Monday, November 30, 2009

The End of Fall

As a transplanted northerner, I have mixed feelings about winter here in Texas. Many times, the weather is glorious but I miss the snow—or at least the idea of snow—and cold. This year November has been more beautiful than I can ever remember, with clear pleasant days and crisp evenings. It is as if we are being rewarded for suffering through the wettest October in memory. Only the shortness of the days reminds me that we are indeed approaching the winter equinox.

I feel as though I have cheated somehow. By now I should be suffering in the cold and shoveling snow off the driveway. For a Midwesterner, it seems more than I deserve, which makes me feel almost guilty about enjoying the weather. Only the fact that the squirrels ate my winter garden makes me feel that I’m not cheating nature too badly.

We do pay in part for the nice weather in the loss of fall color. Texas fall scenery is pleasant, but lacks the brilliancy of the leaves turning in the north.

The oaks, especially, don’t turn bright red but instead some mixture of red and green that I would call mahogany and the color remains for many weeks.

Bradford pears, an ornamental that don’t produce fruit, for most of the year are an unassuming tree with little to recommend them, but twice each year, in the spring and in the fall, they are transformed, first by flowers and then by color.

The yellow of cedar elms contrasts well with the predominant reds and browns of Texas fall foliage. I only wish we had the aspens of the mountain west, which are brighter yet.

Finally, hackberries, usually regarded as a trash tree around Dallas, have leaves that turn yellow brown and contrast well with their distinctive mottled gray bark.

As November ends and December begins, we will lose the last of our fall color even here in Dallas and it’s likely that we will have enough cold so that I can feel at least a touch of the Midwestern virtue in surviving it. In little more than three weeks, however, the days will start to grow longer and by February it will be time to start gardening.

The shortness of the winter is all to the good, in my opinion, although the length of the gardening season is too long for me. At least a couple of weeks of cold and snow—fresh snow makes even the yard of the worst garden look perfect—would make a nice break from sunny days and my yard would be the equal of any here in town, if only for a day.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

There’s No Place Like Home


OK, well, I haven’t been to Oz during Thanksgiving break, only to East Texas, but really, there is no place like home. I love to visit my hometown of Tyler, and more especially, I love for my kids to have time with their grandparents. We got to enjoy so many things with my parents – a huge Thanksgiving feast, some Christmas shopping, playing miniature golf, taking the kids skating for the first time, and celebrating my father’s 74th birthday.

But, somehow, I can never wait to get home. There is just something about the familiarity of my neighborhood, the smell of my house, and the comfort of my own bed! It is impossible for me to imagine what it would be like to be without a home. Tonight, I say a special prayer for all who are homeless, because there is no place like home.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who Is Left Out?

Tenant interviews for CityWalk have been underway for some time now, and our management company, Pinnacle, is now taking and reviewing lease applications. I’ve been a little surprised at some of the people who are barred by the rules on past criminal acts that we adopted.

First, let me explain how we arrived at those rules. Almost 18 months ago we put together an advisory council of our downtown neighbors. The advisory council included representatives of the YMCA, Fountain Place, First Baptist, and Star Parking, among others. All of those entities are located within two blocks of CityWalk, and we wanted them to be comfortable with our residents. The advisory committee spent several months putting together detailed rules on who would be prohibited from living at CityWalk. The committee took its work seriously and when I reviewed the final draft of the rules, the rules seemed both fair and wise to me.

I’m not going to set all the rules about past criminal problems out here (the rules are somewhat long and legalistic), but in short the rules prohibit anyone from living in the building if:

1. The person has a conviction for sexual crimes or crimes of violence at any time in the past;

2. The person has a felony conviction of any type within the last 10 years; or

3. The person has a continuing pattern of criminal activity, either felonies or misdemeanors.

The idea was to keep out people with really bad criminal histories (sexual or violent), serious recent crimes (felonies in the last 10 years), and people whose problems looked like they were still ongoing. On the other hand, we wanted to make it possible for people who looked like they have turned their life around and wouldn’t be likely to cause a problem to live at CityWalk.

I think the rules are working for the first part of our plan, but maybe not for the second part of it. Two recent applications that we denied (and had to under the rules) make me wonder.

First, we denied the application to lease of someone who had a very serious crime of violence in their past—38 years ago! I don’t know whether this person would have been a good tenant or not, but they didn’t have any further criminal issues for the past 38 years and I’m not aware of any other problems that would have disqualified them from a lease.

I take the safety of our tenants and neighbors very seriously (after all, I will be a neighbor), but 38 years is a long time. It makes me wonder whether there shouldn’t be some length of time after which good behavior outweighs a past misdeed, even a serious misdeed.

The second case was an application with several less serious felonies, all more than a decade old, none of which on first look seemed to be crimes of violence—and certainly weren’t sexual crimes of any sort. Unfortunately, when you looked at the definition of a crime of violence that we were using, one of the decade old felonies qualified as a crime of violence, even though nobody was hurt in its commission.

I talked to this person long enough to be convinced that they would have been a very fine tenant. I would be not just content, but pleased to live in the same building with them. Under the rules under which we are operating, however, the application to lease was denied.

We want to be careful at CityWalk. To some extent the approval of future permanent supportive housing developments will rest on its success. As I know from my time practicing law, it’s very hard to apply objective rules to human behavior and end up with results that seem fair. That’s the problem we’re running into. I still think the rules we worked out with the advisory committee are as good as we could do. I just wish, sometimes, that I didn’t have to enforce them.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Medicine Cabinets

Details obsess us. When we first started building CityWalk, we didn’t have enough money in the budget to put in a nice medicine cabinet over the bathroom sink. That left us with two choices: a mirror (a decent mirror is very cheap); or a substandard medicine cabinet. I didn’t like either choice. So we pulled the entire item out of the construction budget and left it as an owner-supplied item.

