Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Couple Riffs on Super Bowl Week in DFW

Let's get what has been recycled over and over again on every medium imaginable ad nauseum over with: yes, a lot of things went wrong. So, what? Do I care that Olivia Munn had a bad time because she wasn't the biggest famewhore fish in the room? She's a comedian that isn't funny and famous only for looks. Warning: this might be a theme developing here.

First of all, our own expectations for an event that is really little more than a year-long, roaming international party for vapid celebrities and inheritance-laden progeny who do virtually nothing productive for society to have their picture taken in front of an ever revolving screen of corporate alcohol/party/energy drink sponsor logos. Sounds like a blast.

Actually if you think about it, and then read this article by Sally Jenkins (progeny, who worked hard and possesses real ability), it turns out that Dallas is the PERFECT place to hold a Super Bowl. All superficies, little substance. (Oh, hi Olivia. Tell me about your Prada glasses.) It's just a shame the two grittiest, most loyal fanbases had to make it and ruin all the pretty with their snow and beards and team jerseys and Brett Favre-stench.

But that is not the real Dallas I know. It isn't Oak Cliff. It isn't Deep Ellum. Nor Fair Park. It isn't Lakewood or Little Forest Hills or Oak Lawn or West Dallas or the Design District. It's not the downtown of anybody that actually LIVES in downtown. And hell, it isn't even uptown (which if you've ever been to Crooked Tree CoffeeHouse you'll notice State Thomas is maturing into full flower). But, that IS the Dallas the rest of the world thinks it is, and for some bizarre reason, we misguidedly play along.

"Yeah, we're glitzy! We're like the Paris Hilton of cities! Us too?! Us too?! We're Victory! Oh, you don't like it that much? Oh, well, I guess we don't like it that much either..."

/notices empty buildings in Victory...

/sheepishly puts hands in pockets

/kicks rock

We are exporting a false persona and the world sees right through it. If we weren't ashamed of what makes us us, we might actually try to project some reality of what is beneath the mannequin-like botox of shiny glass buildings.

Which brings me to the second problem. Smearing the entire thing across 60 square miles. That's like having a party and inviting everybody to Connecticut. Where? Uh, there. It dissipates the energy across too much territory to too many disconnected, isolated places where visitors are expected to get to via what? $60 cab fare? Personal propulsion pack? Successful, resilient (and therefore interesting) urban places are built upon many quick, easy connections, between people, between labor/employment, between destinations, etc.

Finding a cab and hopping on a highway only to sit in traffic because the city was built for easy motoring only to later find out that puts everybody else on the road, is not an easy connection. The effort to build a city full of easy car connections has the opposite effect. Have we learned this yet? Or must I brand it onto a Louisville Slugger and start imprinting it onto foreheads?

But the city (and by city I'm referring to the economic entity, the entire metroplex, not the individual political bodies) and its event infrastructure IS spread out and those areas with real character (and I'm surely leaving several out as I belt this out in one quick draft) are too small by themselves to support a huge event. They're small mostly because they've been strangled by a tourniquet of a transportation system that values the distant connection over the short connection, the exact opposite of the way living systems, like cities are constructed.

So maybe Dallas as we know it today, isn't prepared for a Super Bowl. But, what American city really is? The commonly held stipulations for a Super Bowl are:

1) Lively, interesting city with a unique character,
2) Warm weather in February, and
3) Big, kickass stadium with loads of luxury boxes to host the grand finale of that roving, weeklong, international digital camera, flashbulb, and red carpet convention.

New York is supposed to have it soon. They just built a new stadium, but people are already complaining about the weather. Plus, the stadium is built on the swamp where Tony Soprano now rests. (Yes, he died at the end.)

Atlanta has held it, but their weather is just as unpredictable as Dallas's, the town outside of a few hipster enclaves in East ATL lacks as many interesting little small town clusters as here, and the Georgia Dome is a dump. But, at least it is downtown and they could host the entire thing in downtown/midtown.

NOLA passes 1 and 2, but the Super Dome doesn't stand up to today's modern mega-palaces to roid-raged guys giving each other early onset Alzheimer's.

Miami has 2 in spades. 1 - sorta... in South Beach and a few other places, but they're equally spread out and the stadium sucks and is up in the middle of nowhere. I know it sucks because my seat in it broke during the opening kickoff.

San Diego is short on 3.

LA could work but they don't have 3 nor an NFL team.

The Bay Area might work, but the new stadium they're proposing to build is way off in the valley or Reno or somewhere.

Indianapolis is about to host it...I'll leave the jokes to you.

My point is, there really isn't a perfect city that meets all criteria and makes everyone happy. Certainly individual aspects could've gone better. We were hit by a freak once a lifetime ice storm that I moved here specifically to get away from. Oh, hey look out the window! More ice!

However, that doesn't apologize for the controllable things that did go wrong. Most importantly, splitting the teams across cities. That is a suburban mindset with suburban results. Think about the Texas Rangers. They move to Arlington (for among other reasons - ahem, financial incentives) to be "in the middle of it all." And to capture both fanbases from Fort Worth and Dallas. Instead, they got neither, but 5,000 lonely souls per game until the first Autumn cold spell woke us up in late October and we realized that they were still playing the New Francisco Giants (sic) as coached by Bill Walshcells.

We tried to make everyone happy and instead made none. How very socialist of us. We need more competition amongst our cities so that one or two or three or four can focus on strengthening the real assets, the beating little pulses of real, authentic neighborhoods. Enough connecting Waxahachie to Celina via another new highway and instead let's work on connecting two neighbors from across the street.

Cities are a pyramid of connections, the most, at the bottom, are the local connections. They are the foundation of our neighborhoods. Nothing hits upon this point better than Ed Glaeser's new book, cited by David Brooks today:

That’s because humans communicate best when they are physically brought together. Two University of Michigan researchers brought groups of people together face to face and asked them to play a difficult cooperation game. Then they organized other groups and had them communicate electronically. The face-to-face groups thrived. The electronic groups fractured and struggled.

Cities magnify people’s strengths, Glaeser argues, because ideas spread more easily in dense environments. If you want to compete in a global marketplace it really helps to be near a downtown. Companies that are near the geographic center of their industry are more productive. Year by year, workers in cities see their wages grow faster than workers outside of cities because their skills grow faster. Inventors disproportionately cite ideas from others who live physically close to them.

"Screw you two. We're building a new highway between you. Good luck crossing the road, chicken. That's economic development as I know it!" Instead, build upon our real assets, our people, and project the product of the resultant neuro-chemical reactions called creativity and individual expression to the world.

Maybe then, when we our truly proud and ready to share what we've got, rather than merely boastful (Biggest! World ClAss! Shiny thing!), we'd be really ready to host a Super Bowl. I'm thinking in about ten years. And in that short time-span, it's time to get busy and start building: small, incrementally, authentically, and from the ground up.