Marvelous McKinney” T-shirts. Someyears ago, while covering a mud-spattered council election in Addison (people per square mile: 1,966; median age of residents: 30.0; non white population: 32.4 percent), I knocked on a homeowner’s door to see how the hot issues of the race were playing with the Average Addisonian. Not only was my Average Addisonian unaware of the upcoming election, she was unaware that she had lived in Addison for the past two years. Now she would have a whole new set of politicians to ignore.

So. Dallas or the suburbs? Flower Mound, Wylie, Hurst, Seagoville? Because such decisions come down to the kind of life you want for yourself and your family, we’ve packed our cover story with plenty of useful information about these 41 suburbs. It may spark discussions at your place, as it already has at mine. We love our tree-shaded East Dallas home, but for some time now-well, since about an hour after our daughter was born last year-my wife has been eyeing the suburbs. Great schools, safe streets, low crime rates. All true, I grant, but we’ve never had a break-in, and there are many good schools in Dallas.

And then, a few days later, the Dallas Independent School District released its “Effective Schools” rankings. Anxious, we searched the list for the elementary school two blocks away-and found it ranked 107th out of 111 schools, having fallen from 77th place the year before.

Well, nothing wrong with looking around a little bit. Now, how do you get to Allen, anyway?

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