Sunday, May 08, 2005

Who was the real loser this weekend?

Yup, the Rockets were whupped by the Dallas Mavericks by 40 points in game 7. I'm sure they're having quite the celebration up there. But in a lesser noticed story, Dallas voters also rejected adopting a strong-mayor form of city government similar to Houston's. From the Chronicle article:

Meanwhile, voters in Dallas, which is struggling with high crime and racial tensions, shot down a proposition to strengthen the mayor's governing power Saturday. With nearly all Dallas precincts counted, about 62 percent, or 65,885 voters, said no to a major overhaul of the city charter that would shift the balance of power at City Hall to the mayor and away from the 14 council members.

Mayor Laura Miller and other supporters of a strong-mayor government had said it would free the mayor to address the city's woes: job losses, an empty downtown and the highest big-city crime rate in the country.

Opponents, including former Mayor Ron Kirk and all 14 council members, said the proposal would give the mayor too much power and fail to ensure adequate checks and balances.

Despite the proposal's failure, Miller said she believes Dallas residents want change. "I think that the opposition did a good job in repeating over and over again this was scary and too radical. In reality, it was a lot weaker than what other strong-mayor cities have," she said in Saturday's online edition of The Dallas Morning News.

A quote from the Dallas Morning News article:
"The City Council has proven over the last 20 to 30 years that they are incapable of moving forward, and they're partly responsible for businesses leaving the city," Mr. Burnett said.
I'm no expert on the intricacies of strong vs. weak mayor systems or the specifics of the Dallas proposal, but what I have read is that the trend is away from city managers and toward strong mayors because of accountability to voters and the ability to get things done. There also seems to be a steady beat of bad news coming from Dallas and good news coming from Houston. It has to make you wonder: who lost more this weekend? Houston and our hopes for another NBA championship? or Dallas and their chance at a real turnaround?...

(update: Chronicle editorial)


At 10:32 PM, May 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's worth repeating one of the closing lines of that Chronicle article that you linked at the bottom of your post about good news from Houston:

"'It seems as if in size, diversity and governance, we've come to eclipse Dallas in a number of dimensions,' Stein mused. Not only has Houston outgrown Dallas in most indicators of urban achievement, it has also outgrown its own inferiority complex."

The last thing Dallas has ever been guilty of is an inferiority complex, but we all struggle with it from time to time as Houstonians, regardless of whether Stein thinks we've outgrown it. But as tempting as it is to kick a rival like Dallas when they fall down, memories of how far we fell in the mid-80s hold me back. Job losses, high crime rate, an empty downtown... been there, lived through that. Dallas will bounce back, their future is still bright.

With that said, wasn't it Larry McMurtry who observed that of all the cities in Texas, only Houston is the one that has the potential to become a world-class city? I'd add that of all the cities in the US, Houston is the only one that could make itself a world-class city out of sheer willpower if that's what we truly wanted.

At 11:30 PM, May 08, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

And I think a strong-mayor might help Dallas along on that comeback trail - and time is running out. I think they're in a worse position than Houston was though, simply because employers are moving in-mass to the newer burbs to the north and west, and it'll be hard (if not impossible) to ever get them back into the city of Dallas. Houston held on to its central location within the metro area and also kept most of its employers during the bad times.

If you can find the McMurtry argument, I'm very curious to see it.

As far as Houston as an international city, check out this new city office and newsletters:

At 9:25 AM, May 09, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houston's alleged inferiority complex is limited to people who were there in the mid 80s when things were bad. Nobody college-age or younger really cares about Dallas.

At 8:55 AM, May 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After much searching, I finally found that McMurtry quote. The quote is from an article in the Houston Chronicle, September 7, 2002, entitled: "Rivalry is more than football; 'Quasi-artificial' hostility toward Dallas keeps city on its toes". Here's the entire article:

Football, schmootball.

The contempt between Houston and Dallas pre-dates any gridiron rivalries by nearly a century, and puts anything that happens on the the football field in the pale.

