Whirlwind weeks for Dallas
New parks, trails, and libraries are on the way, and the city continues to work to help those affected by the explosion in Highland Hills.
The following was adapted from my email newsletter. Sign up to receive it at DallasMayor.org.
There is much going on in Dallas right now, but first, it’s important to address last week’s explosion on Highland Hills Drive.
It was awful to see the damage in person, and the whole situation is devastating.
The cause of the destructive explosion is still under investigation. Four of the city’s brave firefighters are recovering, and it’s a true blessing that they all survived. Keep them and their families in your thoughts.
The blast also destroyed a number of apartments, and water and gas issues at the complex temporarily displaced more than 200 residents.
The apartment complex owner is ultimately responsible for helping out the residents and making necessary repairs, but for now, the city has stepped up and is doing everything it can to help people recover from this. So far, that has meant putting up the tenants in hotels and working to meet their basic needs.
You can help the city respond to this emergency and others by donating now to the City of Dallas Emergency Assistance Fund, which is sponsored by The Dallas Foundation.
Dallas is strong because of its strong and generous communities. The people of this city always rally around each other in times like these. It is touching to see.
Stay tuned for more updates on this still-evolving situation.
Now, here is a recap of some recent major announcements, openings, appearances, and policy moves. It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks, for sure.
Lights Out Nights. To raise awareness as part of the Lights Out Texas initiative, led by former First Lady Laura Bush, I have issued a proclamation declaring 11 p.m.-6 a.m. between September 27 and October 17, 2021, as “Lights Out Nights” in Dallas.
Light pollution, prominent in major metropolitan areas such as Dallas, threatens birds migrating throughout the country. The birds are disoriented by lights at night and are more likely to collide with buildings as a result. Downtown buildings have agreed to dim their lights during this time period. You can do your part, too, by turning off unnecessary lighting at night.
The Lights Out Texas initiative is a win-win for Dallas. It can help residents and businesses save on energy costs, and it can help protect the ecosystem.
By taking small steps together, this city can make a major difference for the environment.
Music friendly community. Dallas was the birthplace of the Texas blues. The city is full of historic live music venues, and it attracts talented and world-famous artists to its stages every week.
Dallas also helped bring the world the likes of Lead Belly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Whistlin’ Alex Moore, T-Bone Walker, Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, Roy Hargrove, Johnnie Taylor, Dusty Hill, Ray Charles, Erykah Badu, Norah Jones, St. Vincent, The Chicks, The DOC, Meat Loaf, Charley Pride, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, and many others.
But Dallas hasn’t always done a good job of recognizing its own rich history and its impressive music scene. That must change — and it will.
The city received its Music Friendly Community certification from the Texas Music Office last week. And on Sunday, I proclaimed it “Vaughan Brothers Day” in Dallas to help celebrate the dedication of a new public artwork that honors Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan in Kiest Park. The beautiful weathered sculpture now sits blocks away from where the two boys grew up.
The dedication ceremony brought out hundreds of people, who were also treated to a surprise appearance from Gary Clark Jr. At the end, Jimmie Vaughan played a couple of tunes for the crowd.
It was a long overdue recognition of the Vaughan brothers in Dallas. Hopefully, this will help inspire future Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughans to pursue their passion for music.
Lone Star Politics. Had a great interview with Julie Fine and Gromer Jeffers Jr. on NBC5’s Lone Star Politics over the weekend. The discussion focused on the newly passed budget, public safety, relationships with the city council, and the push for ethics reform.
Watch the interview by clicking here and fast-forwarding to the 10-minute mark.
Jeffers also had a Dallas Morning News column this week that addressed the ethics reform proposal. He wrote, “Johnson is right. Bribery, corruption and pay-to-play schemes helped make Dallas an undesirable place for many people to do business. Who wants to put up with that?”
That’s spot-on. Dallas needs ethics reform as soon as possible. Look for a committee meeting on it later this month.
Wide open public spaces. Ground was broken this week on two new exciting outdoor recreation projects for the city: The Loop and Harwood Park.
The Loop will expand and better connect the city’s extensive trail system from the White Rock Lake area through northern and southern Dallas. This public-private partnership has been years in the making; the 2017 bond package included funding for it.
The pandemic demonstrated the need for an even more vibrant trail system in Dallas. During those early days of COVID-19 lockdowns, the people of Dallas — in running shoes, on bikes, and pushing strollers — sought refuge on the city’s trails.
