Carolyn Barta is professor of practice
in the Journalism Division. She covered
Mayor Jonsson and Dallas City Hall as a
reporter for The Dallas Morning News.
“Dream no small dreams.”
That was the charge given to Dallas citizens 50 years ago by the city’s visionary mayor, J. Erik Jonsson, as he launched the inclusive program, Goals for Dallas, to map out the city’s future.
What kind of city did Dallas want to be? It was only two months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when Dallas had become known as the “city of hate,” that Jonsson became mayor. He set about trying to bring change to a parochial, often intolerant and insular community virtually run by business interests.
Twenty-six community leaders answered his call to establish the citizen-based Goals program that would cut across economic, racial and geographic lines. Then, more than 100,000 residents attended neighborhood meetings to develop dozens of goals in areas ranging from education to transportation to public safety.
Some of the major accomplishments that resulted included DFW Airport, the I.M. Pei-designed City Hall, a new downtown library (named after Jonsson), air conditioned public schools, today’s University of Texas at Dallas, the beginning of the Arts District, more neighborhood parks, and eventually the creation of DART.
But the results weren’t just physical. Goals for Dallas was the first major effort by local leaders to encourage a broader participation by a diverse population in the destiny of Dallas.
SMU’s Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility honored the legacy of Jonsson, the late co-founder, president and board chairman of Texas Instruments and far-sighted mayor, at its Ethics and Public Responsibility luncheon Thursday in Umphrey Lee.
In attendance were three generations of leaders: some who were around in the Jonsson days, others who have leadership positions today, and student leaders who will pick up the mantle of public responsibility in the future.
Every table included at least one student leader seated among local luminaries, ranging from Dallas School Supt. Mike Miles to community stalwart Roger Staubach, to local leaders involved in the university. The idea was to re-create the sense of community and foster the diverse dialogue begun in Goals for Dallas.
Mayor Mike Rawlings shared his own goals with those attending – fewer than those in the original Goals program but ones that could be as far-reaching. What’s on Rawlings’ bucket list of priorities?
- Dallas would have a tax base in Southern Dallas greater than in Northern Dallas. Today, 50 percent of city’s land is south of the Trinity but only 15 percent of the tax base. That must change. New bridges, bike trails along the Trinity, a new golf course and a trail system in the urban forest are in the works to help stimulate growth in the southern sector.
- Dallas would become the business epicenter for the western hemisphere. Today, the metroplex is the fourth largest SMSA, behind New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. In the last two years, 20 new international routes have been added at DFW. The number and diversity of new immigrants is remarkable. Dallas has to think international.
- Dallas would be a place where great artists of the world would have to perform. The city already has a great start with the attractive venues in the Arts District, but it also still has financial challenges.
- Dallas would have the best public education system of any top 10 city, beginning with pre-kindergarten and going through community colleges that prepare students for jobs. Today, the Dallas Independent School District, with 160,000 students, includes 90 percent on free or reduced cost lunch and produces less than 10 percent ready for college.
Much needs to be done. While Dallas has its share of billionaires, 39 percent of the population are asset poor. Rawlings sees a role for churches and the faith-based community, among others. The Maguire Center sees a role for up-and-coming leaders, such as those attending and graduating from SMU.
What about you? Are you going to be engaged in your community? Committed to volunteer work? To giving back? To carrying out the dreams of the present mayor? To setting new goals?
Jonsson said a city is not measured by the height of its buildings or the money in its banks, but by the character and determination of its people.
World changers are shaped here. Dream no small dreams.