Cities: September 2006 Archives

At the tipping point

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The backers of The Channels plan have referred to a 2004 study done by the firm Booz Allen Hamilton called Dallas at the Tipping Point: A Road Map for Renewal (800 KB PDF file). The study was commissioned by the Dallas Morning News to answer the questions:

  1. What are the key challenges facing the City of Dallas?
  2. How well is City Hall positioned to cope with these challenges?
  3. What does the City of Dallas need to do to position itself for long-term success?

I've had a copy for some time, but finally had the chance to start reading it today.

The Channels backers point to the report's discussion of the cycle of decline which leads to a hollow urban core: Quality of life declines, businesses and individuals migrate to surrounding areas, the tax base declines, infrastructure requirements are underfunded, resources for city services decline, and the tax burden increases, leading to a decline in the quality of life, which feeds another round of the cycle. The Channels backers call this the Death Spiral and they say that Tulsa, like Dallas, is in this vicious cycle. They believe we need their project -- spending $600 million in public funds to build islands in the Arkansas River -- to break us out of that cycle.

In light of that, it was interesting to read what Booz Allen recommended to Dallas. There were no mentions of islands, arenas, or other big-ticket amenities. In fact, they called on Dallas officials to focus on delivering basic government services efficiently. They called for adjustments to the city's governmental structure so that authority, responsibility, and accountability align and the buck actually stops somewhere.

Like Tulsa, Dallas has a high violent crime rate, even with more than 2 police officers per thousand population. Fixing the problem isn't rocket science:

A programmatic approach is needed to reduce crime, improve education, and encourage economic growth.... Successful approaches to each of these are already well understood. From New York's crime reduction success to Cleveland's success in economic development, there is little mystery as to basic building blocks for improving quality of life. What is missing in Dallas is a comprehensive focus and a cross-department program for delivering the change.

Improving the quality of life index was the first of three strategic imperatives. The other two: Attract middle-class families to the city and address the city's under-funded liabilities (e.g. deferred infrastructure maintenance and city employee pensions).

Note: They don't say to attract more of the Creative Class types, as much as they can add to a city, but to be effective at competing with the suburbs for middle-class families, who provide a stable base for retaining employers and retailers in the city, with their accompanying tax base. (Joel Kotkin is one urban analyst who has bucked the Creative Class tide and insisted on the importance of middle-class families to a city's well-being.)

(Related thought: By going to Tulsa County to seek public funding for their project, The Channels backers have guaranteed that the funding package will include proportionate amenities for the county's other municipalities, neutralizing any competitive advantage the core of the City of Tulsa would have gained by implementing their plan.)

The Dallas Morning News has a special online section devoted to their report on Dallas, including a 2005 update on the situation, also prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton.

Last out in Little Rock

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End of an era: Today was the final minor league ballgame at Ray Winder Field in Little Rock. The Arkansas Travelers beat the Springfield Cardinals 7-3. Next year the Arkansas Travelers will play at a new ballpark in North Little Rock. The Democrat-Gazette had two front-page stories (online, but subscriber-only) -- an interview with a fan who had been at the park's opening day in 1932, and a story about possible futures for the stadium. Options include leaving the playing field, but converting part of the stands to office space, and demolishing the whole thing to make way for expansion of the neighboring zoo.

Here are links to memories of the park and reports on the final game:

Harry King of the Morning News remembers the Travelers of the '50s and '60s.

KATV talks to some of the 8,000 fans at the final game.

Video of fans at the final game, and a chat with the organist (a real organist sitting at a real organ -- a rarity these days).

I only attended one game there, back in 1991. I drove down from Tulsa and met my friend Rick Koontz, who flew American Airlines non-rev from DFW. In '88 Rick and I had done a "rust belt tour" of five midwestern major league parks -- Wrigley, Comiskey, Tiger Stadium, Cleveland Municipal, and Riverfront.

Before the game we visited the State Capitol. There he was across the room, big as life, chatting up and getting photographed with a female tourist -- potential presidential candidate Gov. Slick Willie his own self. To this day, I regret not having gone over to ask, "Confidentially, Governor, where can a fella go for a good time in this town?" I feel sure he would have been a fount of useful information in that regard.

Details are fuzzy after 15 years, but I am pretty sure that what we saw was a legendary Saturday night double-header against the Shreveport Captains. For years, the Travs never played at home on Sunday, but would always play two the night before instead. I seem to recall that this had to do with the financial implications of not being allowed to sell beer on a hot summer Sunday afternoon.

As we arrived, we noticed "shaggers" waiting in the parking lot for foul balls during batting practice, just like at Driller Stadium in Tulsa. (Note to British readers: Retrieving a ball that has gone astray is a possible meaning of the verb "shag" in the USA.)

At the time, Shreveport was a Giants affiliate and the Travs were a Cardinals team, and in the minors when two National League affiliates played each other, they did so without a designated hitter.

The seats were very close to the field. I remember that the diamond was a couple of inches higher than foul territory, which must have been tricky to handle.

I would rank the experience at Ray Winder Field up there with an evening at Durham Athletic Park, the old home of the Bulls. Nothing fancy about it -- just baseball, an evening breeze, the sound of the organ, a Coke, a pretzel, and a scorecard.

MORE: A couple of columns about Ray Winder Field from Paul Greenberg (another one of my favorite things about Little Rock) -- Opening Day 2005 and Opening Day 2002.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from September 2006.

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