Medicine cabinets became one more item that we had to raise money for, which we did successfully. The picture is of a nice, well-built medicine cabinet installed in one of our units. Anyway, this past weekend, we installed the first of the 211 medicine cabinets that we need for the building. We had hoped to install 39 medicine cabinets, all that we could buy locally, but two were broken and will have to be replaced, so only 37 went in Saturday.

A shipment is coming in from out-of-town this Wednesday, so on this coming weekend we can start on the rest of the medicine cabinets.

A medicine cabinet is a small item, but it’s important. I’m glad we didn’t settle for a mirror or a poorly built medicine cabinet. Every detail is important.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Thankful Not to be Homeless

I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, my family, my wife, friends and worthwhile work to do, but especially I am thankful not to be homeless.

I am thankful not to be pushing all my worldly goods down a Dallas street in a baby buggy, worried about cold and rain, theft and robbery.

I am thankful to have a warm, safe and sheltered place to sleep tonight and enough food to eat, not just today, because it’s Thanksgiving, but tomorrow and the following days as well.

I have never been homeless (Read this story from last year from someone that has been homeless, if you’d like to know better how it feels:, but I’ve been close enough to those that are homeless so that I think often about how homelessness must feel. Close enough to homelessness to know that I am so very, very thankful not to be without a home.

If you have a home, be thankful for it as well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks


Today, we have so many things to be thankful for here at Central Dallas CDC.

First of all, the guy showed up from the company that owns our copier/printer/scanner/fax machine that has been on the blink since late last week. Believe you me, we are so thankful that he showed up today.

We are thankful for our new team members, Naquanna and Kevin – they are our community outreach specialists for the citywalk@akard development. Speaking of which, we are very thankful for the lovely team of folks from Pinnacle, our property management company, that has been in our offices for the past several weeks working through the application process with the future tenants of citywalk@akard.

And lastly, we are incredibly thankful that the citywalk@akard project has come to fruition and will be ready for occupancy any day now. It has been a long, hard, road – we put the building under contract in December of 2005 –and the completion of this project is truly something to celebrate. We are thankful for this opportunity to build a new community in the heart of our city, and we are thankful that we will be able to office there in the building alongside many of our community partners and the residents of the building.

I really could go on and on for a long time because non-profit work and community development work brings so many situations and people our way – we are never short on things to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Central Dallas CDC Staff

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Hoist Comes Down

Today, after more than a year of operation, the hoist on the outside of CityWalk finally came down. Once again, we had an enormous crane on site, as you can see from the pictures.

This is a big sign of progress. It means the elevators are running and we no longer need to ride up the hoist on the outside of the building to get to the upper stories, a ride I’ve made dozens of times. I’m not scared of heights, so it’s never bothered me, but some of the people visiting the building were frightened half to death. One big donor even decided they didn’t want to tour CityWalk until they could ride up on the inside of the building.

Taking the hoist down is necessary so we can close up CityWalk. Until today we’ve been entering and exiting the building through an opening that will shortly be windows. Now we’ll install the windows so the building can be made weather tight.

Still, I’ll miss riding up the outside of the building with Brian Jordan, the Key employee who’s been running the hoist since August 2008. You get a great view of the city—it was the best amusement ride this side of Six Flags.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Design Team Selected for Re:Vision Dallas

One perk of having our own blog is that we can release any news we make here first. So here’s the early version of our press release on the latest progress on the Re:Vision Dallas project (it may change before it’s released on Monday, November 23, 2009—which is also my 26th Anniversary—Happy Anniversary, Rebecca!). Still, if you are reading this early in the morning, then you will be one of the first to get the news, because we’ve got this scoop!

November 23, 2009

For Immediate Release
Central Dallas Community Development Corporation
Re:Vision Dallas

Central Dallas Community Development Corporation (Central Dallas CDC) announced today that it has selected the architectural firms MOOV and Atelier Data as the design architects for the Re:Vision Dallas project, which will turn a parking lot immediately south of Dallas City Hall into the first truly sustainable city block in the world. MOOV and Atelier Data, both located in Lisbon, Portugal, jointly submitted the Forwarding Dallas proposal that was named one of the three winners of the Re:Vision Dallas international design competition last May.

The initial planning for the competition took place between September and December 2008. The design charrette that was sponsored by The City of Dallas and funded by Enterprise, was held December 5, 2008. The design competition opened January 26, 2009 and closed May 6, 2009.

In May, representatives from Central Dallas CDC and bcWORKSHOP met with a jury of panelists who selected 3 winners and awarded 3 honorable mentions. During the months since, we have worked with a cadre of pro-bono executives provided by The Real Estate Council Foundation who have done extensive work on the proposed designs, including site analysis, creation of trial pro formas, engineering and architectural reviews, and estimates of construction costs for all three of the winning designs. During the first two weeks of November, we hosted each of the 3 winning firms here in Dallas for additional discussion.

John Greenan, Executive Director for Central Dallas CDC said, “All three of the design teams impressed us, both with the quality of their designs and in the interviews. Dallas would be a richer city to have the work of any of these architects represented, but as we went further into our review, we began to see the deep logic of the MOOV-Atelier Data design, Forwarding Dallas. Forwarding Dallas seemed to us to do the best job of incorporating concepts of sustainability into the foundation of the design. When we met Antonio Louro and Filipe Vogt, the principals of MOOV and Atelier Data, their passion for quality design and sustainable principles was unmistakable. Any concerns we had about working with architects based in Lisbon, Portugal were satisfied by Antonio’s and Filipe’s clear desire to work in a collaborative manner in bringing the project to completion. In the end, the choice was difficult only because of the quality of the winners of the Re:Vision Dallas competition.”

