Monday, May 2, 2011

Caged Dog

I'm starting to feel a bit like one of Michael Vick's dogs. Something totally irrational, illogical, or cynical comes across the interwebs and I get poked with a stick. Attack. And not to disparage Michael Vick here because I, as a dog owner, am not going to hold a grudge against a man who: 1) served prison time for his offenses, 2) seems to have repented for his sins against the rules and mores of our particular version of civilized society, and most importantly 2) who else could be a better ambassador for a completely disconnected, disenfranchised segment of society? Do you think Peanut and Snot Boogie in West BodyMore, Murdaland are actually going to listen to the ASPCA or PETA?

So along these lines of me as attack dog, I was alerted to an article in the new Real Points blog of D Magazine. This particular article was from Mike Berry, president of Hillwood development. If you don't feel like clicking over, I would summarize it as a paean to times gone by. "If only we could just get back to business as usual, everything will be alright." You can see why somebody would poke me with it, expecting the predictable apoplexy.

But that is where you would be wrong. After reading it, I thought, "if I were in his position, as a good businessman, I'd write the exact same thing." And as a good businessman, I would want to "protect my investments" as well. Also as a good businessman, I would know that the value of land in places like Alliance is going to plummet without car-based transportation that disperses the population across the north Texas countryside like a thin smear of margarine on Texas Toast.

Furthermore, as a good businessman, I would know that the natural order, the very advantage of cities is clustering in places of maximum efficiency, including cost efficiency of the infrastructure to create that centrality. I would write something like:

Knowing that Texas is facing a multibillion-dollar deficit and an empty bank account when it comes to transportation, we must enable other revenue streams that will advance critical projects, such as the North Tarrant Express, DFW Connector, LBJ Express, and sections of State Highway 183 and Interstate-35E.

Public-private partnerships, (known as comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs), need to be at the top of our list. Without this innovative funding tool, we will place a chokehold on economic development in one of the nation’s fastest-growing areas. Stalling our regional economic engine—fueled by the thousands of businesses and millions of residents, will have lasting, negative repercussions on the North Texas region and the state of Texas.

Being a good businessman for a company that ventured into urbanism once (Victory) and got it all wrong, why wouldn't you fall back into your comfort zone, not with innovative forms of urban development, but just innovative ways of paying for the old, failed model. I would know that regional based infrastructure doomed that foray into urbanism, so the urbanism must be the problem right? It certainly couldn't be our attempt at urbanism with a suburban, "exclusive" mindset, cul-de-sac style development extruded to 30-stories.

As a good businessman, I would know that we are no longer a wealthy society that can afford gold-plated highways and the several cars for each adult of drivable age and acuity in the house. I would know that we're not wealthy any longer because we aren't innovative. Because job growth is at wal-marts and mcdonalds. We need to suck every last dollar we can before there aren't any left lying around to spend, right?

I would know that innovation comes from the synergism of clustering of talent, which for the most part, desires (and has the ability to locate to) walkable, interesting, authentic places. And I would argue against the formation and cultivation of authentic urban places like that. Because I don't own land in the right places. I would rather cannibalize than create actual growth, real qualitative development. Higher profit margins in the former. At least that's what our pro formas from 1996 call for. And a good businessman never leads. Pioneers just get the arrows in their backs.

I would know that our public entities are battered and broke from the sociofugality of car-dominated development. That the police departments spend way too much on cruisers and man-hours sitting in them rather than as integral parts of the community. That schools are broke because of the millions that go into busing and new schools to keep up with the ever outward expansion of highway infrastructure driven "growth." And that because of the downward spiral, nobody could even afford the crap I'm trying to unload build.

As a good businessman, I would be a leader, and ignore my narrow interests, shed those assets, and dedicate myself to high quality development in the right places. I wouldn't try to fight the market and ignore "location, location, location" instead of trying to make something out of nothing. I wouldn't bet my investors stakes on speculation, but rather dependable, high quality places.

I would aspire to be like Michael Vick, an ambassador to a small (and easily influenced) herd sector of the population and lead them into the real world and the future of DFW development, which is walkable, and affordable, and sustainable, and economically resilient to radical fluctuations/spikes in oil prices. I would position myself at the front of the development community, rather than at the back end. Because what good businessman wants to see their entire company go kaput holding on to the past.