Sonja McGill, with Bell Nunnally, introduced our guest speaker, Wick Allison, the founder and owner of D Magazine! Allison Publications produces seven magazines, including D CEO, D Home, and D Weddings, as well as D Real Estate Daily and D Healthcare Daily. With its publications, websites, and blogs, the company serves 4.2 million readers a month. Wick is also the president and CEO of the American Ideas Institute, headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Institute publishes The American Conservative magazine. Sonja has enjoyed working with Wick on one of his other current projects: Coalition for a New Dallas: a Movement to Restore Dallas’ Urban Neighborhoods, to focus on Dallas’ urban core and help make it a walkable, livable, playable space to allow people to chose Dallas as an option not only for business but also for a great way of life.
You don’t prepare for the future unless you know where you are coming from and who you are. There are a particular series of events that created where we now live; there is a culture that arises out of that, that we have to be aware of. To tell about this history, Wick started 2500 years ago in Athens when miners found the largest vein of silver ever discovered in the ancient world. Initially, the mayor of Athens proposed that they divide up the silver equally between every family in Athens. A young aristocrat warned the assembly that Xerxes of Persia was reportedly building ships to come against Athens, the only thing standing between Xerxes and world domination. He asserted that the silver was given to them to prepare their port and build their own ships to be ready for Xerxes. Two years later, when the Persians came, 300 Athenian ships defeated the Persians in one of the greatest naval battles of all time, securing Athenian democracy and Western civilization for the next 3000 years.
In 1841, in St. Joseph, Missouri, everyone was either buying or selling provisions for the great western trek. The Oregon trail was closed temporarily due to Indian activity. John Neely Bryan heard that he could go south and connect up with the Santa Fe trail. In several weeks, he found himself running out of supplies on the Trinity River. Instead of going on to California, he decided to resupply and set up a store for other wagon trains coming through.
In 1861, the Confederate army used Dallas for a supply depot. When the war ended, several officers in the Confederate army, whose homes in the South were burned, came back to Dallas, which they knew because of their time at the supply depot. By 1876, the Texas Pacific Railroad was going to build the northern spur to St. Louis to replace cattle drives, but they were going to go through Texarkana and not Dallas. Texas was also submitting their constitution that year; these officers and others made sure the constitution stipulated that the railroad pass within one mile of Oakcliff. The railroad opening in Dallas made it boom, until the Great Depression.
In 1935, R. L. Thornton, a young banker, met with other bankers in Dallas and suggested they get the Texas Revolution Centennial Exposition in Dallas. He got together “Yes and No Men” (men who could commit their personal or companies fortunes without asking their Board of Directors or their Mamas) who wanted to get the exposition in Dallas and would put up the money to do so. Austin and San Antonio bid for the exposition, but R. L. Thornton, representing Dallas, offered $10 million to get the exposition (not caring about history, only the future). In 1936, 7 million people came to Dallas for the exposition. Between 1940-1960, the Dallas population grew from about 200,000 to 680,000. It was an amazing boom until November 22, 1963, when it all cam crashing down with the assassination; Dallas was viewed as a city of hate.
Late December, 1963, 10 limos drove from downtown Dallas to Texas Instruments to request that their Chairman, Eric Johnson, become the Mayor of Dallas and completely redo the city. Eric agreed, but asked for two months before becoming mayor. Eric Johnson knew he did not know what he needed to know about cities. In those two months, he found the top urban planner and top writer on urban affairs and hired them; together, they visited the great cities of the world to see why they were so great. Eric Johnson learned that a great city is a port city; in Athens, overlooking their great harbor, he decided to build DFW airport. Without DFW airport, this area would be pasture land. That is how great men talk to each other throughout the ages: not by what they say or write, but by what they do.
We have created unbelievable wealth since DFW airport was built, but we have carved a donut hole in the middle of prosperity and have allowed our city to decline. We have too great a legacy and too much work has gone into this city. That is the reasonfor the Coalition for a New Dallas. We are in a huge demographic change, called the “4th Turning”, in which people want to return to urban living. Density makes sense, not just for sustainability but for quality of life. There is just more to do in a denser, compact city. Dallas was once an urban place. We redid the infrastructure of the city in the late 60’s and 70’s to allow for commuters in North Dallas. That infrastructure needs to be changed back to the grid pattern of urbanism. Highways through cities destroy prosperity and bring pollution and economic ruin to the areas surrounding it. There are 4 things were are engaged in: 1) We have an opportunity to tear down I-345 between 45 and 75. To create this highway, 54 blocks of Deep Ellum were bulldozed. In many cities across the country these highways are being torn down and replaced with boulevards and traffic improves. The land the highway is occupying is worth $4.5 billion. Tearing down I-345 would reconnect East Dallas with downtown Dallas, bringing $110 million per year to the tax roles. 2) We also have to look at DART and the light rail line as well as mobile public transportation. 3) Fair Park is a wasteland, a 230-acre asset, ripe for development as a real park. 4) The Trinity River has been stymied for 20-years because of the idea of building a tollway through a river, which no one wants. Rewilding, replanting native grasses and the Trinity could be one of the great wildlife showcases in the world in the middle of a city.
These things combined reenvision Dallas, restore an infrastructure that will allow people to move to the city, and take hold of the resources we already have and refashion them for the future. We all are engaged. In 1941, Thornton Wilder said “The secret is not to live in a city; the secret is to build a city.” Let’s keep doing that.