When asked about the overall impact of the project, John Greenan, Executive Director for Central Dallas CDC said, “The greatest economic impact will come from rebuilding a long neglected part of downtown. There are probably an additional half dozen underutilized blocks in the area of the project, and once we prove up the viability of rebuilding the south central part of Downtown Dallas, I think all those blocks will also be revitalized. What I would love to see is an entire section of downtown notable for innovative, sustainable design--an attraction in the southern part of downtown balancing the Arts District in the northern part of downtown. There are already some interesting, green projects in The Cedars immediately to the south of downtown. A sustainable district that extends from downtown all the way into The Cedars neighborhood is a very reasonable possibility.”

The Re:Vision Dallas neighborhood is remarkable, primarily for the absence of nongovernmental entities in the immediate neighborhood. The property immediately north and west of the proposed site (1502 Canton) belongs to the City of Dallas (City Hall and the Convention Center, respectively).

Central Dallas CDC has also directly contacted most of the owners of the few occupied properties within 1,000 feet of the redevelopment site, and two of the major land owners, Dan Millett (Millett Printing) and Larry and Ted Hamilton (owners of the Plaza Hotel) are enthusiastic supporters. Leaders and members of the DOWNTOWNDallas organization also attended the charette for the project and are supporters. Central Dallas CDC has also discussed this project with the Downtown Dallas Residents Association, and we believe that the Downtown Dallas Residents Association will support the project. Finally, most of the surrounding area is vacant, and discussions with owners and brokers suggest that the potential increase in land values will attract the support of the owners of those properties.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Once you reach a certain position, and it doesn’t have to be very high, suddenly you are in enormous demand to go to meetings. As far as I can tell, the goal is to take anybody who achieves something worthwhile and immediately fill every minute of his or her day with meetings so that that person can no longer do anything useful.

Larry James, CEO/President of Central Dallas Ministries, is one of the worst afflicted people I know—his days are entirely filled with meetings. Now part of that is his fault. He is generous to a fault and will meet with just about anybody about just about anything, and he is so warm and generous that everyone wants to meet with him.

My wife, who is also warm and generous, has the same problem. Both Larry and my wife try to compensate for the time they lose in meetings by working longer and longer hours, but it’s a losing game. Meetings are infinite in number while there are only 24 hours in a day (except for the change from daylight savings to standard time when you get an extra hour).

Until recently I’ve managed to avoid the worst of the plague of meetings. I’m the highest executive officer of Central Dallas CDC, so I don’t really have a boss who can call meetings, and I don’t call any for my staff. After all, we all work in one big room and listen to everything anybody else says. Why would we need to meet and what would we need to talk about?

I’ve developed other protective practices. One is a highly cultivated reputation for disliking meetings. It discourages the timid. I avoid joining trade and professional organizations—most of them are too inclined to hold meetings. I keep a handwritten calendar. There’s no way to schedule me for a meeting without my knowledge.

But in spite of all these efforts (and some other, secret methods that I can’t reveal even to the readers of this blog), I’m losing the battle. I’m currently averaging almost five meetings per day. At an hour each, and if you allow half an hour between meetings for travel, that means I’m spending almost seven out of eight hours of each day doing meetings. By the time you’ve checked your email and voicemail, eight hours have passed and you haven’t got to your real work. Earlier this week someone suggested that I should hire an assistant, because it was getting too hard to schedule meetings with me—I had to resist telling them that was all to the good!

One of my heroes is Lieutenant General William Pagonis.

He was the director of logistics for the Gulf War, and was known for his efficiency. He was famous for removing all the chairs in the room, except his, before holding meetings. With everyone else standing up, the meetings were short and to the point. No time was wasted. Now that’s a real War Hero!

The problem with meetings isn’t that they’re useless. In fact they are necessary much of the time. The problem is that they crowd out all other work. You schedule meetings. You prepare for meetings. You travel to meetings. You attend meetings, and then you write minutes so you can remember what was said in the meeting. And the day is done and all you have done is meetings.

There is no time to think, study, write or research-let alone address any of the action items your meetings have undoubtedly produced. There is only time to talk. I think that’s why so many organizations and so many people do one piece of significant work and nothing else important—their life has been sucked away in meetings.

If we could just reduce the number of meetings then I’m convinced we could fix the economy, find a cure for cancer, eliminate poverty and finally invent the flying cars I’ve been waiting for all my life (ever since I saw them in an old issue of Popular Mechanics). Right now, at this very instant, I’m sure some brilliant doctor is NOT inventing a cure for the swine flu because, instead, he is in a staff meeting.

I am convinced that when the sun is a burnt-out black cylinder and the human race has long vanished that only two things will survive: Meetings and cockroaches. It’s a chilling vision.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Karate Kid


It was bound to happen – if I am going to blog very often, you are surely going to hear about my kids. Having two small children (ages 6 and 4), it’s hard not to talk, or blog, about them – they consume so much of my time and energy. My oldest child, Jacob, has been asking, no, begging, to take karate lessons for two years. During that time, he has been active in other sports – baseball, golf, and soccer. And did I mention that he is pretty much active all the time, even when he is doing nothing –typical 6-year old boy, right?

