Sunday, April 8, 2012


That’s the opinion of some in our city and while I see their point, I don’t buy into their “gentrification” or some of the liberal race-baiting theories that have West Dallas and north Oak Cliff being sold to the highest bidder at the expense of its low income residents. Having said that, these areas will need the accelerated support and participation of all the residents of Dallas and we do need a mixed-income strategy. Note that we live in far north Dallas but like to go to Oak Cliff through West Dallas on forays to their great post office, the wonderful Bishop Arts District and, of course, Tejano’s, Gloria’s and BEE (Best Enchiladas Ever). While we may not be residents, nothing could keep us from visiting and supporting areas that remain viscerally and historically important to our city. Maybe at some future point we’ll be stopping in West Dallas. More on this later…

We initially perceived the new bridge as leading edge architecture and art, not as something intended to lighten or ease our traffic burdens in the area – maybe a new, outsized offering of the Nasher Sculpture Center. Depending on your destination, maneuvering in that area can be easy or difficult though if the bridge can get us to Woodall Rogers and onto Central Expressway, it's doing its job. Access to and from the bridge and the overall traffic plan remains a work in progress. As for its ultimate influence, we believe it has incredible potential.

The bridge has already achieved landmark status and will probably become the signature of 21st century Dallas perhaps even outstripping the now resurrected Magnolia/Mobil red Pegasus that once dominated the 1950’s Dallas skyline. So, like some of the other great cities of the world we now have a Santiago Calatrava bridge.

Some Canadians we know treat the Dallas bridge with great disdain, “We have one of those already, so why the big fuss?” in a seemingly mine is bigger and/or better than yours diss (I can’t duplicate the sincere sneer). We took great offense/offence, did some research and found that Canada, indeed, has a Calatrava bridge - the Calgary, Alberta Peace Bridge which doesn’t look a thing like the Dallas bridge. It’s a helical steel, glass roofed pedestrian bridge (one of four spans that cross the Bow River) though the only one with access for cyclists (Yippee!). It’s much smaller: 428 feet long to the Dallas 1,870-foot, expansive six lane roadway which is supported by “string-like” cables (functional?) attached to a 400-foot central transverse arch. There is night and there is day and these two bridges have absolutely nothing in common save their architect and that they both cross water. So much for Canadian disdain…
but maybe that’s the joke.

Now let’s get technical about gleeful copy cats. In our research we noted, as many Dallasites have already done, that there is almost a dead ringer for our bridge in Reggio Emillia, Italy where one of three spans of that complex of bridges emulates ours? Apparently, the plans for the Dallas Bridge were already drawn, but the Reggio Emillia bridges were finished in 2007, five years before ours. So, who are the copy cats? We apparently both borrowed from each other though there are some differences in the two. For me, though, the overall visual effect is the same.

As Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News pointed out last February, “Plagiarism — or borrowing or homage — is a time-honored artistic phenomenon.” Scott points out that another Dallas landmark, the Infomart is a knockoff of London and Hyde Park’s 1851 Crystal Palace (long gone because of fire) and continues that, “At least our new Calatrava Bridge is self-plagiarism of a fairly high order.” There is something in the water here

So, about characterizing our bridge as going nowhere? If we do not take offense then the residents of West Dallas surely will. We will admit that, like the Reggio Emilia bridge which has been the hallmark for the redevelopment of the area north of their city, the Dallas bridge should do the same for West Dallas - an area that is now mostly downscale commercial / industrial and low income residential. A recent tour of several West Dallas neighborhoods reinforced our realization of the poverty in the area and reminded us that the new bridge, thankfully, goes in both directions. No doubt some folks may be displaced though hopefully with solid partners and advocacy groups including the City of Dallas and the conscientious application of the West Dallas Urban Structure and Guidelines Plan, their fortune, potential and neighborhoods will be protected and enhanced.

We need remember that West Dallas was isolated because of the Trinity River and her propensity to flood. These floods (last major one in 1990) prompted the building of levees in 1932 and their ongoing controversial refurbishment to a required 100-year flood level of protection. The old mundane and unremarkable bridges while functional, were near the end of their lives and couldn’t inspire or capture the interest of investors dedicated to revitalization of the area.

Just to put the whole Trinity River Corridor Project in perspective we need note that it includes reconstruction and rehabilitation of the existing Sylvan Avenue Bridge and construction of roadways approaching the bridge. The Sylvan Avenue Bridge will be re-built as one bridge that spans the Trinity River and flood plain from levee to levee raising it approximately 50 feet and bringing the roadway up high enough to clear a 100 year flood event as well as to accommodate ongoing levee improvements. I have seen the Sylvan engulfed beneath the Trinity's brown flood waters – ah nostalgia… With no more flooding (Sylvan and Hill), West Dallas will become even more accessible.

Hopefully, West Dallas has been forever cleansed of the lead contamination via the RSR Lead Smelter (and others) which belched its toxic byproducts into the air and soil from 1936 until 1984 when the plant was finally closed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated this area a Superfund site in 1993 and completed cleanup activities in 2005.

And now we have a brand new challenge. Much of the westbound Hill Bridge traffic spilling onto Singleton Boulevard is traveling at breakneck speeds despite five, 30 miles per hour speed-limit signs between Beckley and Sylvan. WFAA-TV caught some of these speeders on tape yesterday (I saw the piece) including a DART bus that appeared to be traveling well in excess of the posted speed limit. They interviewed one local merchant who pointed out that, “There isn't anything to force drivers to slow down.” While he was probably referring to stop lights and crosswalks, others point out that now the area is nothing but a, “run down industrial arm pit.” and this was the kindest of the negative observations we found. TXDOT and the City of Dallas say they are working on the problem. Bottom line: Except for local residents and the aforementioned businesses, there is nothing to go to…for now.

So, how do we move forward? If the residents of West Dallas and Oak Cliff do not provide enough inspiration, the Hill Bridge gives us direction and the momentum to finish the job. We need a real mover and shaker – a dynamic leader - someone of the ilk of old Friend and now departed visionary Pete Hodkinson III who took a literal over-the-hill Southern mountain town built on the timber industry and turned it into vibrant historic, alpine Helen, Georgia – one of the top tourist attractions in Georgia and The South. Like Pete did, involve the citizenry - don’t wall them off. Open them up and involve them in responsibly determining their own destiny (Maslow and self-actualization – YES). Given their proclaimed interest, if either or both want it, give it to Ross Perot and/or Mark Cuban and let them run with it….

“Bob”, a seemingly knowledgeable blogger on this same subject summed it up for me, “The consequences of the Bridge, the consequences of the exploitation of properties by homeowners, investors, landlords and tenants, the consequences of the building or rebuilding of infrastructure by the City, along with all the other market forces at work in the area will determine what West Dallas will become and how it will get there. Like every other major shift in municipal development, some will profit and some will lose. That's life in the big city.”

Let’s get it right…..and quickly. If we fail to, Live Large and Think Big, it will, at least, certainly turn out to be the bridge to where most folks don’t want to go.


Ned Buxton

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