Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Council District 14 Endorsement

"It's far better being the one aiming the big gun rather than having it aimed at you."

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TL;DR version:  I support Bobby Abtahi for Dallas city council district 14 and Scott Griggs for district 1, but I only live in district 14 so I'm going to focus on that race.  I don't really care about any of the other races (except who presides over the chair of transportation committee and I have no idea nor inside info (yet) on how that will shake out.

(full disclosure: I have donated to both campaigns)

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Last week, I went to the Arts District Forum for the candidates vying for city council district 14 seat soon to be vacated by a term-limited Angela Hunt.  If you happen to follow me on twitter or have friended me on facebook you probably already know I was there (along with plenty of familiar faces).  However, as these things are, they tend to bore as every candidate says the same thing.  In this case, since the audience essentially was the Dallas Arts District, every candidate really loved the arts, as you might expect.  Only did it verge on the interesting when the moderator for plans/ideas for dedicated revenue generation unaffected by the roller coaster nature of city budgets or what infrastructural changes would the candidates like to see first implemented to improve the area.

Instead of getting into specifics of a discussion that lacked any, I want to focus on a conversation I had before the event regarding whether I was "pro-business."  The implication that I wasn't took me aback.  I go out of my way in virtually everything I write or speak to talk about the economic advantages in investing in true urbanism.  Both for investors and the public coffers as well, eroded for over a half century while the core of the city was cannibalized, and its ability to sustain itself, for continuous bleeding edge growth.  Sure that made money for the private side and the road builders, but that can't and won't sustain itself.  We can't simply keep doing what we've been doing.  I'm pro-business in the sense that the city is better off when opportunity is maximized for all.  I'm just not pro-business as usual.

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A few years back I was having a conversation, it might have been over lunch, with a recently relocated investor to the area with deep pockets who gets it and sees a future (and therefore and opportunity for investment) in Dallas.  In its need to right itself.  We shared a laugh as he joked that if you looked back at the decisions made by Dallas (and by extension the region) over the last 50 years, basically everything was completely wrong.  I agreed with him on both counts.  That everything was wrong and there was ample opportunity in Dallas to participate (and invest) in the righting of the big ship DFW.

Sure it was good while it lasted, but then comes the hangover. Dallas would've grown either way.  Sprawl was not the engine, but the shape it took due to the policies put in place.  If there is/was any gasoline in the economic combustion from sprawl, it would only deal with the lack of pesky neighbors (potential NIMBYs) to get in the way of building upon exceedingly distant greenfields.  For shame.  From now on we'll have to deal with neighbor issues like adults (if you need an example of this necessity being foisted upon those unused to it, look no further than BELO Gardens wall and the Museum Tower-Nasher debacle) and find win-wins.  For property rights need not be dumbed down to a race to the bottom but brought up to enlightened self-interest.

There indeed is ample opportunity in Dallas.  I wouldn't be here otherwise.  Mostly due to three factors: ambition, capability ($), and absolute necessity.  Along with warm weather, these are the things that brought me here (for I detest snow, sleet, and ice -- I'd be the world's worst USPS guy).  Dallas has no choice but to rebuild itself.  For the majority of it will not continue to exist in its current unsustainable form.  It's oddly fitting as well.  A significant chunk of the Dallas economy is built to build.  It merely needs to be redirected.  If not, a signficant chunk of the economy could disappear.

Furthermore, Dallas has to capture the growth that the region has in order to build its tax base.  For a city of 20% of the area's population, less than 1% per census isn't cutting it.  We can only do so with smart, directed investment that creates desirable, livable, walkable real estate opportunities meeting the full range of market segments and affordability.  Otherwise, the market will continue to do what it does, make the logical choice to leave Dallas behind.  As our competitor cities are poised to do.

The infrastructure we build, re-build, retrofit, and design now will determine the city's future.  Cities always takes on the shape of its bones, the infrastructure (if you need more discussion about this, please see my piece of Columns Magazine) is the invisible arm guiding the invisible hand of the market.  The two are inextricably linked.
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And that's when it hit me.  In Dallas, you immediately get lumped into one of two categories: you're either pro-business or pro-neighborhood.  There only ever are two sides in a boxing ring.  And that's part of the problem, the constant adversarial nature.  In many ways, that is the inevitability of the democratic process, as ideas wage non-violent wars of rhetoric towards a desired ends, dumbing the spectrum of ideas into two large camps of critical mass.

I reject that.  I believe in a third way: that the only way forward is to find a way to be pro-business AND pro-neighborhood.  Otherwise, the combative nature between the pre-established status quo brings both down.  We can't move forward as a city, meeting our "world class" ambitions until we're all pointed in the same direction.

Most of the past leaders have endorsed Bobby Abtahi.  His opponents want to paint that as a bad thing.
Would anybody really turn down an endorsement from Veletta Lill, one of the most respected council people and civic leaders this city has ever had?  No.  So opponents must resort the "Rovian Flip," turning strength into weakness.

Perhaps I'm lumped into that crowd for the oft-adversarial tone I can take.  I'm not anti-business.  I'm pro-triage.
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I often get a kick out of when political leaders start using my language.  The mayor used my "city with a big gun" analogy as rhetoric to garner support for his Grow South Dallas campaign (he dropped the bit about us being a toddler wielding it -- I dunno why).  In a recent council 14 debate, one candidate used my point about Dallas's addiction to "the postcard view" rather than basic services.  By doing so, he attacked the past.  Bobby Abtahi doesn't represent the past, but rather the future.

Yes, Dallas has a big gun, a volatile chemical compound of ambition and capability.  But to date it's been missing the urgency of necessity in order to focus it.  It is far better to be the one aiming that big gun than having it aimed at you.  Otherwise, we're merely exasperating the destructive antagonistic nature of Dallas politics.

The only way Dallas can match ambition to a future reality of a great city is to harnass that power, to aim that gun forward and pinpointed.  This is why I support Bobby Abtahi for election to city council district 14.  He's the only candidate for council district 14 I see capable of bringing together, so that neighborhoods are better business and business is better neighborhoods.