Well, fall baseball season ended recently, and my husband and I decided that Jacob was probably ready for karate. ONE LESSON, and my little guy is hooked! He did such a great job listening, paying attention, cooperating, and doing exactly as he was asked – not typical 6-year old boy fashion, at least not typical for my boy at any age. It was really amazing to watch.

When we got ready to leave he said, “Mommy, can you believe it? My very first lesson and I already earned my white belt!” Now I don’t know much about karate, but I think all he had to do was show up and participate to earn the white belt. SHHHHHH, don’t tell Jacob. So none of this is really very interesting – I am sure millions of other parents have had similar experiences. Of course, for me, it was crazy special to see him so happy and doing so well in this new sport. But the other interesting thing about it is that the fundamentals of karate, and other martial arts, I’m guessing, are the notions of self-control, discipline, and respect for others.

These are things that we have been working to teach Jacob since he started walking, and believe me, it has not been easy, and we have not been terribly successful. Maturity has definitely helped, but Jacob is one of those kids that professionals call “spirited”. In other words, he is extremely energetic with an energy supply that seems to be limitless, he is very impulsive, and not always particularly aware of how his actions affect others. Don’t get me wrong, he is an incredibly sensitive and loving child, but just a little over the top with energy and very short on patience.

But, “Karate ,” he says, “is the best thing in the whole world. I love it more than anything else, Mommy, even more than baseball and golf.” Only time will tell if this enthusiasm will hold up as more and more discipline and hard work are required to advance his karate skills, but for right now, I have my very own karate kid.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Permanent Supportive Housing


Every business sector has its own lingo or jargon, and in my world, the term Permanent Supportive Housing, or PSH, shows up a lot. In fact, I spent the better part of today in a training session designed by the Corporation for Supportive Housing ( specifically for organizations developing PSH. The Corporation for Supportive Housing, or CSH, is a national organization that helps communities create permanent housing with services to prevent and end homelessness.

It was a great training – I learned a lot and met leaders from other community development corporations and community service providers, as well as folks from Dallas City Hall. It is always reassuring to me to sit in a room with a group of people from different sectors who all share a common goal – in this case, developing and providing services for Permanent Supportive Housing.

Permanent Supportive Housing is defined by the Corporation for Supportive Housing as housing units that have the following elements:

• The unit is available to, and intended for, a person or family whose head of household is homeless, or at-risk of homelessness, and has multiple barriers to employment and housing stability, which might include mental illness, chemical dependency, and/or other disabling or chronic health conditions;

• The tenant household ideally pays no more than 30% household income towards rent and utilities, and never pays more than 50% of income toward such housing expenses;

• The tenant household has a lease (or similar form of occupancy agreement) with no limits on length of tenancy, as long as the terms and conditions of the lease or agreement are met;

• The unit’s operations are managed through an effective partnership among representatives of the project owner and/or sponsor, the property management agent, the supportive services providers, the relevant public agencies, and the tenants;

• All members of the tenant household have easy, facilitated access to a flexible and comprehensive array of supportive services designed to assist the tenants to achieve and sustain housing stability.

• Service providers proactively seek to engage tenants in on-site and community-based supportive services, but participation in such supportive services is not a condition of ongoing tenancy.

• Service and property management strategies include effective, coordinated approaches for addressing issues resulting from substance use, relapse, and mental health crises, with a focus on fostering housing stability.

Short story long, this definition is our model for the PSH units that will come on-line next month in the citywalk@akard development and it will continue to serve as our model for future developments. It is a proven model, and we are thankful to have partners like CSH informing our work.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Housekeeping Note

If you read CityWalkTalk regularly, then you may have noticed that over the last week or so a few blogs have begun to appear under the by-lines of Lori Beth Lemmon and Naquanna Comeaux. There are a couple of reasons why you’ll start seeing more blogs here that are written by someone other than me.

First, both Lori Beth and Naquanna write well and have something to say. I think you’ll enjoy their pieces. Lori Beth is our Marketing Director and Naquanna is our Community Outreach Representative here at Central Dallas CDC. It was never my intent to write this blog by myself every day. I think reading diverse opinions is interesting, and once CityWalk is open I hope that we’ll have entries from a whole variety of sources—from the people living and working in the building, from our neighbors and from other people interested in urban living, ending homelessness and the variety of other topics that need discussing when you build a “vertical village” (as good friend Larry James has begun calling it) in the middle of Downtown Dallas. I am much more interested in being part of a community than I am in promoting my own thoughts.

CityWalk isn’t complete yet (although it’s very close) so we haven’t had a community to engage. For that reason, my writing almost the entire blog has been more a necessity than a choice. It’s my way of updating people who are interested in our work and, when I can’t think of anything about our work to write about, at least trying to say something a few people will find interesting or thought provoking.

Second, and more practically, although I enjoy writing CityWalkTalk, the time it takes to write these blogs each day can become a burden. It almost always takes me at least an hour to write a blog entry, and sometimes much longer. I can’t let keeping the blog up to date interfere with my real work of trying to house the homeless and help redevelop the parts of our fair city that need redevelopment. So expect several times each week, at least, to see someone else writing CityWalkTalk.

Just to be clear, when someone else writes the blog then the entry will appear under their name. When there is no by-line, then it’s me again. And, no matter what, I remain responsible for the content of CityWalkTalk, so if you have a complaint, then contact me.

