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Local News

Harold Simmons Park Reveals a New Plan for the Trinity River

| 1 week ago

Yesterday at noon, we jumped in the car to drive to the other side of downtown to participate in one of the oldest, time-honored Dallas traditions: witnessing the unveiling of yet another grand plan for the future of the Trinity River.

We had been invited to preview a new design for Harold Simmons Park, which is planned to be housed in a 200-acre space between the Ron Kirk Pedestrian Bridge and Interstate 30. The Trinity Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that is overseeing the park’s development, had invited some of the designers to town to unveil the project at Gilley’s in the Cedars. It is a process born of weeks of public meetings and years of plans that have never materialized.

Given the long, troubled history of the project—from botched whitewater features and broken Calatrava Bridges to jugglers under overpasses and vanished dreams of majestic toll roads—it was impossible not to harbor a healthy dose of skepticism heading into the meeting. However, walking into Gilley’s and seeing the rendering of this latest iteration, printed on white fabric, backlit and stretching 60 feet across the length of a western ballroom, it was clear that something about this plan was different than all the plans that had come before.

The sprawling image was not a bird’s eye view of a new Trinity River fantasy, and it didn’t necessarily depict a park, per se, or a refined idea or singular concept for a reimagined Trinity River. Rather, the image showed a long, horizontal cross section of the floodway, a ground-level view of the manmade channel, managed grasslands, and levees that run past downtown Dallas—interrupted, now, by new undulations of terrain, wetlands, side channels, elevated gathering places, a few paths, new access points and pedestrian bridges, and urban-style parks perched up on top of and just beyond the levees.

The designers admitted that this was an early stage mock-up of a wide variety of ideas for a 200-acre subsection of the Trinity floodway. But what was more interesting about the rendering was not the specific improvements it depicted, but how the drafters of the plan had settled on them. All ideas came out of a close consideration of how water moves through the floodway.

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Crime

The Era of Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot Is Almost Here

| 3 weeks ago

Regardless of whether the votes fell for John Creuzot or Faith Johnson, Dallas County’s next elected district attorney was going to lead a much different office than the one they started in.

Both candidates began their careers in 1982, as Dallas County prosecutors during Henry Wade’s notoriously aggressive, 36-year run as district attorney. Yet their battle for the powerful perch atop the county’s justice system came amid a wave of reforms prioritizing “smart on crime” over the time-tested “tough on crime,” changes that are mindful of repairing the damage inflicted by the justice of Wade and other DAs of his era. Reformers want to see a marked reversal in the prison system’s decades of bloat, which disproportionately impacted people of color, and which continued long after Wade left office in 1987. More and more people were sent to jail with every passing year—Texas’ 1978 incarceration rate sat at 182 per 100,000 Texans but rocketed to 710 per 100,000 by 2003.

It spiked over 1,000 for a time, but today sits at 891.

It was Creuzot, the Democrat who eked out a win in the primary without support from national reformers, who won Dallas County. He promised to reduce state jail and prison admissions by 15 to 20 percent within four years. He pumped his well-earned reputation as Texas’ grandaddy of the drug courts, which have reduced recidivism. He leaned on a couple decades of experience with media attention, a lot of it flattering. And after all the ballots were counted, he had won a resounding 60 percent of the vote over the incumbent Republican Johnson.

A few local reporters and talking heads had signaled it would be more competitive. Jason Whitely, who hosts WFAA’s Inside Texas Politics, was one of them. The show had featured each candidate. They told viewers to settle in for a tight one. But the early numbers came in lopsided, and Whitely received a text: “Not sure it’s going to be a long night!” wrote Creuzot.

The week after election night, with my eyes searching the glistening Oak Lawn buildings for the right address, the guy I was after appeared on the sidewalk, walking toward me in a dark suit and Men in Black-ish sunglasses. He was still riding high.

“Butt whooping,” he said after he’d lit a cigarette. “Wasn’t it?”

I asked him to tell me about his background.

“ ’82 to ’89, I was in the DA’s office,” he started. “You want to go back further than that?”

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Local News

In Losing Amazon, Dallas Dodged a Bullet and Gained an Opportunity

| 1 month ago

Third place in a game in which the first and second finishers got the top prize: that’s how close Dallas came to winning the historic relocation of Amazon’s HQ2. But now that the online retail giant has announced it will instead split its second headquarters between New York City’s Long Island City and northern Virginia’s Crystal City neighborhood, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Dallas dodged a bullet, and the process provides a rare opportunity for the city to reevaluate the type of growth and development it should pursue.

Sure, every civic booster in Dallas was rooting for HQ2. It would have brought with it a projected 50,000 jobs paying a median salary of $100,000, not to mention billions of dollars in new construction. The presence of one of the world’s largest corporations and one of its most pioneering tech companies—run by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man—promised to transform Dallas’ reputation into a hub for technology business. In addition to the Amazon jobs, analysts suspect, HQ2 will generate thousands of additional jobs at companies and start-ups that desire to be located near the tech giant. In other words, Amazon HQ2 is not simply another major corporate relocation; it is more like an industry relocation.

