The BIG 5 for BIG D

Obstacles and challenges for the future DFW Supercity

August 22, 2017

Five big challenges for BIG D

The five major initiatives promoted in the report as the "Big 5" to improve Dallas and the Metroplex are designed to utilize the best opportunities and cultural resources available, and to help overcome some of the major obstacles and challenges the region faces.

They are not the major social and environmental issues, but rather the problems with public perception, reality and engagement that, if overcome, will result in higher quality of life and increased visitor participation for Dallas, the Metroplex and even other Texas cities (since places like Austin, Houston and San Antonio suffer with many of the same challenges). Taking on these challenges may improve the chances for DFW to land prominent international events it desires, like the Olympics, Super Bowl and World's Fair.

HISTORY - Cities like Dallas and Houston are said to lack history. It's not true. They are among the most historic places in the United States, even having the oldest written history in our modern boundaries. From the earliest exploration by Europeans and Africans, they were key to shaping the nations of today, and even the genetic and cultural identity of peoples of the Gulf Coast and Mexico. But the historic events lack interpretation, preservation and, therefore, public interest.

For a period of time, it must have seemed like a good idea to revere historic figures who fought against Indians, Mexico and the Union. It may be a reason many have shied away from Texas history. It's the classic case of the past being viewed by a group as "our heritage," rather than the history of diverse cultures. The larger population of the diversifying world has broader interests. The reality of Texas as a cultural confluence can be told more thoroughly and objectively, starting with the written words of Cabeza de Vaca, and the stories about Europeans and Africans who first encountered the indigenous peoples on the Gulf Coast and Texas interior. It's the story of "world heritage," or world history, and the beginnings of Gulf Coast states and nations - not to be glorified - but to be considered, researched and understood.

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URBAN SPRAWL - Being a massive sprawling city doesn't bode well for the future, especially if cities within the Supercity don't cooperate to make it a great place and regions of it remain void of cultural inspiration, entrepreneurial opportunity and transportation access. A city, especially a Supercity (a collection of them that rank among the largest), with vast resources has no excuse to remain a highly inequitable and hopeless place, with regions deserted by quality businesses, healthy lifestyles and cultural activities.

Those who have benefited the most from what the Metroplex offered them should be engaged and genuinely inspired to give back, to provide greater opportunity to those remote and inaccessible places that are left out of its potential. Otherwise, they will have developed thriving pockets of activity in a growing region doomed to failure - known more for its problems than its successes.

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Arlington in 1972
In 1972, with a population of only about 90,000, Arlington was a small town between Dallas and Fort Worth. Interstates 20 and 30 were not completed between the two major cities. Substantial amounts of land north and especially south of Arlington were undeveloped.

Today, Arlington's city limits (below) sprawl north and south of its original limits, creating a 16-mile north-south barrier between Dallas and Fort Worth, as the once small city was never prepared to be part of a Supercity. Arlington's density is about the same as Dallas, a fact even long-time, experienced local reporters can barely accept and even adamantly deny. For the sake of the region's success (including Arlington businesses and traffic), alternative transportation needs to pass through it, like light rail and high speed rail. But, instead, routes continue to go around to the north (For example: Trinity Railway Express between Dallas, Irving and Fort Worth, and The T's TEX Rail/Cotton Belt DART line [in development], which will connect Fort Worth to Grapevine and DFW International Airport, and on to communities north of Dallas - Addison, Plano, Richardson and others).

Rapid development of communities like Arlington and other Mid Cities has left the region with little continuity, sense of history, access to regional transportation, access to high caliber arts and cultural activities, healthy-active lifestyle, walkability or substantial bikeways.

Arlington, TX city limits
Transportation service routes in Arlington were fairly obvious, since it sits on a direct east-west axis between Fort Worth and Dallas. And its attractions are virtually stacked between the busy U.S. Highway 287 through Mansfield and the even busier DFW International Airport. Rail or trolley lines should have been serving residents and visitors to the Arlington Highlands and the Parks Mall on I-20, Downtown Arlington and its fledgling Cultural District, and the stadiums, amusement parks and Entertainment District, for years already. Selfish interests have done the city and its residents, as well as all of the Metroplex, a great (and almost irreversible) historic disservice.

ATTRACTION - The Metroplex is known for massive freeway interchanges, toll roads, dangerous drivers, road rage incidents and some of the worst traffic in the nation. Taking cars off the road is an obvious need, but making it an attractive destination for visitors, coming and going by alternative transportation means, will be an even greater accomplishment. Replacing locals' and visitors' views of endless ribbons of concrete and feelings of resignation to lives lived in cars, with visions of North Texas as a region where it is possible to enjoy natural, historical and cultural settings, and social activity by walking, biking and riding public transportation is key to establishing a positive connotation for the future Supercity.

As the region has grown immense and uninviting, the timing has never been more critical for any modern city to develop appealing, alternative transportation in pleasant settings - wooded bike trails, shaded walking paths, centers featuring small-scale eateries and shops, easy rail and train connections, and ports for additional tours and reliable transportation options - for the health, safety and interests of locals and visitors.

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DFW's natural environment
DFW's natural environment may be more appealing and better appreciated if it was more commonly experienced and better utilized for healthy activities and visitor interests.

