The day of reckoning has come for Fort Worth, blurring from a distinct metropolitan city into the western sprawl of the DFW metroglob.
A new business plan for the city included wakeup alarms for city leaders:
▪ Our residents are less likely to have a college degree than Houston’s or Dallas’, and nowhere near as well-educated as Denver’s or Austin’s.
▪ Even our high school graduation rate trails San Antonio’s or Oklahoma City’s, both working-class cities with a rough-and-tumble cowboy past.
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So the blunt truth is: Fort Worth and Tarrant County are not very smart.
But we’ve got more problems:
▪ One in 12 city residents has to go to Dallas for work.
▪ Some outsiders see Fort Worth as hostile to young adults, people of color and foreigners.
▪ Worst of all, Fort Worth doesn’t cross anyone’s mind at all. We’re No. 16 in population but No. 48 in Google searches — less sought than Tulsa or Oklahoma City, down there with Buffalo and Fresno.
Fixing that takes more than shouting, “Cowboys and culture!” or griping at airline pilots for not saying “Dallas-Fort Worth.”
I’ve borrowed ideas from a few business or community leaders of all races, ages and backgrounds. Here’s a short to-do list for Fort Worth:
1. OUTSMART THE OTHER CITIES
Two-thirds of our city’s third-graders can’t read at that level.
Almost all the county’s high schools rank far behind those in Collin or Denton counties.
If anything sinks Fort Worth in the long run, it will be the city’s and county’s historic indifference toward K-12, college and graduate education.
From the reaction when the new city business plan was announced, the problem is twofold:
▪ Fort Worth does not have the schools, colleges or spirit to compete in an age of research and innovation, and . . .
▪ We think we do.
In a city built on blue-collar jobs in packinghouses, oil and defense plants, our readers often post social-media comments claiming schools here are better than Dallas’.
(The test scores are about equal. Dallas has more top high schools.)
Thriving cities have major state research facilities or technology centers.
Fort Worth has a good college football team.
Texas Christian University’s new medical school is a strong step forward, and the city also has a state medical school and a state law school. UT Arlington is prized.
But overall, the education system across Tarrant and Parker counties lags Dallas-Fort Worth. Education must become a cherished civic treasure, not a basic public utility.
2. SHOW THE WORLD THE MODERN WEST
Readers saw a new city plan and feared losing Fort Worth’s “Cowtown” image or Molly, the city longhorn symbol.
Folks, it’s not about the cow.
Denver and Houston have cows, thriving pro rodeos and Western tradition. But they’re also regarded as modern international cities.
Fort Worth has more worldwide nonstop flights than either of those cities.
If we can think past the brim of our Shady Oak hats, we can become a world business hub.
That’s in the city plan. But the plan also mentions how Fort Worth is not considered warm or welcoming to outsiders, particularly not to immigrants or young people, meaning talented artists, musicians, actors and professionals.
The Cowtown image isn’t worn out. What’s tired is the image of a stubborn, bigoted old cowboy.
The real story of the West is a story of men and women of all colors and cultures, and how they came together from around the world to help shape Texas. If we’re not welcoming all people, we’re not true to our past.
There’s also a race problem that involves more than image. A new city race and culture commission will address long-standing inequities.
That takes changing old attitudes, and maybe some police officers and civic board leaders. And it means east and southeast Fort Worth get the same attention and help as the north and west.
We can treasure our Cowtown legacy. But look at Colorado, Vegas, California: The spirit of the American West is all about the future.
Make Fort Worth where the Modern West begins.
3. GET OVER DALLAS
The popular local T-shirt says “Life is too short to live in Dallas.”
A newer saying is: “Don’t Dallas my Fort Worth.”
Folks, poking fun at Dallas is a statewide tradition. But it’s meant to be in fun.
Dallas is not Fort Worth’s enemy. Dallas is one of Fort Worth’s biggest assets.
(It’s also becoming one of Fort Worth’s biggest employers.)
“Screw Dallas!” is not a successful marketing slogan. The city to the east was always the region’s banking and business hub, and new parks and bridges have made it more attractive to visit.
