Monday, December 4, 2023

How Parks are Named in Dallas

Source: DMN
Proposed Trinity River Park

Recently, the Richardson City Council got into what passes for a contentious exchange over the question of naming parks (or, at least, naming of bridges in parks). What it boils down to is that the lack of any policies in Richardson results in naming by whim — i.e., when someone on City Council gets a notion to name something after someone, and just mentions it at a Council meeting, and others on the Council agree it's a good idea, it happens. Just like that. I called it government by whim.

Our big neighbor to the south has a different practice.

It's still government by whim, of a sort. They name things after whoever gives the most money to the City. The latest case in point is the planned name for the future Trinity River Park. Mark Lamster of The Dallas Morning News has the story:

The imbalance [between members of the Trinity River Conservancy and members of the local neighborhood] is underscored by the proposed name of the park, secured by the family of Harold Simmons for a donation of $50 million. Simmons, who died in 2013, was a Dallas-based financier and philanthropist who built an empire beginning with a single drugstore. He was also fined repeatedly for violating election laws by exceeding donation limits. In 2009, a Dallas jury awarded a judgment of more than $178 million to plaintiffs in a case driven by the environmental record of Simmons-controlled companies.

Any individual with a demonstrable record of violating both democratic norms and environmental standards should to my mind be disqualified as the namesake of a public park — no matter how generous the donation.

I agree with Mark Lamster. But it's naive for anyone to think City Halls work that way. My guess, and it's just a guess, is that if Dallas had to draft a policy about park naming with public input, naming things after people "with a demonstrable record of violating both democratic norms and environmental standards" probably would be prohibited. And if the public were asked to vote on a name, even without such a policy, such names would never come out on top. That might keep Harold Simmons's money from funding City projects. Which, of course, is a reason why government by whim will remain with us for a very long time.

P.S. Also, see "greenwashing".

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