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The Dallas Morning News

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Page 5W

Alarming as the numbers are, its not too late. Dallas has a host of natural advantages, from its location to its entrepreneurial spirit. Whats needed is swift, decisive action by City Hall, business and nonprot leaders and ordinary people to capitalize on those strengths.

Getting around Dallas is no picnic, either. Residents of the Dallas metro area spend more time stuck in traffic an average of 36 hours a year than residents of any peer cities except Houston and San Francisco. Business leaders surveyed in conjunction with Booz Allens study listed transportation as their biggest concern. Second was poor air quality, which threatens to trigger federal curbs on industrial expansion. o o o FINALLY, DALLAS PERFORMS POORly in the place closest to home: home itself. The most often quoted statistic about Dallas housing is that the median home-sale price is $138,000 an indication that houses are affordable compared with most major cities. Thats true. But good luck finding a house in that price range. Only 10 percent of the housing stock in Dallas is suited to middle-income buyers. Booz Allen found that the overwhelming majority of units 85 percent consists of apartments or houses valued closer to $50,000. Theyre not likely to appeal to anyone who can afford a nicer home in the suburbs. Although Dallas accounts for a third of the population in the statistical area that bears its name, less than 10 percent of the regions new single-family homes are constructed within the city limits. The number of apartments built in the city outpaces houses 2-to-1. Not surprisingly, 57 percent of Dallas households are renters rather than homeowners. Only San Francisco, where a combination of rent controls and exorbitant real estate values makes renting an attractive alternative, has a lower proportion of homeowners. Its enough to send Dallasites scurrying for Duncanville or Allen which is exactly what happens. Nearly one in five Dallas residents moved to a nearby city from 1995 to 2000. That made Dallas, along with Houston, the biggest losers in terms of migration to the suburbs. In sum, Booz Allen concluded, Dallas is rapidly losing its position as the regions economic core; the quality of its workforce is relatively low; and it is increasingly home to a transitional population rather than a community of middle-class families that live and work here. Any one of those realities, in isolation, would be cause for concern. But one feeds the other, the report noted, setting up a cascading effect that creates a cycle of decline. All cities, by their nature, face intractable problems. No city does everything right. The issue is: How are we managing to put guardrails on some of these processes? asked Dr. Hicks. The good news for Dallas is that cities can erect guardrails, they can affect their own destinies. The peer cities that are thriving today behave in a certain way. They face reality squarely; they tap into the entire communitys brainpower to solve problems; they invest in the things including people that create wealth, and they earn the trust of their residents, businesses and community leaders. Those behaviors dont come naturally in Dallas, because of its history. o o o IN THE POST-WORLD WAR II DECades, the citys economy was fueled by an extraordinary conjunction of national prosperity, Sun Belt migration, native ambition and cohesive leadership, cemented through the Dallas Citizens Council. The leaders white men who ran banks and other large corporations and, incidentally, City Hall were apostles of growth. They had the know-how, and they controlled the resources, private and public, to make it happen. The Citizens Council was very successful in what it set out to do: grow the city of Dallas, said Dr. Fairbanks, the UTA historian. But that success came with tradeoffs. The leaders feared political conflict as a threat to the citys business-friendly image, and they enshrined the ideal of a

analysis rather than assumptions drives public policy. Recently, the International City/ County Management Association lauded Phoenix and several other cities for using performance measures to focus their efforts to become the cities residents want them to be. Two of Dallas other peer cities also were honored: Austin and San Jose. Those three cities, which rigorously examine their own performance and benchmark it against other cities, all outscored Dallas by wide margins on The News Quality of Life Index. Dallas does not participate in an annual benchmarking study by the associations Center for Performance Management. Booz Allens analysts sometimes found it easier to get information about Dallas from its peer cities which gathered it for their own benchmarking purposes than from Dallas. o o o NOT HAVING A PRECISE IDEA OF where it is, Dallas can hardly draw a meaningful map of where it wants to go. Unlike its peers, it operates without relying on either a comprehensive land use plan or a strategic business plan. In effect, the people of Dallas are like shareholders in a company with $6.6 billion in assets and a $1.9 billion operating budget that makes decisions ad hoc, based on no overarching corporate strategy. The city levies taxes on residents and businesses and spends their money without analyzing how to maximize the return on their investment. Leaders in other cities were incredulous to learn that Dallas operates as it does. You dont have a general plan for your city? Wow, said Pat Dando, vice mayor of San Jose. Mr. Benavides, the city manager, drew up a strategic plan after he was hired in 1998, but the council did not formally adopt it and never refers to it. When pressed for a copy, First Assistant City Manager Mary Suhm couldnt immediately lay her hands on one. Later, Ms. Miller recounted that a council member had produced a copy of the document during a recent meeting. The response from the other council members, including the mayor, was: Whats that? None of us had seen it, she said. We didnt know what it was. Its ridiculous. Ms. Miller and council members said they have taken steps toward creating a strategic framework, most notably by setting five consensus goals: economic development, staff accountability; public safety; neighborhoods and the Trinity. We actually have thought about a lot of these issues, said council member Gary Griffith. We have got plans. Its not that we dont know, and its not that were not going to do something. Ms. Miller could not say whether the endpoint will be a formal, written strategy that can serve as a blueprint for the staff and future councils. Is it in a booklet somewhere? No. Will it get there? Probably, she said. In early March, the council was scheduled to hear a staff presentation on how the city might invigorate its economic development efforts. Economic development is, officially, the councils No. 1 priority. But members spent hour after hour discussing other agenda items lavishing protracted debate on the problem of dilapidated fences and the question of whether judges in municipal courts are too intimidating because they wear robes. At 4:30 p.m., seven hours after the meeting started, members were becoming, by turns, testy and giggly with exhaustion. So Ms. Miller postponed the economic briefing for nearly a month. Is this any way to run a city? an exasperated onlooker demanded of council member Veletta Forsythe Lill. No, she said.
E-mail vloe@dallasnews.com

politically neutral city manager as the antidote to the affliction of politics. Dallas kept a lid on politics, said Dr. Harvey Graff, a social historian who taught at UTD for 23 years before moving to UT-San Antonio. That kind of control no longer works. Being a real city means some rough-and-tumble, a few bloody noses. Council members insist that, at long last, that is changing. This council has finally started talking to one another about anything, Mr.

Blaydes said. However, old ways die hard. o o o DALLAS ROOT PROBLEM IS A political problem, a civic culture that resists change, said Dr. Hanson, author of Civic Culture and Urban Change: Governing Dallas. Resistance extends from fundamental issues such as changing the City Charter to mundane matters such as twice-a-week garbage pickup.

For years, council members have refused to consider weekly pickups, which would free city resources for other, arguably more pressing needs. Assistant City Manager Ramon Miguez shook his head at the memory of countless dead-end discussions on the subject. Change, he said, forming a cross with his hands, as though to ward off evil. Change is bad. Change comes more easily when you play by the numbers when

Dallas is a city with tremendous natural advantages. By all rights, Dallas should be booming like many of the peer cities that experienced population growth above the United States average.

Dallas stands at the verge of entering a cycle of decline. Moreover, it is clear from our review of the citys governance structure and operations that businessas-usual will not break this cycle.


re-thinking City Hall.

While many factors have contributed to the current difficulties from macro economic forces to population changes much of the solution lies in

With a holistic transformation along the three dimensions of strategy, structure and services, the city can

reverse the decline.

SOURCE: Booz Allen Hamilton