Cities: February 2011 Archives

A friend's posting on Facebook about yesterday's Dallas County Commission meeting led me to a 1991 Texas Monthly article about the history of race relations in Dallas, and it included this interesting tidbit about the group that dominated Dallas politics for most of the 20th century and how they accomplished that domination (emphasis added):

Much has been written about the Dallas Citizens Council, the white businesmen's junta that controlled the city from the thirties throughthe seventies The bankers, insurance men, and land developers in the DCC laid the foundation for modern Dallas: They attracted commerce and industry, they built freeways, they modernized the airport, they beautified North Dallas They made sure there was plenty of water in the reservoirs. But they also ignored West and South Dallas, where blacks lived. The DCC retained its grip through the at-large city council system, in which councilmembers were elected by the residents of the entire city, rather than by wards or districts. That guaranteed that the members of the DCC, with access to money and connections, could handpick the city council. And they did, effectively keeping blacks and other minorities out.

It seems like every city in this region had a clique or regime of this sort, a private organization that could operate without public oversight but which had control, overt or covert, over the actions of local government.

In St. Louis, they call it Civic Progress, which led the effort to demolish or divide much of St. Louis' downtown and inner city in the name of urban renewal and efficient roads; as recently as 2004 Civic Progress was pushing a plan to reorganize the city's government to their liking.

It's understandable that groups like Save Our Tulsa would be nostalgic for such an arrangement. The beauty of this sort of group is that it can Get Things Done in the name of Progress. You can formulate your plans out of the public eye and get the necessary governmental approvals as quietly as possible. No need to compromise your bold vision to appease the concerns of those who might be hurt by your plan. By the time opposition can form, it's too late. With the local newspaper publisher as part of the group, you can frame public opinion and characterize opponents as obstructionists of questionable sanity. Only with such bold leadership can you run expressways through neighborhoods and bulldoze "blighted" communities, in the name of building a modern and progressive city.

But such a group, made up of likeminded people of similar backgrounds will have its blind spots. Disrespectful of the perspective of outsiders, the clique isn't open to any correction for those blind spots. The result is that even the regime's best laid plans go wrong in ways they never expected. (That's far from the only problem created for a city by this way of doing business.)

You know of similar groups in other cities or our own? Leave a comment.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from February 2011.

Cities: January 2011 is the previous archive.

Cities: March 2011 is the next archive.

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