Finally, for those of you (both of you!) who enjoy my random ruminations on life, food and canoeing (as if I saw any difference between them), please don’t worry because those essays will still appear pretty often. For the most part, however, I’m going to try to restrict entries that aren’t about our work in one way or another to the weekends, when we all should take a little break from the workaday world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Corruption Index

Here’s the link to a recently released index of the degree of corruption in countries around the world:
The worst countries aren’t much of a surprise—Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan, Iraq. The countries at the top aren’t all that surprising either—New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland. The neighborhood around the United States, which came in 19th is interesting:

United Kingdom
United States
St. Lucia

I guess English speaking countries are a little more corrupt than most Western democracies (Ireland, UK, USA), German speaking countries a little less corrupt (Germany, Austria) and French speaking countries are a little more corrupt (Belgium, France). Japan is pretty westernized, so it makes sense in this group.

The countries in the group after the United States seems unusual. Qatar is a small, rich oil-sheikdom, while Barbados and St. Lucia are Caribbean Islands. I can’t say that I’ve ever thought much about either Barbados or St. Lucia. I don’t care much for the beach, so I’ve never been on a Caribbean vacation. Barbados is the third most developed country in the Western hemisphere.

It’s now independent after several centuries as an English colony. You can’t complain about the beaches.

St. Lucia shares some of Barbados’s history. Its ownership was disputed between France and England for 200 years, but in the early 19th century the English established control and held on to St. Lucia until it became independent.

Even though Barbados and St. Lucia are both in the Lesser Antilles chain and not all that far apart from one another, their geography is quite different. While Barbados is pretty flat, with a maximum elevation only a little over 1,000 feet, St. Lucia is volcanic and mountainous.

In both countries the official language is English, but in Barbados most of the population speaks an English dialect while in St. Lucia most of the population speaks a French dialect. Both countries are Christian, with Barbados mostly Anglican and St. Lucia mostly Roman Catholic. In both countries the great majority of the population is of African descent.

I tried to check out the crime rates in both countries, but they are so small that they don’t appear in most of compiled lists.

Anyway, from what I could see it looks like these small island countries are doing reasonably well, especially compared to some of the Caribbean countries like Haiti and Jamaica that often make the news here in the United States.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How Tall Is Too Tall?

If you’re a basketball player, then taller is better.

Even for a football player, tall is good. Look at former Cowboys star Ed “Too Tall” Jones.

Then there is the new kick blocking sensation at Southern Methodist University, Margus Hunt. He’s a world class shot putter and discus thrower and at 6’8” even without any football experience, he’s become an important part of SMU’s first winning record in quite a few years.

Some things, however, can be too tall, and one of them is a canopy. Take the new canopies that will shelter people entering CityWalk@Akard. When the steel for the canopies was first erected, it looked very tall—in fact it was over 16 feet high. That was puzzlingly high because it wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective at keeping the rain off people if it was that high. The equivalent would be holding an umbrella at full arm’s length above your head. If there were any wind, then the rain would just blow onto you under the umbrella.

One day last week I noticed the steel framework for the canopy had been taken down. Then the next day I noticed that it had been put back up.

It turns out that a subcontractor had misread the drawings and built the canopy 16’ high rather than the 11’ high that they were supposed to be. The steel had been cut to the proper length and the canopies put back up.

Now I can quit wondering why the canopies were so high.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crowned Gold

As we get closer and closer to opening CityWalk, more and more tasks become our responsibility, not that of the architect or construction manager. Last week I had to pick flowers for the massed beds on the corner of San Jacinto and Akard in the parking lot for CityWalk.

I had to think about it for a moment. Even down here in Texas, there aren’t a lot of flowers that will hold up reliably through the winter weather. Chrysanthemums are lovely, but they’re a fall flower and, if planted now, might last no longer than the end of the year—at which point we’d still have to replant for the rest of the winter.

Another popular choice is flowering kale. It’s reliably hardy and adds significant color to a garden, but for reasons I don’t quite know, it’s never especially appealed to me:

Maybe it just seems too much like growing cabbage in your flower garden.

Cyclamen are lovely, but planting enough of them to make a show is awfully expensive.

Dianthus are also awfully nice, but they’re a perennial and these are beds we want to change out seasonally so that we can have color all year long.

Violas are very nice.

But in the end I decided to go with the most popular of all winter flowers here in North Texas, pansies. Pansies are relatively cheap and, in spite of the name, tough flowers that can survive the cold and hold up well until it’s time to replace them with spring flowers.

Old-fashioned pansies with their cute faces are a pleasant flower.

I think they don’t show well as a massed bed, however. When seen from a distance (like from a car driving down Akard or San Jacinto) the colors seem muddled and they don’t make the statement that I want.

New pansy varieties are available that are one pure color, and I think they work much more effectively in large beds. You can find them in purple, lavender, orange and other colors, but I knew immediately that for winter I wanted yellow. When the days get damp and the light gets low, then I think a yellow flower is very cheerful. It reminds you of summer days and sunflowers. It’s a promise that summer will come again. So I chose yellow pansies.

The variety is Crowned Gold and if the landscaper wants to keep our business, then he or she better hope it’s in stock, because my mind is set on these beautiful flowers.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Flood

Last weekend we had a flood at CityWalk. Not one to rival Noah or anything like that, but an irritating minor setback. A faucet on the bathroom sink in one of the units on the seventh floor burst and the water ran down the building, ruining the drywall in two units on the seventh floor—the pictures are of those units stripped down to the studs so we can put new drywell up—two bathrooms on the sixth floor, an electric bus duct and some other minor damage.

Minor damage, but the total cost will approach $200,000. Fortunately Stinson Plumbing, the faucet manufacturer and their insurance companies are working hard to correct the problem and we won’t be out of pocket for any of that money. It’s awfully good to work with people that do the right thing.

