Cowboy Diplomacy

It doesn't rank with Anwar Sadat's journey to Jerusalem, but it's close. The mayor of Dallas and four council members recently visited Fort Worth to ask for advice about reviving their downtown.
July 2002
By Otis White  |  Contributor
President of Civic Strategies Inc.

It doesn't rank with Anwar Sadat's journey to Jerusalem, but it's close. The mayor of Dallas and four council members recently visited Fort Worth to ask for advice about reviving their downtown. "I think it shows that I have no shame," Mayor Laura Miller said. "I'll take advice from wherever I can get it." The cities are only 30 miles apart, but they've been rivals almost from the beginning. Except for the building of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in the 1970s, the two have cooperated on very little, until recently. Now, with the opening of a commuter rail line between the two cities, there's new interest in working together. Even so, this was big news. Miller's host for the bus tour of downtown Fort Worth was Mayor Kenneth Barr, who sounded the regional theme. "The era we are in is an era of recognizing we are partners, we are neighbors and we are going to be neighbors forever," Barr said. "It's important that we build these working relationships." Behind the graciousness, Fort Worth leaders had to be pleased that Dallas came to them for advice. Despite having a thriving downtown and renowned arts district, Fort Worth boosters have long felt that Dallas gets the attention while their city is overlooked. As for its prideful neighbor, Miller said, "It takes some amount of humility for a mayor of Dallas to come over to the little brother and say, 'Hey, teach us. Teach us what you're doing.'"


A number of cities are facing astonishing bills for fixing or expanding their crumbling sewer systems, but the Detroit area tops them all. Detroit and its suburbs may be facing a $52 billion tab (that's billions, not millions) to replace inadequate wastewater systems over the next 20 years. Oakland County alone faces $11 billion worth of sewer work. No one knows how to raise that kind of money, although one county commissioner is calling for the urban equivalent of the Manhattan Project, which built the atom bomb. "Like the Manhattan Project," he says, "this is something that only the federal government could handle." Not likely. The federal judge overseeing the Clean Water Act cases for the Detroit area suggests ratepayers get ready to pony up. "The only way to do this is not taxation," says the judge, "but through the imposition of rates on the users of the system, those who get the water and whose sewage is removed. And if folks want to live 60 or 70 miles out and away from treatment plants, then they should have to pay a little higher rate. That might be a part of the solution to urban sprawl." A glimpse of the scope and size of Detroit's problems: In Auburn Hills, the city is sending crews around to disconnect home drain spouts from city sewers. Each disconnection costs $6,000. Total cost for this city of 17,000, where most homes are not connected to the sewers: $3 million.


Looking to commit the perfect crime? Consider doing it in San Francisco. The San Francisco police department solved only 28 percent of violent crimes between 1996 and 2000, the lowest "clearance rate" among big cities, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In fact, the SFPD doesn't even investigate the vast majority of robberies and serious assaults, the newspaper says. Why? Because the department has chosen to emphasize crime suppression--putting uniformed officers on the street--over detective work, its chief said. But the newspaper reported there were other problems, from lack of accountability to poor human resources policy to lack of equipment (some days, there aren't enough unmarked cars to go around). One indication of the department's lack of interest in detective work: In the past two years, SFPD has paid more in overtime to the police detail guarding Mayor Willie Brown than to detectives investigating all non-fatal assaults, rapes and robberies combined. Others doing a poor job of solving serious crimes were Detroit (29 percent), Phoenix (31 percent) and Baltimore (32 percent), the Chronicle reported. Best cities for detective work: San Diego (64 percent of violent crimes solved), Jacksonville, Florida (54 percent) and Indianapolis (52 percent). SH>The latest bizarre urban trend from California: fake gated communities. Subdivisions in Los Angeles' outer suburbs are installing gatehouses, stone columns and iron gates near their entrances, but they're fakes. There are no security guards, the gates never close, and in some cases, there aren't even working gates. What's going on here? A mixture of snobbery and thrift. By putting up the gatehouses, the subdivisions give the appearance of being gated communities, which adds to their value and may have some effect in discouraging crime. But not having real gates makes the housing cheaper, since homeowners don't have to pay for real security guards. Added bonus: Streets in real gated communities are private roads, meaning homeowners pay for their maintenance. In fake gated communities, the roads remain public --they just look private. How do you defend such phoniness? Residents say the imposing entrances give identity to their subdivisions. In fact, planners in California call them "neighborhood entry identities."