So many people were on the city’s trails, in fact, that some grew fearful of overcrowding. You probably remember the panic that set in then — the frantic news stories and social media posts practically warning of a coming Katy Trail or White Rock Lake variant of COVID-19. Thankfully, people figured things out, and the science around the low likelihood of outdoor transmission became clearer.
What is also clearer now is that The Loop isn’t some vanity project or simply an economic development play. Trails are more to this city than a nice-to-have neighborhood perk.
A strong and viable trail system is critical infrastructure for a 21st century city. As the people of Dallas learned over the past 18 months, trails are essential.
Harwood Park is also a public-private partnership that is essential to the city’s future. It is the latest of four new downtown Dallas parks built by Parks for Downtown Dallas in partnership with the city. Two of those parks, West End Square and Pacific Plaza, previously opened in the last two years, and Carpenter Park is also in the works.
These parks are a critical part of a changing downtown landscape. Not too long ago, the urban core was mostly a place to go to the office during the day or to catch a show at night. But that was about it. The city center was, in essence, built as a place to leave.
Nowadays, downtown is a place to live and a place to stay. It is filled today not only with workplaces, but with plazas, fine dining, nightlife, unique shops, townhomes, apartments, playgrounds, entertainment options, and now, green spaces. It’s truly a neighborhood — one of the city’s finest. And downtown has only scratched the surface of its potential.
Great parks are essential to meeting that potential. They facilitate economic development and recreation. They give people a sense of place. They are inclusive. And they are environmentally friendly.
Harwood Park, in particular, will help bring life back to an area of downtown Dallas that remained desolate for far too long. It will get rid of an ugly surface parking lot and create an outdoor respite.
In other words, Harwood Park will become a place for all people. The city needs more places like it. Can’t wait for it to officially open.
A new library in Lake Highlands. The new state-of-the-art Forest Green Branch Library in Lake Highlands is officially open! Read about it in the Lake Highlands Advocate by clicking here.
The new library was one of only two included in the 2017 bond package. Its inclusion was a testament to persistent community advocacy. You can click here to read a Dallas Morning News column about how one woman, the late Karen Blumenthal, fought for years to make this library a reality.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was fun and exciting, and it was great to see the community come out to support their new library.
Libraries are vital to the city’s communities. They provide residents of all ages places to learn. They’re places where kids can escape in a book or be entertained by educational programming. They’re places where adults can look for new jobs and learn new skills. And they’re places for families to gather and for community groups to meet to discuss important issues facing their neighborhoods.
In addition, during the worst days of the pandemic — as the world seemed to grind to an abrupt, awkward, and frightening halt — the city’s libraries went back to work on behalf of Dallas residents. Dallas needed libraries more than ever, and the city’s library system stepped up to face down the most daunting challenge of the times.
Commission on Disabilities. This week, I proposed a new ordinance that would establish an official city Commission on Disabilities. The proposed commission would be responsible for advising and making recommendations to the city council, city department directors, and others regarding the full spectrum of needs, rights, and privileges of people with disabilities.
This is an important step forward for equity in the city. Everyone deserves a seat at the table as Dallas builds for the future. This commission would ensure that the city’s disabled population — nearly 7 percent of the under-65 population in Dallas lives with a disability, according to Census figures — have the opportunity to help City Hall address the unique public challenges they face.
Public safety grant. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, in partnership with Target, named Dallas as one of three recipients of Police Reform and Racial Justice Grants.
Dallas was the sole winner of the grant program’s Large City Award, which totals $175,000.
The grant will be used to expand the city’s RIGHT Care program, which currently provides a multidisciplinary team capable of immediate mobilization and response to mental health-related police calls 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
Dallas is a national leader in taking comprehensive, innovative, and proactive approaches to public safety. While this city is committed to law enforcement, City Hall is also implementing and expanding new programs that address social, environmental, and behavioral issues in Dallas communities.
RIGHT Care is one such program, and it has helped to dramatically improve outcomes for people experiencing mental health crises. It is an honor to be recognized in this way, and with this grant, Dallas can continue its efforts to build safer, stronger, kinder, and more just communities.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading and for remaining engaged in your city.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and get vaccinated if you haven’t yet. And remember that it’s the time of year to get out and enjoy the great State Fair of Texas!