As far as anyone can tell, the faucet was installed correctly, not damaged or even bumped (the failure took place over the weekend when nobody was working in the building—a mixed blessing since that also meant that the water ran until 6:00 a.m. Monday when the first worker came in the building) and simply failed when operating under nine pounds per square inch of water pressure. That’s only one sixth of normal water pressure. We still hadn’t ramped up full water pressure in the building.

The failure was highly unusual, and it made the manufacturer nervous enough that he’s insisted on replacing all the fittings in all 200 units, at his cost, just to make sure we don’t have a repeat.

The biggest loss was the electric bus duct. It’s a made to order item and by working around the clock the factory expects to deliver a replacement to us on November 19. Until that happens we won’t have power in the apartment units, so rather than receiving possession of the first units on November 23, as we expected, we won’t get our first units available for occupancy until December 7, 2009. We still should get a permit to occupy the first three commercial floors (different power system) on the 23rd and when we finally do get apartment units, we should get a lot more—maybe through the 12th or 13th floor.

These aren’t identical to our bus ducts, but it gives you an idea of what they look like. They are a main connector in high powered electrical systems (you can read more here: One certain fact about them is that they can’t get wet. Water gets into the insulation and then when you fire them up you have a big problem.

So it wasn’t good news, but it wasn’t a disaster either. By the time I knew about the problem on Monday afternoon, Key Construction, our construction manager, and Stinson Plumbing, our plumbing subcontractor, had already done everything possible to mitigate the problem. Even a flood shouldn’t keep us from opening in December.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Creating a lasting legacy


As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, many of us will begin to reflect on what we are most grateful for. Usually this includes family, friends and good health.

But when was the last time you were thankful for having your own bed to sleep in, your own shower to wash up in or your own kitchen to cook in? What we take for granted on most days is a dream for many residents who are preparing to move into CityWalk at Akard.

Of CityWalk’s 200 units, 142 are studios. All of the studios, 50 of which are reserved for formerly homeless individuals, will be furnished with a twin bed, two chairs and a bistro table, a nightstand and an armoire.

A mockup of our CityWalk studio was displayed at the Justice Revival Dallas event this past Thursday. Lori Beth Lemmon, Central Dallas CDC’s director of marketing, and Kevin Flagg, our community outreach assistant, spent the first half of the day assembling our CityWalk exhibit area, which created a lot of excitement among the Justice Revival crowd.

Johnice Woods, CDCDC project development coordinator, Kevin and I spoke with tons of people who stopped by to admire the setup and to talk about CityWalk’s progress. Everyone wanted to know how they could help.

A major need right now is having the bedroom/living, kitchen and bathroom areas of each studio furnished with all the basic necessities from dinnerware to bedding to bath towels. We’ve compiled a list of the items that can be purchased as a package for $750 and includes the following:

CityWalk Home Package

Bed-in-a-bag, 2-pack pillows, Jersey sheet set, 12-pk hangers, underbed storage boxes, clock radio, desk lamp, picture frame, iron, ironing board

9-pc cookware set, 20-pc dining set, tumbler set of 4, silverware tray, produce savers, can opener, kitchen towel set, dish drainer, wastebasket, broom/dust pan set, potted grass plant

Shower curtain/liner and curtain rings, 6-pc towel set, bath rug, 3-pc bathroom set, tub mat, hamper, wastebasket, first aid kit

A great way to create a lasting legacy is to purchase a CityWalk Home Package in honor of your family, church or organization. To make a donation, go to and click on “DONATE” or contact me at the Central Dallas CDC office at 214.573.2570.

The move-in date for our residents is fast approaching, so we’re hoping you will make your donation soon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Like Glass

I’m sure you’ve seen water like glass.

Some days there is no wind and not even a whisper of a ripple on the water. Each morning for the last two weeks when I’ve crossed the Mockingbird Bridge over White Rock Lake on my way to work, the water has been like glass.

The view down the lake has been spectacular with the last of the fall colors. The weather has been crisp and cool, in the fifties early in the morning and warming up to the seventies by afternoon. That’s perfect fall weather.

It was on a day like this that I really fell in love with canoeing. My brother and were on the last night of a week long canoe trip on Isle Royale. It’s an island in the middle of Lake Michigan and may be the least visited of our National Parks. It’s a half day boat ride from Houghton, Michigan, which is a long drive from almost anywhere.

In any event, the water was like glass, the moon was bright and after a week long trip in the canoe, carrying all our camping gear, we unloaded the canoe and took it for a night paddle. Skimming over the perfectly smooth water felt like flying and I’ve loved canoeing ever since that evening.

But, as I was saying before I wondered off into another story, every single morning for the last two weeks White Rock Lake has been like glass and I’ve looked at it and said to myself, “I should be canoeing." Every single morning I’ve driven straight on to work and not returned home until it was long dark. With CityWalk in the rush towards completion and Re:Vision Dallas heating up (more about both projects soon)—along with another half dozen projects demanding attention—there hasn’t been time for canoeing.

This weekend, though, I will find some time to get out on the water in my boat. I could work every minute of the rest of my life and never complete our mission of housing the homeless and providing beautiful and affordable housing for all our neighbors. Sometimes, you have to set limits and let yourself take some time to canoe.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Neighborhood Stabilization funds to help Dolphin Heights


Central Dallas CDC has been awarded $936,418 by The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. This funding is part of The Texas Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and will be put to work in the Greater Dolphin Heights Neighborhood in Southeast Dallas.

In a partnership with bcWORKSHOP and Central Dallas Ministries’ AmeriCorps staff, we will work with existing community organizations and social structures to eliminate and/or rehabilitate abandoned, blighted, and foreclosed properties in an effort to restore this distressed neighborhood to its former fortitude.

