Saturday, April 27, 2013

Of Inner Cities and High Density

Amir Omar is doing his best to lose whatever sympathy he gained by being the victim of personal attacks during this election campaign. He's doing that by taking quotes from Laura Maczka out of context and spinning a "vision" for her that people who have paid attention this election campaign would never recognize (and by "people who have paid attention" I mean me.)

Here's the quote from Omar's latest mailer.
We are now an inner city.
Source: Amir Omar mailer.
This quote is all that appears on a full page. Omar is clearly trying to play it up as something huge.

After the jump, my thoughts.

The quote means nothing without context. What did she say before and after those six words? My guess is that this quote was probably a slip of the tongue. Maczka probably meant to say "we are now an inner suburb" or "we are now an inner ring suburb." Even if she was attempting to draw attention to the challenges Richardson faces by comparing them to the challenges faced by "inner cities," she's right that some of the challenges are the same. All cities face the same challenges -- at different times, in different amounts -- whether you are Richardson or Dallas or Plano or Allen.

Besides my distaste for Omar's quoting out of context, I was even more turned off by Omar pledging to "push back against ... unnecessary growth." This is a retreat from pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, transit-oriented development. Either he's merely pandering now to those who think Richardson can return to what life was like in 1950, or he has made a 180 degree turn in his own vision as expressed in his four years of service on Richardson's city council.

On his own blog, Richardson resident David Chenoweth states this retro-argument:
Some people want high density, some people don’t, myself included. Traffic is already bad enough, water is already on short supply and from what the candidates are saying, this time, water rationing is not going to ever go away. High density seems to add to the problems.
He gets it backwards. Higher density doesn't add to the problems. It relieves the problems he cites. The alternative to higher density is sprawl. Sprawl leads to more drivers traveling longer distances, exacerbating traffic problems. All those grass lawns and swimming pools in those single family houses everyone wants suck water from our dwindling water supplies, exacerbating our water shortages. Higher density does not add to these problems. It relieves them.

Whether you like higher density or not, economics is what's driving it. Sure, Frisco is still growing. But as oil prices go up and the costs of maintaining those green lawns and swimming pools go up, there's also a growing demand for housing closer to employment and transportation options. If you don't see Richardson in that sentence, you haven't been paying attention. That growing demand makes land prices in premium locations along US 75 and the President George Bush Turnpike and the DART lines too valuable to develop as single family detached housing. The rising costs of oil and water makes higher density, transit-oriented development more and more attractive whether Richardson residents like it or not. And don't dismiss the rights of those property owners who do like it, namely those who own that ever-appreciating land in those premium locations.

I thought Amir Omar understood all this. Was I wrong? Or is he merely pandering to voters who don't like development? Either way, this is the most disappointing move by Omar in this whole election campaign.

P.S. A cynical explanation of Omar's mailer is that he's trying to change the topic of conversation away from his own personal bankruptcy. What better way to change the conversation than to make a wild charge of his own, like Maczka wants more apartments "near our homeowners and more children feeding into our schools." That last bit is dog whistle politics, a topic that can burn Omar more than help him.

P.P.S. Alert readers will have noticed that my own quote from Omar's mailer was taken out of context and even used ellipses to emphasize the point I wanted to make. Maybe I should say something about sauces and ganders here.


Sassy Texan said...

Unfortunately, Amir did not take it out of context. She who videos the forum is pretty clear on that one.

Here is what she said exactly Mark.


Mark Steger said...

Cheri, Omar did take the quote out of context. Even the few seconds of video you linked to is a snippet taken out of context. What was the question Maczka was answering. What was her full answer? Maczka talks about affordable housing, a term Omar doesn't even use in his attack ad. I'd like to hear more on the topic from both candidates, but in an open discussion, not in political attack ads.

By the way, Cheri, again you didn't sign your full name. Not everyone who reads this blog is on a first name basis with every commenter. Commenting rules require full names. Details are important.

Andy Gross (You are welcome name nazis) said...

At this point who cares.... when I look over a job offer this week I'll be thinking about moving our family to greener pastures. If that happens, out goes another high tech salary and young family.

But hey, lets suck in some lower income people to drive down property values and literacy rates while driving up crime. Sounds like a winner to me Mark.

Mark Steger said...

Reminder: Comments not identified by the poster's full name are subject to deletion.

Andy Gross (You are welcome name nazis) said...

There you go Mark, since you asked nicely with a cherry on top.

Sassy Texan said...

Mark, I did not take it out of context. I was there. I video'd it and what is surprising is you question this when talk in the city has graduated to more and more that is vertical. John Murphy just posted something about Brick Row admitting that has not worked out because they now realize they should have gone taller, like 10-20 stories taller. Major land ownership by a very few Corporations is objectionable to me. Sorry.

With reference to water, I disagree on density having less impact with reference. Sprawl is sprawl whether it is horizontal or vertical. The City of Dallas has sued for water rights all over the state. East and South. There was even a suit a couple of years ago by the City of Irving well into Oklahoma. It will be the next precious commodity next to gold and silver. Groups have been contemplating how to securitize it for the last 10 years that I know of. The lawsuits will determine many of caveats down the road.

