Monday, February 12, 2007

East Dallas Showdown

Kind of a funny little pissing match between the Observer’s Jim Schutze and the DMN’s Rod Dreher over gentrification in the old East Dallas.

Personally, I think Schutze is the best thing in Dallas journalism – an attack dog that goes after the sacred cows in Dallas government and isn’t afraid to say the emperor has no clothes. Dreher, on the other hand, is a self-described “crunchy conservative” – I mean, what the fuck is that anyway? That's a term that makes about as much sense as “compassionate conservative” or “extraordinary rendition.” Dreher loves pillorying Schutze as some knee-jerk liberal hippie wacko who stands again anything new because it’s not “cool.” Sez Dreher:

Sneer at yuppie gentrifiers if you like, but come on, was it better when these beautiful old Craftsman bungalows were falling down, and anybody who could afford to leave was lighting out for the suburbs because of the crime and disorder?

But is that really what Schutze is saying? Is he really pissed off because he hates the thought of people renovating crack houses and turning them into a proper place to live?
What kills everything, bleaches away the soul of the city and sends the children away behind pied pipers, is sterility. And Dallas has a huge sterility problem. Scrubby-scrubby-scrubby!

Dreher quotes from a column I wrote a long time ago as saying the city needs a solid middle class. I still believe that. His point seems to be that I have contradicted myself. I say consistency is the mind of small hobgoblins.

About this much I have never strayed: What we do not need is the kind of cleanliness, neatness, safety and security that reproduce the vibe of the gated communities to the north of us.

Dreher’s pretty proud of himself for being a gentrifying yuppie (and I really, REALLY, don't mean anything pejorative by that) who is bringing a neighborhood back from the dead, to which I say good on ya. Dallas and Fort Worth need more of this. Gentrifying yuppies aren’t necessarily a bad thing. We need more people not giving up on urban America. Except when they buy two 1,500 sf houses, tear them down and build a 10,000 sf Tuscan villa monstrosity. Or worse, buying a whole block for a gated enclave that is more Plano than East Dallas. That’s sort of an anti-neighborhood thing to do – a big middle-finger to all the neighbors. That is what they are fighting against in Little Forest Hills and other neighborhoods around Dallas and Fort Worth.

I love Mid-Century Architecture. I love the Ranch House. Drive down Preston Road between Forest and Royal in Dallas you see 2000sf beautiful ranches being bulldozed to put up 10,000sf faux chateaus. I look at those and I feel like the crying Indian in the Keep America beautiful commercial. But I know no one will cry for people who sell their houses for $400,000 to tear down. However, it is a symptom of a problem: Dallas has no problem razing its architectural heritage (like, um, here) in the name of what's new and now, and quite frankly, antiseptic. Scrubby scrub.

But why jump all over Schutze's ass for pointing out that some of us don't want to live in Disneyland? Why wage another "culture war" battle over this? Fact: Dallas has a sterility problem. Deal with it.

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