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A ROAD MAP FOR RENEWAL

The Dallas Morning News

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Page 3W

DALLAS

A can-do city, thats how Dallas loves to see itself and with good reason. Energy, ambition, vision and hard work have made it the centerpiece of the fastest-growing region in the country. The trouble is, Dallas itself isnt nearly as healthy as the region. And a lack of self-analysis blinds it to that fact.

Story by Victoria Loe Hicks

That conclusion by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton rests on a farreaching statistical comparison of Dallas and 14 other large U.S. cities. The study, commissioned by The Dallas Morning News, used dozens of measures from life expectancy to library visits to produce a comprehensive, clear-eyed picture of each citys performance. Dallas is not in the top tier. Among the 14 peer cities, only three have worse violent crime rates, only four have lower student SAT scores, and none saw less economic expansion in the 1990s. Wrapping together those three measures identified by Dallas residents as their top concerns Dallas ranks No. 12 among the 15 cities. Only Rust Belt cities Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit perform worse. Moreover, the numbers suggest that Dallas lulled by past successes, cushioned by North Texas robust growth, blinded by a lack of self-examination and hobbled by the legacy of racism and neglect is at a tipping point, where wrong moves could precipitate a protracted slide. Crime and troubled schools send families scurrying for the suburbs; employers follow; the tax base and the city budget shrink; city services decline; the drift to the burbs accelerates And Dallas peril is all the greater, the consultants warned, because a superficial appearance of good health masks its symptoms. The citys malady is much like a silent heart attack, which goes undetected until its too late for treatment. Faced with Booz Allens diagnosis, city leaders fell back on their habitual remedies. Mayor Laura Miller said the report would send her into despair were it not for her certainty that a few big-fix projects, starting with the Trinity River, will affect a dramatic cure. The Trinity and downtown and Fair

allas calls itself the city that works. Dallas is wrong. By almost any measure that counts crime, school quality, economic growth Dallas looks bad. Its not that City Hall is lying. City Hall seems not to know. Dallas does not see itself as a city in crisis. But the data indicate that Dallas is a city in crisis.
Park, thats the triumvirate thats going to get us there, she said. I think a lot of ills will be solved by those three things happening. Were going to have international excitement about the city. Economists hired by the city were less sanguine. They estimated that, 10 years after completion, the citys $246 million investment in the Trinity River project would generate real estate, sales and tourism taxes equal to about onehalf of 1 percent of the citys current budget. Booz Allens findings prompted other city leaders to lash out at The Dallas Morning News. All you can do is find fault, said City Council member Bill Blaydes. There are tremendous positive things happening in Dallas, Texas, today. I think that is a piece of junk, Mr. Blaydes said, pointing to the report. Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans, who oversees economic development, flatly refused to look at numbers indicating that retail activity is shifting to the suburbs. He thrust the offending statistics back across the table without glancing at them. He later apologized. A common theme in the citys response: Dallas was at a tipping point between decline and renewal not long ago but has since rebounded. I could assemble all those numbers and get my own doggone numbers and come up saying that were doing OK. I think weve already turned, said City Manager Ted Benavides. Ms. Millers predecessor, Ron Kirk, said Booz Allens work will only complicate the leaders job, which is to sell the city if necessary, by drawing attention away from its defects just as a home seller does in dealing with potential buyers. You put vanilla on the light bulb, he said. Boosterism helped build Dallas and many of its peers, but in 2004, Booz Allens findings suggest, the unexamined city is not worth living in.

