A City on the Verge
Like the tides, cities ebb and flow. Unlike the tides, there are no charts to guide us. So we have to look for signs to discern which direction the future is moving.
The signs are good. I have a strong feelingcall it a presentimentthat Dallas is on the brink of something great.
My optimism has nothing to do with economics. Looking at the figures, anyone could make the opposite case. Our unemployment rate is running higher than the national average for the first time in three decades.
My optimism has little to do with city government. The 14-1 system is an institutional liability, and our city government is badly managed.
So why would a reasonable person predict that Dallas is on the verge of great things?
Here’s why, encapsulated in three names.
Ray Nasher’s sculpture center is more than a magnificent gift to the city. By placing the collection in his hometown, then overseeing every aspect of its setting, Nasher not only added a cultural attraction, but he also restored something vital to the soul of Dallas. He made a statement of confidence in its future. In effect, he said this city is worthy of such a gift, and it will honor, learn from, and build upon this kind of gift. His passion for his collection, his attention to every minute detail of how it is displayed, and his enlistment of the best talent in the world to build the center set a standard by which every future endeavor in this city will be judged.
There are less public acts that embody that same passionate devotion to excellence. For years, Don Williams, the former chairman of Trammell Crow Company, has wrangled, fought, argued, and conspired to put South Dallas at the top of the city’s agenda. Whether the issue is housing or jobs, Williams puts his time and money where his mouth is. He’s not shy about blasting his fellow business executives for their indifference, but his passion draws those same people to his causes. One friend called him a “Christian on fire.”
Harnessing peopleespecially business peopleto focus on the city’s needs has made Mike Boone, cofounder of Haynes and Boone, the go-to guy in Dallas. Boone is legendarily smart, and he’s also politically savvy, which today’s business executives, sadly, are not. All American cities have been hurt by the consolidation of business, which has replaced civic-minded owners with Wall Street-minded CEOs. The first attorney to run the Citizens Council, Boone forged a consensus on our city’s priorities and how to achieve them. He’s the kind of leader who studies arcane problems like school finance until he knows them better than the experts. When he speaks, the business community has learned to listen.
Give any city in the world three such men, and that city’s brightness would light up the horizon. But these men are in Dallas, doing their deeds now, working among us. If you want to know what Dallas can achieve, look to themand to the many who will follow in their footsteps.