Fort Worth could take more of a cue from Arlington, a sales-minded city that has leveraged its center position to pick up Dallas visitors and dollars.
Sure, it’s OK to joke about Dallas. Houston and Austin folks do it, too.
But to the rest of the world, it only makes Fort Worth look small.
4. LEARN TO LOVE ‘DFW’
Fort Worth’s future is wrapped up in DFW: both the airport and the abbreviation.
The airport is our cities’ shared showcase to the world.
Anything that promotes “DFW” is good for Fort Worth, including the regional label.
I’ve written before that I like “Dallas-Fort Worth.” We’re not first, but we’re two-thirds.
But let’s face it: Right now, we’re hanging on by a hyphen.
A Google search is how the world learns about Fort Worth. It’s one of the few edges we still have over Plano or Frisco.
“Dallas-Fort Worth” is the most common web search term. (“North Texas” is a university.)
I know this is a tough sell. But friends who live in Keller or Colleyville don’t say they live in “North Texas.” They say DFW.
(Of course, a few Star-Telegram readers still cling to the 1955 idea of a separate Fort Worth airport. But it took 40 years to get Dallas to agree to keep Love Field small. Let’s not visit that again.)
Look — I know everybody’s worried about getting pilots and airline crews to say “DFW” and “Dallas-Fort Worth.”
The more we say it, the more everyone else will.
5. GET US MOVING
Fort Worth and Tarrant County have shorted transit and transportation money for 40 years, and it’s caught up.
Our transit tax rate is half of Dallas’, but we raise only 1/10th as much money.
So we get 1/10th of a big-city transit system.
We can’t get to work by bus or car on congested roads. We don’t even have an easy way to get to or from the airport.
Technology is changing faster than public transit can keep up, so today’s rail system might not be the best idea tomorrow.
Arlington has its own $3 mini-Uber shared ride. That’s actually pretty useful, but it doesn’t promote development around transit stops.
The next big thing in transit might be self-driving vans, or high-speed commuter rail to and from Dallas and Houston — or something nobody has thought up yet.
But last year, when the Fort Worth City Council tried to raise property taxes just $7 a year for more transit, two council members broke quorum to stop a vote.
I guarantee that if we don’t spend more on transit, we won’t get more.
6. DO IT OURSELVES
In four telltale years between 1964 and 1968, local voters OKed a county baseball stadium in Arlington, a convention center in Fort Worth, two county college campuses and a regional aiport that remains our No. 1 asset.
But that was 50 years ago. Since then, Fort Worth has built — what?
A cargo airport. A speedway. And — finally — a new civic arena.
When other cities were building billion-dollar high-tech centers, transit-centered developments or medical complexes, Fort Worth relied on private money and gifts to build the development around Alliance, Sundance Square, the Stockyards, art museums and Bass Hall.
Now, every time some local project needs help, our readers post comments like, “Let Ed [Bass] pay for it” or Ross Perot or Alice Walton.
Our generous cattle, oil and retailing families have given us much. But at some point we have to take responsibility for our own future.
It worked out pretty well in 1964-68.
7. GET GREENER
One of Fort Worth’s great success stories has been our newfound love for the Trinity River, but it can’t stop there.
We don’t have much natural beauty in this part of Texas. But we can care more for what we have.
Before the subdivisions and highways, Fort Worth was on rolling prairie, just past the treeline for the Eastern Cross Timbers forest.
We have natural river forks, a beautiful natural waterfall, natural hills and ridges and (man-made) lakes.
Houston’s experience in Hurricane Harvey taught us to study the land and water around us, and to live with it, not just on it.
Fort Worth’s flood risk is not as high. But we deal with high creeks and drainage problems from the concrete with every new development.
The Trinity is chronically troubled.
What’s more, we have some of Texas’ worst air pollution. The prevailing Gulf winds blow the metropolitan haze north and west.
Cities in Colorado and along the West Coast have committed to becoming carbon-neutral governing bodies that minimize carbon emissions. (Hey, it’s a start.)
Newcomers and visitors to the city are impressed with the Trinity Trails, the Fort Worth Nature Center and the close access to hiking parks and nature preserves.
The more we love natural Fort Worth, the more others will love Fort Worth.