I may not agree with all that you write, but I respect your individualism and self thinking. So it surprises me you are voting for Laura. And by that same token Laura surprises on how well she has molded in with the narrow crowd.

Lots of unexpected changes this year!!

Cheri Duncan-Hubert

Mark Steger said...

FRISCO, Texas -- Last winter, daily water usage was 150 gallons per person, but now it's 600 gallons per person. "That's all going out on those lawns," Public Works director Gary Hartwell said.
-- US Water News Online, 2001

Mark Steger said...

Quoting out of context is when a "passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning." Clearly, using six words (or 30 seconds of video) from an hour long forum is removing it from its surrounding matter. There's no debate on that. Whether it distorts its intended meaning is what's at issue. Laura Maczka herself said it does. In an email, her campaign says, "When it comes to apartments, you know that Laura has always said we do not need more apartments near our neighborhoods. Period." So, did she say "inner city"? The answer is yes. Did Omar interpret that in a way that distorts its intended meaning? Maczka says yes. I believe her. If her words were intended the way Omar interprets, Omar should be able to provide more such quotes, from multiple times, places, and sources. He didn't. Instead, he used six words.

dc-tm said...

Mark, the second sentence clarified her meaning of the first sentence, "We are no longer the suburb to the north of Dallas" or something very close to that.

Taken together, it doesn't seem to be taken out of context.

David Chenoweth

Mark Steger said...

Maczka's campaign has written, "When it comes to apartments, you know that Laura has always said we do not need more apartments near our neighborhoods. Period." So, even if you can quote a sentence or two that seems to contradict that, it just means she worded something carelessly, something she didn't mean as it sounded. Be thankful it happened. It caused her to reiterate, in words impossible to misunderstand, her opposition to apartments near neighborhoods.

markmont61 said...

Hey Gang,

Does it even matter to you that she is correct? There is a movement into southern Richardson of minority and lower socioeconomic families seeking a decent alternative to DISD and affordable housing along Spring Valley on both sides of 75. I am not a proponent of Section 8 housing or "the Projects" as they were called when I was a kid, but you need a rational discussion about how to handle that inevitable fact.

I guess we could take the Farmers Branch approach and say no illegal aliens followed by profiling and high enforcement, but I think we are a little better than that.

To attack her or anyone that is honestly speaking the truth is just partisan politics. Oh yeah, everyone is trying to elect a Mayor.

Mark Montgomery

Anonymous said...

Mark M,

You don't have it quite right.

In the single family neighborhoods, there is an increase in "Creative Class" persons (ala Richard Florida's "Rise of the Creative Class") into older homes and in particular the 50s ranch-modern homes on the west side.

While it is true that apartments on W. Spring Valley have been populated by minorities and they have for a few decades now had a lower level of median income, that trend is punctuated by changes that occurred during the economic downturn. What began to happen is that families from other parts of the U.S. seeking jobs have taken residence in rentals be they homes, apartments, duplexes, etc. What we see now in the south is rental occupation by families with college degreed parents who normally might have bought a house and in some cases those are even in apartments on Spring Valley. The housing is already "affordable."

So that "inevitable fact" is a trend that has been occurring for years – decades actually. Further, that "rational conversation" has been going on in these parts for a long time. The reversal of decline in the single family home areas is a result of very heavy lifting on the part of neighborhood groups and the City working as partners. It did not start with this mayoral race and both candidates are well aware of that fact.

Suburban decline (as it is called by researchers and planners) is far more widespread than in the south of Richardson and we in the south have been trying to get folks who live farther north to understand that fact.

Well away from your point is things said by the candidates and Richardson Coalition i.e. "that PAC". Both candidates have mentioned southwest Richardson by name in forums and so it seems both understand the need to implement the plans on the books. We will see how that works out. Yes it is true that Omar is misconstruing what Maczka said and it is true that her exact words do not do well to portray what she really believes. Even so what do we expect when Omar's life events have been misconstrued for political gain by "that PAC" and he feels a need to fight back in a political race? Ugliness is not acceptable to me but ugliness begets ugliness.

That said, having spoken directly to members of "that PAC" I can tell you that attitudes of some of those individuals members of "that PAC" are not aligned with the beliefs of either candidate regarding southwest Richardson. That makes the Richardson Coalition even more of an outlier than they have made of themselves since they decided to put politics above community integrity in this election.

A. Laska

Mark Steger said...

"If the population of a city doubles, gross domestic product more than doubles."
-- Smithsonian Magazine.

There in a nutshell is the economic case for urban density. Urban density increases not because government forces it on us, but because people naturally understand this intuitively and move towards it.

Mark Steger said...

More we can learn about urban growth:

"For a long time, policy makers have assumed it’s a bad thing for cities to keep getting larger. You hear things like, 'Mexico City has grown like a cancer.' A lot of money and effort has been devoted to stemming this, and by and large it has failed miserably. Mexico City is bigger than it was ten years ago. So we think policy makers should worry instead about making those cities more livable. Without glorifying the conditions in these places, we think they’re here to stay and we think they hold opportunities for the people who live there."

-- Smithsonian Magazine