I took the Texas Eagle from Dallas to Chicago the other week, and had a great time doing so. There’s nothing like falling asleep to the clickity-clack of the rails, and waking up to see the mighty Mississippi River sparkling under the morning sun.
I’ve been to Chicago many times before. I’ve flown and driven, but nothing beats entering this grand city on the train. While it’s not the most scenic route – I saw plenty of hobo camps and abandoned car parts (and a whole car or two!) – I got a real sense of the city just by looking at its industrial and residential landscapes roll by. Chicago’s a compact city, with high urban density and a fantastic public infrastructure. It’s what a city SHOULD be like.
And then, sigh, the Eagle and I glided back down through the Dallas. Dallas is the very opposite of Chicago in terms of its architecture and infrastructure – it’s a sprawling, meandering urban conglomeration with housing that looks like warehouses and vast stretches of empty, abused, and misused land. Watching the weed-strewn lots and urban blight roll by, I became almost obsessed with the questions that have bogged my mind for a long time: why does Dallas planning not seem to have any rhyme or reason? Why are the suburbs competing with, rather than enhancing, the city?
In terms of development, Dallas is about 50 years younger than Chicago – not so far apart at all. But they’re worlds apart when you look at how their growth has been managed. Chicago built up – Dallas built out. Chicago made room for trains and cars. Dallas forgot trains and relied too much on cars. Chicago didn’t allow its sports stadiums to leave the city. Dallas lets sports owners move to suburbs where public transportation is nonexistent. Chicago built around its river, which meanders through the heart of the city. Dallas turned its back on the Trinity River, and straightened it out so much that it has now become a lonely creek. Chicago has culture with world-class museums, art exhibits, and sculptures on public squares. Dallas neglects its cultural gem, Fair Park, in favor of shiny new developments that are devoid of life – like Victory Park.
Oh, and Chicago allows visitors to go up the Sears/Willis Tower. Dallas’ number one tourist attraction, Reunion Tower, has been closed for three years now, and no one has been able to go up to enjoy the view except customers of a restaurant now owned by celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I think Dallas is awesome. Maybe that’s why I get so worked up over what I think Dallas COULD be.