Houstonians say the only thing Dallas has going for it is that hackneyed '70s night-time soap opera. Dallasites say, "Houston who?"

Football may be all but a religion in Texas, but so are regional rivalries. Boasting about how much better one city is than another is a time-honored tradition, and the biggest braggarts of the bunch are Houston and that city east of Fort Worth.

The return of football to Houston, and Sunday's game against Dallas, just ramps up the antipathy - real or fabricated - between the Metroplex and the Petroplex.

"It was kind of a size rivalry at one time," said Francis Abernethy, secretary-editor of publications for the Texas Folklore Society and Stephen F. Austin State University English professor emeritus.

That is until Houston's population outstripped Dallas' in the 1930s. The Bayou City went on to become the fourth largest city in the nation, and biggest in Texas. Dallas is No. 8 on the list behind Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Diego.

Failing to attract more residents, and unable to annex enough communities, Big D changed the rules of the game.

"When Houston outgrew Dallas, Dallas made it (a rivalry) of sophistication," Abernethy said. "Dallas has long been more of a cultural center than Houston; at least, it has affected that pose."

Both cities have all the trappings of sophistication - museums, theaters, operas, art galleries, upscale shopping, fine restaurants and thriving club scenes (though it's been pointed out that Houston has a Yves Saint Laurent boutique and Dallas doesn't).

The difference, Houston admirers say, is that the Bayou City can't be bothered with putting on airs the way they do up in Dallas.

Maybe it's the humidity; it takes the starch out of attitudes and keeps the skin smooth.

Some say it has to do with the distances between the cities and their origins.

Founded in 1836, Houston has always been more free-wheeling and laid back than Dallas. In its early days, the Bayou City was "infamous for drunkenness, dueling, brawling, prostitution and profanity," according to the Handbook of Texas Online. That's typical of a port town. Dallas on the other hand started out as a service center for the rural area surrounding it.

Larry McMurtry calls the rivalry between the cities "quasi-artificial."

"It's not like a war or anything," he said from his Archer City home. "There are partisans of Dallas and partisans of Houston. I have always been partial to Houston; I have never liked Dallas.

"Houston has always invited newcomers; it has a greater ethnic mix, better food, better museums and better architecture," McMurtry said. "It's the one city in Texas that I think has the potential to be a great city."

Dallas is more of an oligarchy to some extent, he said, adding that Houston is the opposite.

"You can do well (in Houston) if you have enough pizazz," McMurtry added.

Houston has the second largest theater district in the United States, the sixth largest museum district and the largest medical center in the world. And people eat out more here.

Dallas has the largest urban arts district in the United States, two I.M. Pei-designed buildings to Houston's one and the first planned upscale shopping center in Highland Park Village.

Houston is a political breeding ground for president. Dallas has nada, zip, bubkes in the commander-in-chief department.

"We are easily identified as the friendliest of the two cities," said Jordy Tollett, president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "At least that's what we hear from people who use both cities."

Greg Elam, a senior vice president with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, didn't dignify Tollett's comments with a reply.

Elam was too busy making fun of Tollett and company for renaming the stretch of Dallas Street that is the new convention-center hotel's address.

"We don't care," Elam said, "but we just hope the good luck the name Dallas has with conventions isn't lost. You need to look around and see if there's a street in Houston named Cowboys and rename that."

Sherry Maysonave, an Austin-based professional communications and image consultant, trainer and author on the subject, said both cities are sophisticated.

But her clients, she said, see people from Dallas as "snootier, arrogant and not as friendly as Houstonians."

"Sometimes that bears out, but there are always exceptions," she said, adding that Houstonians are more friendly in her experience.

. . .

Big city stats

Houston Dallas

High school grad or higher 70.4% 70.4%

Bachelor's degree or higher 27.0% 27.7%

Unemployment labor force (July 2002) 6.1% 7.2%

Median household income $ 36,616 $ 37,628

Median home price $ 79,300 $ 89,800

At 9:32 AM, May 10, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I love it! Thanks for digging it up.


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