Hooray for Dallas' Big, Dumb Ideas Like Fancy Bridges. They Stir Up the Smart Kids.
So, back to the new fake suspension bridge we're building at enormous cost over the Trinity River, and, in fact, let's go back and review the whole Trinity River project. In fact, let's go back and review everything.
Here is my question: Why are huge, obviously stupid projects the best thing that ever happened to Dallas? And, by the way, they are.
Dallas has a history, in fact, of huge, obviously stupid projects. Yesterday I took part in a discussion group at a retreat for City Council members and top city staff. I argued that the 1980s plan to double-deck Central Expressway was a great example of stupid huge projects and great big huge stupid masterplans that have really helped Dallas evolve into a better city by being so stupid.
Let's not go through the whole blah-blah-blah. Here's the thumbnail: The plan to turn Central into a huge, honking, roaring, stinking monstrosity was a goal ardently sought in the early 1980s by all the top city planners and by the private secretive fraternal order that calls itself eerily "The Dallas Citizens Council," representing the big money.
As the plucky survivors passed the deadly white water feature, they looked back at the gleaming white bridge and asked themselves, "What the fuck is that thing doing there?"
Because it was so manifestly stupid, awful and destructive, the double-decking plan stirred up angry opposition from neighborhood groups, especially in the M Streets area. They beat the plan by learning how to be brilliant at politics, end-running the hell out of the local moguls by going to Austin and eventually to then Congressman John Bryant to put the screws to the plan.
The beautiful public work we have now in Central -- I still say it's one of the best designed urban expressways in the solar system -- came about when dissent and opposition beat the socks off the moguls.
The moguls always use so-called planning as camo for whatever dumb thing it is they want to do. They always say something like this:
"We want the city to dig a shipping canal through Uptown so barges from the Port of Houston can deliver containers full of Chinese head-bands to some warehouses in Garland that we happen serendipitously to own ourselves. We hired some very famous planners from top universities and ad agencies to look at our idea. Oh, look what they found: They say a shipping canal through Uptown is exactly spot-on the best idea ever."
Yeah. Go back to the fake suspension bridges. How can sluicing huge amounts of scarce public treasure into fake suspension bridges be a good thing? It's so monumentally stupid, it reminds everybody how stupid the people are who run this joint, and I think that gives everybody else the courage they need to defeat them.
In fact, if you want to know what's really great about Dallas, why Dallas is the place to be, I would argue it's the city's oppositional culture. We have tons and tons of people here who just don't accept the ruling paradigm.
If you're in one of those cities where the ruling paradigm is pretty well locked down by history and general consensus -- well-known smart towns like Boston or pretty places like San Francisco -- then you more or less just have to sign up and go along. Here, we can look at something like two fake suspension bridges over a ditch downtown and say, "No way do I go along with that."
How big is that? It's huge. Look, David Brooks has a column in The New York Times today he calls "The Great Migration," about how all of the top most smart members of the meritocracy are migrating to a few agreed-upon cities. He says that migration will defeat whatever the Democrats try to do to mitigate inequality in America.
I'd like to take him to North Oak Cliff in Dallas. I think North Oak Cliff is where the opposition to his idea is forming up right now. North Oak Cliff is brimming with bright young people, some of whom may have gone to the "top 11 schools" Brooks cites as so prestigious that their degrees almost automatically bestow success. Probably a lot more of them attended the other 100 schools that are just as good academically but have less prestigious names.
They're here. They're not in Boston, Brooklyn or Seattle. Who knows why they are here instead? Life is complicated. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that people can get jobs here so they don't have to be remittance men and women. I think of a great line from Girls, in which the protagonist's boyfriend says he would never take money from his parents. He says he is supported by his grandmother.
So maybe a lot of young people are in Dallas so they can support themselves. I don't know. They're here. That's all I know.
Brooks thinks the division of the nation into smart places and dumb is inexorable. He cites a book called The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti which Brooks says demonstrates that "the magnet places have positive ecologies that multiply innovation, creativity and wealth. The abandoned places have negative ecologies and fall further behind."
Brooks concludes, "This sorting is self-reinforcing, and it seems to grow more unforgiving every year."
Oh, bullshit. We're talking about self-anointed aristocracy, however they got to it. Because they earned a prestigious degree or because someone dubbed them with a sword -- makes no difference. They think they're God's big IT and they're the only ones who are.
So my prediction would be quite different from Brooks'. I think places like North Oak Cliff will pop up all over America where bright young people will say to themselves, "We're God's Big Other IT, and we're going to kick your IT's ass."
Back to the fake suspension bridges again. By doing huge obviously stupid things, a place like Dallas gives those bright young other-IT people the confidence and the drive they need to push against the ruling paradigm where they are. And then by extension they will push against ruling paradigms everywhere.
Pretend I'm on a sinking ship lost at sea in the middle of the Atlantic on a cold winter's night, and I have to choose between two lifeboats. One is full of top meritocrats, good students who did what they were supposed to do all their lives, got to Harvard, took away top grades, moved to Brooklyn and found Harvard jobs in Manhattan. The other is full of scrappy North Oak Cliffers who went to UT and University of Michigan and Kenyon and then came to Dallas, of all places, and used their own wit and determination to build their own Park Slope.
You don't even have to ask which boat I'm jumping in. Right? I'll go with the oppositional castaways every time. It's places like Dallas that turn bright young people into oppositional castaways. America is about castaways, not aristocrats.
Anyway that's what I argued sort of yesterday at the City Council retreat thing. I think I caught a couple of those dudes sawing logs.