This morning, many of us reading the Dallas Morning News woke up to a wonderful op-ed by fellow MSC member, Chequan Lewis.
If I had a dollar for every opinion about southern Dallas seen on these pages, I might crawl out from under my pile of student debt. If I had a quarter for every comment spewed about the past, present, or future of southern Dallas, I might fix every pothole in the city.
When it comes to southern Dallas, expert problem-finders abound, but problem-solvers are a rare breed. This sad story is not unique to our city’s southern half. Public discourse on American urban centers has always featured an obsession with diagnosis over treatment. Dallas must be better.
In Dallas, where “big things happen,” we cannot afford to digest more of this stale thinking on either side of the Trinity River. Some see southern Dallas as a problem to be solved while others see an opportunity for growth. No matter which side of this issue or the river you stand on, it is imperative to actually engage southern Dallas and all of its contours and complexities. From Wynnewood Hills, which is my neighborhood, to Singing Hills, from Mountain Creek to Cedar Crest, my southern Dallas is not a monolithic landmass of corruption or groupthink. It is not the reduction lurking in news segments and comment sections.
A snapshot of my slice of southern Dallas would paint a different picture. It would reveal a proud neighborhood — accented by midcentury homes, mature oaks and manicured lawns — that once hosted the Byron Nelson Classic. It would catch my next-door neighbors’ visiting grandson in his superhero cape, saving our street from monsters only he can see. It would show another neighbor introducing himself to someone painting my house; he knows I’m never home during the workday and considers it his neighborly duty to make sure the job is done right. It also would find a young family of four walking two dogs down their new street, the parents smiling and waving to neighbors of various races and ages.
My neighborhood is not unique, though. I’ve found that southern Dallas is a network of charming communities and inviting neighbors. It is a canvas painted by some of the city’s finest topography and some of its most eclectic food. It is a home where my fiancée and I look forward to building our family. It is a place with well-documented challenges, but these are outpaced by its untold promise. This promise lures singles and families to neighborhoods throughout southern Dallas.
We know that promise, alone, will not carry the day. Neither will raw opportunity. As Maya Angelou reminded us, “nothing will work unless you do.” We are working.
An army of naysayers deludes itself into thinking that shortcomings in leadership, both perceived and real, tell the entire story of an area’s underdevelopment and under-resourcing. A band of historians — armed with the gift and curse of a long memory — tries to shout them down.
All the while, the fullest potential of my southern Dallas drowns in a sea of interminable chatter. It is time to send these old heavyweights to their corners for good. Not because each side is equally culpable (they are not), not because the past is a poor teacher (it is not), but because the stakes are too high to continue keeping score. We must end debates that are devoid of solutions.
My southern Dallas is ready to trade in the barbs and the bitterness for something better: serious and honest thought aimed at developing serious action plans. Criticism that conflates all southern Dallas leadership should not be credited as serious thinking. Neither should ill-informed or dishonest assessments of what that leadership has delivered. In fact, any thoughts that only assess the quality of “traditional leadership” are not serious enough either. This brand of thinking turns a blind eye to the ideas that emanate from dinner tables, PTA meetings and grocery store aisles all over southern Dallas. One need not look exclusively to politicians or the pulpit to see leadership in action.
In my southern Dallas, we are building more vibrant neighborhood associations focused on improving the citizen experience one block at a time. In my southern Dallas, residents are role models for neighborhood kids and sources of compassion to those marginalized by the policies or institutions or even choices that failed them. In my southern Dallas, we are having solution-oriented conversations about innovative tax policy, responsible growth and smart zoning that is faithful to the area’s character and realistic about the market demands of capital.
This is my southern Dallas. This is my neighbors’ southern Dallas. This is our southern Dallas. It is aspirational, but it is also becoming more of a reality each day. It can be yours, too, if you are ready to join the collective project of community building. God knows the time for tearing down has long passed.
Chequan Lewis | MSC Member 2014-2015