This effort is a true community effort – that is, we are looking to the community and its residents to provide the direction in terms of what their needs are. Within the course of one year, this program will touch at least 90 families in the Dolphin Heights neighborhood.

To advance this effort, a job-training program focusing on “green-collar jobs” will engage people living within or in close proximity to the Dolphin Heights Neighborhood. The training will develop hard and soft skills around the construction of homes to ultimately assist in pollution abatement, land, air and water remediation, and increased energy efficiency and conservation.

Through this process and with strong community leadership guiding the work, we will revitalize the neighborhood through community engagement, workforce development, context sensitive design, and green construction.

Program Background and Specifics (

• The Neighborhood Stabilization Program was established under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA).
• Through the NSP program, states, units of local government and nonprofits may purchase foreclosed or abandoned properties to demolish or create affordable housing to stabilize existing neighborhoods.
• Direct housing activities, such as down-payment assistance, home rehabilitation and low-interest loans, are targeted to households earning up to 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) as defined by HUD. Over half (51%) of beneficiaries from indirect activities, such as demolition, must also meet this income requirement.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The pavers going down in our parking lot make a nice statement—I think they look much better than simple cement would look. They’re one of the few items where we decided that a little extra cost was worth it to make CityWalk look better. I would really love to do a project some day where we didn’t have to squeeze.

If you look closely then you’ll notice that the pavers come in three sizes, 3”, 6”, and 9” and in a variety of colors. The pavers are intended to be laid in a random pattern, and there is more of a story to that than you might think.

One of the hardest things for human beings to do is to fake randomness. Our minds tend so strongly towards order that want to impose it, even when it’s not wanted. So if you watched the pavers being laid, you would see that the workers are constantly backing up a few pavers and laying them down in a new order. That’s because they’ve fallen unconsciously into a pattern in laying the bricks and have to rearrange the pavers to create at least a look of randomness.

The difficulty in maintaining randomness doesn’t affect just the pavers at CityWalk. Statisticians use studies of “real” randomness to detect “fake” randomness. A typical study of this type is Geoffrey C. Berresford (2002), The College Mathematics Journal, 33(5), 391-394. The article abstract states, “If you ask people to make up random sequences of H[ead]s and T[ail]s, they will fail; our brains have so much structure that they cannot produce chaos. Here is how to tell real randomness from the fake, human-created, kind.”

I have to admit not reading this, or any other, study of randomness—I simply don’t have the math to understand them. I have read some of Nate Silver’s work on my favorite blog,, and the comments on his work, so I can at least say that most of the experts seem to agree that it’s statistically valid to tell fake results from real ones through analyzing their approach to randomness.

So, it turns out that faking sincerity may not be the ultimate test, maybe it’s even harder to fake randomness—even in laying pavers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ALOFT Hotel delivers a lovely weekend


My husband and I spent the weekend at Dallas’ new ALOFT hotel celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary, and the hip, new urban venue did not disappoint. The hotel has a unique flavor of historic building mixed with savvy cool urban urchin. The atmosphere is chic and elegant and at the same time very casual and cool. At times, I really had to remind myself that I was in Dallas. With guests checking in on bicycle, and a spicy hot salsa disc jockey attracting lots of dancers on Friday night, it felt a lot more European than Texan.

The hotel boasts many amenities, including a heated, salt water lap pool, a cozy first floor lobby that incorporates lounging areas, a state-of-the-art workout facility, a business center, meeting rooms, a pool table, fireplace, free shuttle service to anywhere within 5 miles, and the WXYZ bar and grill. We enjoyed it all. So, whether you are looking for a place to accommodate your out of town guests, or just looking for a nice weekend getaway, the ALOFT definitely delivers. It is eclectic, well-appointed, and cozy casual all at the same time, with an amazingly friendly staff.

ALOFT Dallas Downtown occupies an eight-story antique gem built in 1924 as a Santa Fe Railroad freight terminal and commercial dry goods warehouse. Evoking an era when train tracks formed the arteries of the commercial district, the sleek, new hotel delivers the ALOFT brand’s signature, urban-influenced design elements, while incorporating the building’s distinct, structural attributes including original buff brick, large windows, structural pillars and high ceilings.

Blending seamlessly into its loft-like, historic setting, this singular, contemporary hotel is owned by a joint venture between Hamilton Properties Corporation and Sava Holdings, Ltd., both Dallas-based development companies. (

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Comfy Chair, Part II

Here it is with the upholstery we picked out—the first of our Comfy Chairs.

We have one more color choice, also pretty mod, but none of the chairs in that upholstery have been finished yet.

I guess you’ll have to wait until Comfy Chair III before you get to see the alternative version.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

CityWalk Pride


I had the opportunity to attend a lovely business reception this past week, and the hostess had the guest speakers introduce themselves by talking about the things in their lives they are most proud of. So, this got me to thinking about my life.

Like most people, my family comes to mind – I am proud of my children, proud that my parents have been married for 50 years, and proud of my husband for completing his first sprint triathlon. But then, I started thinking about work and what I am most proud of in my professional life. Without a doubt, I am most proud of the opportunity I have had to be part of the citywalk@akard project.

This project truly is the first of its kind to be built in Dallas, and it is really cool. Not just because the architects and the construction team have done such a great job, but more because of the amazing opportunity it represents for so many people in our community. And I get to work there every day.

John and I recently took some donors on a tour of the building, and it is so close to completion now, the energy is really buzzing.