This is a critical time in Dallas history, said Dr. Robert Fairbanks, who teaches Dallas history at the University of Texas at Arlington. My perception of Dallas is that it was very successful in one mode of operation that no longer makes sense. We dont measure things, said Dr. Donald Hicks, a political economist at the University of Texas at Dallas. We dont study ourselves. The city cant afford to ignore the facts, he said. No city is guaranteed a future. The Booz Allen report is not about blame. It is not about the past or the present. It is about the future how the citys leaders, inside and outside of City Hall can help residents create a city that does work, that fulfills their individual and collective aspirations. This decline is neither inevitable nor irreversible, the consultants wrote. A strong dose of basic management principles plus an infusion of political courage can alter the trajectory and break the cycle. But to get there, Dallas must start from where it is. And that means recognizing where it is. o o o UNLIKE MR. KIRK, DEL BORGSdorf deals in figures, not flavorings. Numbers are very important, said Mr. Borgsdorf, the city manager of San Jose, Calif. When The News began this investigation, it polled Dallas residents about what issues matter most to them. Three topped the list: crime, education and economic growth. Booz Allen gathered statistics measuring each citys performance in those areas. The News combined the results into the Quality of Life Index, weighting each item according to its importance to poll respondents. San Jose was No. 1 on crime, No. 1 on schools, No. 1 on economic growth and naturally No. 1 overall. San Jose faces two urgent challenges. The first is an economy rocked by the dot-com bust. In late 2001, the city hired a top-drawer economic planner from the private sector to spearhead a fine-toothed analysis of its economy. The city is already implementing the re-

sulting strategy, just as Dallas embarks on the analytical phase. San Joses second weakness is housing prices; a two-bedroom bungalow will fetch $600,000. Even so, the city is desirable enough and wages high enough that home ownership a good barometer of a communitys stability runs 20 percentage points ahead of Dallas. It doesnt have to be this way. Dallas is a city with tremendous natural advantages, Booz Allen noted: its location, climate, river and huge urban forest. Within its borders are thousands of undeveloped acres room for its population and its economy to grow. The city boasts a strong transportation network of highways, rail lines and one of the worlds great airports. Dallas infrastructure streets, water mains and the like isnt decrepit, like some of its older peers. It doesnt cost a lot to live here. The citys economy is diverse, which should make it resilient. The people of Dallas are ambitious and entrepreneurial. The citys population is growing, instead of shrinking like its Northeastern and Midwestern peers. The 1990s brought a tremendous surge of Latino immigrants, who if they follow the trajectory of earlier immigrant groups will create prosperity as they seek it. We still are a good community and a good city, said former Dallas City Manager George Schrader. But in many ways Dallas comes up short. Why? Because short is as short does. That is one of the underlying lessons of Booz Allens analysis. Dallas is shortsighted, devoting little thought and fewer resources to planning for its future. It is short with a dollar, pinching pennies rather than investing systematically to build more livable neighborhoods and stimulate its economy. It is short on trust: People dont trust City Hall, and City Hall doesnt trust people. It is short on civic capital energized, politically engaged residents and effective mechanisms for collective problem-solving. It is short on leaders who seem able Continued on Page 4W

10 reasons why Dallas is at risk and doesnt know it


The Booz Allen Hamilton consultants found that North Texas tremendous economic strength has masked important warning signs inside the city of Dallas:

1. Job growth and economic growth inside


the city are occurring much more slowly than in the region as a whole.

2. Dallas unemployment rate has run


about 25 percent higher than that of the surrounding metro area.

3. The city fares poorly vs. its urban peers


on the quality-of-life indicators that matter most to Dallas residents crime, education and economic development.

4. Weak performance by the Dallas


Independent School District holds down the growth of the well-educated workforce needed to keep an economy humming.

5. Most of Dallas' housing inventory is lowvalue homes and small apartments, despite the positive image that surrounds the $138,000 median price for home sales.

6. An antiquated City Charter leaves Dallas


ill-equipped to respond to its challenges. Alone among its peer cities, Dallas lacks a long-term strategic plan that would help drive progress.

7. A dysfunctional government and an


anti-business aura drive businesses to avoid the city and discourages business leaders from civic involvement.

8. Residential property now accounts for


more of Dallas tax base than commercial property an imbalance typical of bedroom suburbs, not major cities.

9.

Years of under-investment and lack of vision have saddled the city with pending bills for massive long-term liabilities.

10. Other cities have been more


purposeful and successful in meeting quality-of-life challenges, putting Dallas at a competitive disadvantage.