We are living in a historic era. The industrial economy that has made the nation grow both fiscally and physically is giving way to a global
information market that pits American workers against people from around the world, all looking for those elusive, well-paying jobs.
Ironically, those workers that Americans are now competing with are simply looking for the "American Dream" (house, car, secure income)
that manufacturers, their advertisers, and the American worker have been selling to everyone for so many years.
Now, our manufacturing base is dwindling rapidly. The middle class is shrinking, debt is increasing... and the cities that once relied on
industries for a good chunk of their funding are dying, because their industrial bases are disappearing. What's even worse is that these
cities - like Detroit, Flint, and Cleveland - built their infrastructure around the manufacturing plants. Whole neighborhoods have become
industrial wastelands because the center of their economic activity - the assembly plant - has been shuttered.
These are truly the "lost cities" of our era. They are becoming time capsules of what once was, and reminders to all of what can happen in
the blink of a fickle economic eye.
The Red River Valley is purportedly healthy, economically speaking. I read reports all the time that the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area
is holding on well, at least measured against urban regions of similar size. The industrial base is more diversified, that's for sure. Property
values have dropped, but not nearly as catastrophically as they have in places like Detroit, where a three bedroom, two-bath, updated,
centrally located, Tudor-style home can be had for less than $30,000.
All is not well, however. Time and again I notice just how easily cities in the Red River Vally can become "lost" simply through bad
planning. Dallas, for example, has plenty of forgotten, neglected areas within its boundaries. Instead of offering incentives to developers
to refurbish and improve on the old, commissioners allow speculators to build on "unused" land. The city's square mileage thus becomes
huge and unmanageable. Developers create shiny, new strip malls or subdivisions, and neglected, abandoned properties rot in between
these beacons of prosperity, until the next building phase moves new development even further out.
And on and on it goes, until residents are left stranded in these lost neighborhoods without much access to jobs, grocery stores, and
What makes cities around here kill themselves this way? Why do commissioners, administrators, and planners neglect parts of their cities
- places that were at one time commercially viable - and then allow businesses and housing to be erected farther and farther from the
city's center? Why do they not care that their decisions force our cities to be stretched far beyond a manageable size, and doom older
areas to become overlooked eyesores?
Cities that stay compact tend to have better public transportation, more walkable neighborhoods, more stable housing prices, and offer
better lifestyle choices. No one wants to grow up in a neglected neighborhood, or in a city that is so sprawling one can't easily travel from
one part to the other.
And who wouldn’t want to live in a city that focuses on its people? Maybe cities should stop pandering to the developers and realize that
it’s the residents, NOT those with deep pockets, who make up a city.
|Elm Street in Waco used to be an important commercial section for the city's African American residents. Sitting just across across the Brazos
River from the Convention Center and the courthouse, you'd think Elm Street would be an ideal location for restaurants, hotels, bars, new
housing, etc. However, new construction finds a home around the loop. Instead of compacting its design and making the city easier to manage,
Waco is becoming stretched-out, with pockets of blight.