We could see the new entrance beginning to take shape with the steel beams going up and the beautiful pavers being laid in the parking lot.

And inside, I could imagine people living there.

In my mind’s eye, I see children playing, neighbors sharing a meal, and friends relaxing together. This is an exciting time for all of us, and I know that everyone who has been involved with citywalk@akard is so proud, and most importantly, I know with all certainty, that the residents are going to be so, so proud of their new HOME!

I am counting the days until we can all move in and start actively creating our new community together.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Is Virtue a Habit?

According to Aristotle, virtue is a habit:

“Ethics is not merely a theoretical study for Aristotle. Unlike any intellectual capacity, virtues of character are dispositions to act in certain ways in response to similar situations, the habits of behaving in a certain way. Thus, good conduct arises from habits that in turn can only be acquired by repeated action and correction, making ethics an intensely practical discipline.” [Aristotle’s principal work on ethics is called the Nicomachean Ethics].

Aristotle believed that virtue as a habit requires an intentional choice when you begin. The habit of virtue is not yet developed, but over time one becomes used to behaving virtuously and after a while one acts virtuously without needing to use volition. You have become virtuous—it’s now part of you and how you act.

Aristotle’s theory leaves a lot of questions unanswered (some of those questions he addresses in other places). It doesn’t tell you which acts are virtuous or why, for example. As a guide to practical action, however, conceiving of virtue as a habit is useful.

Life can be complicated, and the more parts of it that you handle without needing to think about them, then the easier it gets. Much of my life is governed by habits, and that’s often the part of life that works the best. I get up when the alarm rings; brush my teeth; turn on the coffee; bring in the paper; and let the dog out.

I’m not sure that any of the acts really qualify as virtuous, but they all need to be done and the fact that I do them automatically makes life go easier.

I have often wondered whether the reason that complete sobriety works best for those with an addiction is simply that not drinking (or not whatever) becomes a habit. Perhaps a habit is a useful anecdote to a compulsion to wrongdoing.

Watch someone do something that they have done for years and do well, and chances are that they do it exactly the same way every time. Maybe they bounce the tennis ball twice before serving or put the ingredients in the bowl in the same order to make a cake, but success often becomes the result of habit. I think that’s one of the advantages we older, more experienced workers have over energetic youth. We’ve made habits out of much of the work that needs to be done.

When I worked at a large law firm, and pressures to bill sufficient hours were intense, I coped by never leaving the office until I had billed eight hours on that day. Some days, when I had a lot of unbillable hours, that meant long days, but the result was that I always made my quota of billable hours.

Now my work is different, but I’m still sustained by habits. On Fridays, I don’t leave the office until three blogs (for Saturday, Sunday and Monday) are ready for posting.

Since this essay completes my required number of blogs, good night and have a great weekend!

Friday, November 6, 2009

“I Am Evil Because I Am Human”

The frightening statement above is a translation of Iago’s Credo in the second act of Verdi’s Otello. The aria is frightening. Iago is unapologetic about his efforts to destroy Otello, Desdemona and Cassio because Iago was passed over for a promotion.

Iago’s actions seem insufficiently motivated in comparison to their gravity. He is a monster and the simple explanation “I am evil because I am human” seems completely unsatisfying.

Yet Iago’s statement is nothing more or less than a proclamation of original sin, one of the basic tenets of Christianity. His evil is simply a consequence of The Fall. (As painted here by Michelangelo)

Original sin has never been an easy doctrine for Christians to accept. It has been particularly difficult to accept that babies dying before they were baptized would be sent to Hell. In the middle ages, the doctrine arose of a third place for the after life, Limbo, which was neither Heaven nor Hell, but some middle ground where babies who were unbaptized but too young to sin would be sent.

As far as I know, the idea of Limbo is no longer accepted by any theology, but it’s still difficult to accept the idea that those who do not deserve punishment, except for their inheritance of Original Sin, should be sent to Hell.

As recently as 2007 in a treatise titled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized", the Roman Catholic Church still holds out hope for the salvation of babies.

Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision. We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us. We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy.

What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament. Rather, as we want to reaffirm in conclusion, they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.

It is only slightly easier to accept the idea that no explanation is needed for Iago’s evil beyond the unaltered human condition. We don’t need to inquire whether he was abused as a child or mentally ill. No complex psychological explanations are necessary to explain Iago. We need know only that he is human.

I think accepting Iago’s Credo is difficult because it does not correspond to our experience in life. I’ve known people whom I did not much like and some who were pretty bad at bottom, but I’ve never met anyone who was truly evil—although I’ve seen some people on the news who certainly seemed that way. I think it is in our nature to seek understanding and that we find it disturbing when we do not.

Iago, just like the fate of newborn babies, is disturbing because it is both outside of our experience and violates our sense of the proper order of the world. Sadly, though, just because something is outside our understanding does not mean it is not true.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

We Lost a Neighbor Today

“Only” a dog, but still sad news. Here’s the email my wife received from our neighbor today:

Hi Rebecca,

I just wanted to let you know that Yma died this morning. She was attacked by two coyotes on our back patio. Yma died with all of us holding her and loving her. Please say a prayer for our special friend. She is whole and in peace now. Please be very careful with your dogs outside right now. These coyotes went right up to our back door to get her. Thanks for loving our quirky chihuahua friend.


If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you might remember my entry from August 7, where I wrote about Yma—although I spelled it Ima in my blog.
Yma was a character, and we’ll miss her around the neighborhood. We’ll even miss when she drove our dogs crazy by coming over to do her business in our front yard.

I’m sure she’s gone wherever all good dogs go.