What I learned this week, July 20, 2012

Editorial: Finding Lost Dallas

Cities should be dynamic places. The corner of Commerce and St. Paul streets, where the building that once housed the hotel still stands, is a great place to see how this works over time. When it opened in 1956, the Statler Hilton was a marvel to behold. It was home to the largest convention facility in the South. Some of the hotel’s amenities — music in elevators, a rooftop pool and televisions in every room — were trendsetting and the height of luxury.

It was also the first glass-and-metal hotel in the nation. As such, it was a precursor to the Modern movement that defines the Dallas skyline. The buildings that now seem so familiar to all of us rose from the remnants of the old downtown. When you see footage of Dallas a half-century ago, what strikes the eye is how little of it seems to be left.



Help me, I’m melting!


Shane Pennington, the artist that did the ice sculptures down in the Dallas Arts District that impressed me so much that I visited them day after day, as they melted:

First Night

Next Day

The Day After That

A couple days after that

A week and a day later

– I found a cool article about his show in Berlin – “Leaving the Shade.


The two human form sculptures, what is left of them


Not much ice left


How 8 Sci-Fi Gadgets Are Becoming Reality

A Modest Proposal: Nasher vs Museum Tower

Howard Jacobson’s top 10 novels of sexual jealousy

The 50 Best Rolling Stones Songs (in case you were forgetting….)



A while back I wrote about a Foodtruckapooza event at the remains of the old Valley View Mall. It was such a success the mall owners are trying to bring in a little business by making it a regular thing.

New Valley View owners hope to park food truck test kitchens in vacant food court stalls

It’s a fascinating story of urban devlopment, timing, and the death of a mall.

A few weeks back, the Becks rolled in more than two dozen food trucks for a fest that filled the parking lot — first time that’s happened at Valley View in a long time. Said Scott last night, the traffic jam brought in ’round 12,000, which is why the Midtown Food Truck Fest becomes a regular event beginning July 20 and scheduled for the third weekend of every month, with an indoor component that will include a beer garden.

Concurrently, they’re partnering with Jack FM to create food truck “test kitchens” in the seven empty food-court slots once populated by the likes of Sbarro, Chick-fil-A, Sonic and McDonald’s.

In two months’ time, the Becks hope to fill empty food-court spaces with food truck test kitchens.

“You will have your favorite food trucks in one location,” says Scott Beck, who notes that’s about two months off. “We won’t make those spot into national or regional vendors. We’ll have food trucks who want test kitchens for a month. They will rotate in and out — and be right there in the food court. Every food truck wants to be part of that. They think it’s interesting to do a test kitchen, because there are only so many things you can make in a food truck. This gives them the chance to do more items in an area that’s promoted.”

I think I might head down there after work today.

Some very interesting editorials about the future of energy in the US.

The Energy Revolution Part One: The Biggest Losers

Energy Revolution 2: A Post Post-American Post

Energy Revolution 3: The New American Century

While the chattering classes yammered on about American decline and peak oil, a quite different future is taking shape. A world energy revolution is underway and it will be shaping the realities of the 21st century when the Crash of 2008 and the Great Stagnation that followed only interest historians. A new age of abundance for fossil fuels is upon us. And the center of gravity of the global energy picture is shifting from the Middle East to… North America.

High Tension

As I look around this interweb thing at other people riding bicycles I see things such as a beautiful multiple day tour along the Danube, an afternoon on the streets of Paris, or a civilized ride through Napa valley, complete with wine and gourmet food.

Here’s a cool trailer for a documentary about a bunch of elite skilled mountain bikers in the most amazing isolated places you have ever seen. It’s not about me.

But I don’t live along the Danube, in Paris or in Napa Valley. I live in Dallas, Texas. I ride through horrible baking heat underneath high tension wires.

As the cities of North Texas struggle to backfill their infrastructure with transit options they have to do what they can with what they’ve got. One thing that has proved useful are abandoned rail lines – made in into rail transit corridors or rails-to-trails conversions. Another, less glamorous lemonade-from-lemons option is the open space beneath the high tension power lines.

These lines contain rare and precious undeveloped land underneath their buzzing clusters of wires strung between tower steel transmission towers. Because of the enormous voltage carried on these lines, there can be nothing underneath – no houses, trees, or even scrub – only bare grass with an occasional road sneaking across. In theory this makes a perfect path for a new bicycle trail – all you have to do is pour a wide sidewalk snaking back and fourth along the right of way.

The only problem is that it is aesthetically awful. Bare grass, towering gantries of metal, and buzzing wires bursting with voltage… and nothing else. No beautiful meandering rivers, bustling city centers, or impressive distant views – only the wavy mirage of heat waves rising from bare concrete baking in the Texas sun.

What it does offer is mileage. These trails can go on for a long way, crossing huge swaths of dense city. Riding one of these trails gives the illusion of isolation – you forget you are in a hornet’s nest of millions of people – because you barely see anyone other than another rider every now and then. Even the suburban developments that line the right of way have high wooden privacy fences and appear from the trail as a long, ragged, wood stockade.

I went on a long ride the other weekend on a complex of these up in Plano – the Bluebonnet Trail running east and west – intersecting with the Preston Ridge Trail running north and south (which, unfortunately never connects with the Preston Ridge Trail running under the same power line farther south in Richardson).

I rode a long way, though I didn’t exhaust the possible mileage in the long intersecting Plano trail system. Maybe another day… maybe when it isn’t as hot. Don’t think I’ll miss anything in the meantime.

The trail winds beneath the giant towers

When you fall into the illusion that you are isolated in the middle of a bustling city, you come across an oasis of civilization – a busy cross street, a Whataburger, a Taco Delite

A rare and welcome amenity is a shady bench where I can sip some water and read a bit on my Kindle – I carry that in my handlebar bag.