My dad, who was budget director for the city of Fort Worth back in the 1960s, drove up from Austin a couple of weeks ago for a reunion with some old City Hall cronies.
He had an excellent time, not only reminiscing with the old gang of earnest Great Society bureaucrats, but also touring Fort Worth's fabulously restored downtown district.
"I wouldn't have recognized it as the same city!" he said. "You need to write a book about it!" (One of the many endearing things about my dad is that he always wants me to write books about things he finds interesting).
Downtown revitalization is interesting. It's also elusive, maddening, complicated, expensive, politically volatile, slow and sometimes impossible. The things that work in one place don't always work in another.
Fort Worth, whose downtown was once a wretched wasteland of rundown buildings and dying businesses, enjoyed luck and advantages: a rich hometown developer (Ed Bass) with a determined, if unorthodox, vision; a tightly knit business leadership willing to get on board; a succession of mayors anxious to ease the way; city councils whose members were persuaded, one way or another, not to gum up the works just because there was, on the surface, nothing in it for them.
I doubt the same miracle could work for Dallas, because Big D is a different city. But a different kind of miracle is, if not exactly hovering on the horizon, at least a tantalizing possibility.
Slowly, and perhaps not with a single, unified blueprint in mind, Dallas has already laid the cornerstones for a magnificent downtown renaissance.
Raw materials in the form of appealing yet underused venues are already present in a big, lopsided loop:
The Arts District.
The West End.
Dallas Farmers Market.
Most of these sites are on life support. They need careful, patient, visionary development. The West End and Victory Park need restaurant-and-retail development that's not too touristy for the locals and not too precious for the tourists.
Farmers Market and Fair Park need enough visible security and law enforcement to make even the most timid suburbanite feel safe.
The whole area needs big-ticket civic festivals that don't vanish after a year or two (Y'all remember that Trinity River fireworks shindig?).
It needs linkage - a combination of DART rail and streetcar or trolley shuttles - to move visitors between these areas as reliably as an atomic clock.
If you ask a family from Milwaukee to stand on a Dallas street corner in mid-July waiting for a bus that never comes, they're going to remember, and not in a good way.
It needs aggressive enforcement of panhandling ordinances, cheap and accessible parking and a marketing campaign better than those awful "D-spot" ads.
And downtown Dallas really needs one more thing, something less definable, something you cannot buy with bond money or private investment.
That's a sense of welcome. It means getting past the snotty attitude that downtown is the exclusive preserve of uber-hipsters who have some secret knowledge of where to go and how to get there.
You too often see woeful conventioneers wandering the downtown streets, clearly wondering what there is to do after an obligatory look at the grassy knoll.
Look, this is doable. Downtown Fort Worth after dark was once as lifeless as the surface of Mars. San Antonio's Riverwalk used to be a murky slough.
Even downtown Austin - Texas' holy beacon of urban hipsterdom - is living off a cool-and-funky reputation earned back before all the genuinely cool, funky stuff was torn down for office buildings and chain hotels.
The raw stones are already here. Maybe someday Dallas will figure out how to cut them, polish them and string them together.