And that was the problem. HQ2 was just too big. The corporation is so large and influential and yet still growing so rapidly that it could have become the singular force in shaping an uncertain future for our city. Amazon’s HQ2 would have exacerbated existing issues of inequality; warped the housing market; transformed Dallas’ political, social, and economic cultures; and remade Dallas into an image of Amazon’s own dominant corporate identity.

How do we know this? Because that is exactly what has happened in Seattle, and it is one of the reasons why Bezos decided the company’s needed a new city—or, as it turned out, cities—to accommodate its growth. In Seattle, the corporation’s outsized influence on development has created an economic windfall, but it has also caused many growing pains.

In October, when it still looked like Dallas might win the relocation, I headed northwest to understand how the mega-corporation has affected Seattle. Those city’s troubles now read like a vision of a future that could have been Dallas’ own—but which Dallas narrowly avoided.

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Photography

A Day in Dallas

| 2 months ago

In Dallas, there aren’t enough rooms where you’ll see a healthy mix of people interacting with different cultures. We’re stuck in our silos, where we’re comfortable. But what makes a city great is its people—them coming together, learning about one another, sharing ideas, collaborating. Photography can be a bridge. For A Day in Dallas, I teamed with D Magazine to give 20 different people disposable Kodak cameras. We asked them to shoot a roll of film over the course of 24 hours. You may know some of them, but many you won’t. They lead nonprofits in southern Dallas. They play for the Dallas Mavericks. They help arrange funeral services. They fled Syria. They produce music. They go to school. The disposable camera levels the field. This is a day in Dallas, blemishes and all, told through 20 different pairs of eyes.  – Hance Taplin, founder of the fashion label By Way of Dallas, as told to Matt Goodman. 

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Financial Services

Buy Gold Before the Terrorists Strike!

| 2 months ago

Imagine your grandmother sitting in her favorite chair as she stares at footage of a burning New York City. An authoritative voice-over from a former government official brings a dire warning: “It could be just a matter of time before a major attack may happen on U.S. soil again.”

Philip Diehl is telling your grandmother she needs to be prepared. When that attack comes, everything could change, and she’d better have some gold. Diehl, who was born in Dallas, was the 35th director of the U.S. Mint, a job he left in 2000. Now he is the president of something called U.S. Money Reserve. The former is one of the oldest agencies in the federal government. The latter, in tiny type at the bottom of its website, disclaims: “Not affiliated with the U.S. government and the U.S. Mint.”

The threat of a terrorist attack is part of a two-minute infomercial uploaded to YouTube in October 2017 that also features images of a man wearing a Middle Eastern headdress, his face hidden, holding an assault rifle above his head; a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion; and graphs depicting a stock market crash as the result of “cyberthieves, bank failures, and national debt.” It is all set in the context of a staged press conference, with Diehl standing at a podium, facing a gallery of fake reporters. Behind Diehl is a vault, guarded by fake cops. Off to the side, there are real American flags. One final detail: Diehl’s podium bears a seal, the bottom half of which is obscured by a caption displaying the phone number for U.S. Money Reserve and the message “America in crisis mode.” The top half of the seal, the only part visible, says “U.S. Mint Director.”

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Animals

Go Inside ShangriLlama, North Texas’ Only Llama Ranch

| 2 months ago

In the beginning, Sharon Brucato and her husband, Paul, never imagined raising llamas would become a serious undertaking. “It started off as a joke,” Sharon says. Her son, now 22-year-old Tommy Brucato, fell in love with llamas during a family vacation in Germany. The family had gotten lost and ended up at a zoo that had a pen full of the creatures. “I just kind of became fascinated with them,” Tommy says.

When the family returned home to Yorba Linda, California, they decided to take a “llama hike” in San Diego for Tommy’s birthday. They discovered there was a llama rescue center nearby for animals that had been neglected or abandoned, and Tommy decided to volunteer. “My parents didn’t seem to see any problem with it,” he says. “It was just one of my hobbies.”

Eventually, the entire family started making trips to the rescue center, taking the llamas on walks around a park. Parkgoers would ask if they could walk the llamas, too, even offering to pay to walk them. “We were like, ‘OK, we’re already doing this. Why don’t we make some money and get some help?’ ” Sharon recalls.

The Brucatos bought their first two llamas and launched ShangriLlama, named after the mystical Himalayan utopia depicted in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon. But they soon outgrew their California home. In 2014, just after Toyota announced its move to Plano, the Brucatos decided to move to Texas as well. The state’s business-friendly atmosphere—no state income tax, more open spaces, less expensive living costs—made it an easy decision, Paul says. (ShangriLlama has since moved to Royse City, a property that includes a replica Irish castle. They own an abutting residential location for the Llama walks, lessons, commercial photography, and llama birthday parties.)

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