INNOVATION/EDUCATION - Texas and many of its cities are thought by people in the nation to be heavily rooted - even stuck - in the past. Films like Urban Cowboy, Friday Night Lights and the TV show Dallas have not helped its image expand beyond its stereotypes.

Austin, Dallas and Houston may have hints of modern innovativeness, especially in marketing and information technology, but even as Texas launched the age of humans in space from Houston's Johnson Space Center, Texas managed to lag behind other places in the nation in education and innovative sciences, mostly because of its origins in giant cattle empires and modern interests in maintaining a strong fossil fuel industry. That doesn't mean Texas is completely paralyzed by its past or its failure to build on its glimmers of inventiveness. To start with, Texas cities wouldn't even have become as large as they are without being somewhat innovative.

One major area where Texas cities have failed to progress is in exploration and interpretation of creativity and sciences, which is detrimental to success in education, higher education aspirations and lifelong learning interests. While cities like Washington DC, New York City and Chicago established the nation's leading institutions (Smithsonian, Field Museum, National Geographic Society, etc.) and hosted the world's events as far back as the Nineteenth Century, Texas cities did very little in the century between NYC's founding of the visionary American Museum of Natural History in 1869 and its own HemisFair '68 in San Antonio. They established the obvious art and science museums, and oilmen-philanthropists names were branded on fairly prominent theaters, but the Texas cities undeniably lacked the visionaries of other places.

Likely, excessive and unrealistic aspirations were placed on sports and cultural institutions were thought to be for the elite of society - not for everyone and cities were not prepared for the diversity of the rapidly-expanding community demographics in the Twentieth Century. Many changes have taken place before the eyes of multicultural Texas and many more have been molded on our ways of life for large populations to even exist in such an ecologically diverse and challenging state. The confluence and rapid, exponential increase of all of them has created an excellent opportunity to establish at least a few institutions to look at that past, as well as a model for a new network of institutions that study, interpret and present our cultures - our vastly diverse, complicated, contested and volatile ways of life - in the past, present and future.

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Chicago's Museum Campus and Field Museum
Attracting 10-20 million annual visitors, Chicago's Museum Campus includes the internationally-famous Field Museum (foreground), Soldier Field and one of the nation's busiest convention centers, McCormick Place (background). Facilities not included in the picture (above) include the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Huntington Bank Pavilion, and other cultural attractions. Museum Campus strategically connects to Grant Park, Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park, which also host prominent attractions and bring several million visitors. Chicago is generally perceived to be older than Dallas and Houston, though it actually is not (it incorporated as a town in 1833 and as a city in 1837). Many of its cultural institutions and international attractions, however, were established much earlier and have formed the fabric of a true World Class City. It competed with New York City in 1893 to emerge from the devastating Chicago Fire and host the World's Fair. But the city has engaged in tremendous, on-going strategic planning to serve the interests and convenience of visitors, and provide high quality of life for residents.

IDENTITY - Cities like Dallas and Houston lead the nation in diverse populations, but their multicultural status has not been so well acknowledged as it has in other cities, like New York City, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But Dallas and Houston suburbs - Irving and Sugar Land - have continued to lead the nation, even outranking Queens, New York for greatest diversity by demographics in their zip codes.

The failure to utilize cultural and traditional assets, like music, history, foods, languages, religions, arts, dance traditions, occupations, social interests, etc., for the benefit of residents and visitors is evident in Dallas and Houston. The loss of stories for the public interest is equally as evident, with New York and Los Angeles commanding the national media, film industries, and much of the theater and music industries. The advent of the internet and digital media opens a whole new window of opportunity to take a leadership role in writing the narratives of the populations that traversed from the global beginnings of satellite television and the space race, to the computer-driven Information Age and a possible highly-mechanized, AI future, where human workers may become increasingly obsolete.

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Here are the five most timely opportunities to serve residents and visitors to Dallas-Fort Worth, while creating the Supercity of the future. The odds for success are as good or better than efforts to win Olympics bids and land Super Bowls. And their impact will last. They are designed to help overcome some of the major
obstacles and challenges the Metroplex faces.

1. Embrace history by understanding its relevance to the region
A. Lead the commemoration of the oldest written history in the modern boundaries of the U.S.
B. Establish a national historic trail to interpret Indian trade routes and the Spanish incursions.
C. To inspire further interests, build on 500 years of history since Cabeza de Vaca traveled here.
2. Aspire to the future by becoming a leading Supercity
A. Recognize that the Metroplex will grow even larger and needs greater cohesiveness.
B. Set a world-leading example through access, opportunity and social transformation.
3. Make connections for interested travelers and recreationists
A. Open a high speed rail station that connects the city and region, and provides great amenities.
B. Build on the cruise terminal concept with a regional tour bus port at the main rail station.
C. Establish a national hiking trail over the southern Great Plains with DFW as its central hub.
4. Build future institutions as new social and educational spaces
A. Build the nation's most provident and advanced museum covering critical topics of cultures.
B. Inspire others, like a Cabeza de Vaca interpretive center and a network of museums of culture.
5. Write new narratives inspired by digital collections
A. Utilize the network of libraries to build a Supercity of citizen historians, journalists, scientists, and more.
B. Establish avenues to disseminate new collections through museums and historic signage.

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Posted: August 22, 2017

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