A Formula for Culture

I’ve had the privilege of traveling all over our country as well as overseas. Specifically with the Deep Ellum Market and with the P&G (rest in peace), my objective had been to take things I enjoyed in my travels and bring them back to my home town. In the attempt to bring new concepts to Dallas, I have consistently run crossways with local culture, or the habits that people are accustomed to. Given this experience, I’ve come up with a formula for culture: culture=habitsxtime.

Google search of the term ‘culture’ yields various results from scientific to artistic, but for me, it’s more useful to apply a quantitative metric for culture in order to dig deep into an otherwise nebulous term. Instead of trying to define ‘Dallas culture’ or assign it some definition, we can look at a certain subset of people who maintain particular habits and analyze the cause and effect of those habits in an effort to understand that group. Ultimately, if we want to affect change in people’s eating or commuting or even hygiene, we have to understand what needs to change in their habits and how to sustain those changes over a period of time. This is the only way to reform culture.

Bike lane, no bikes in Salt Lake City via Google Maps

I observe cycling culture when I travel. From Oakland to Milwaukee, I see many American cities implementing more shared and separated bike lanes, but I don’t see many people riding in them. I fear the same thing in Dallas, that if we build bike lanes, would people actually bike more? Would it be worth the investment to build infrastructure before understanding how we want to affect people’s habits first?

I share similar misgivings about Dallas’ car culture. While it’s easy to say that our city will always be a car-centric, if we look deeper into the habits of commuters, we find that road rage occurs more often than we care to admit. Could it be that we love our cars, but we hate to drive in traffic?

If we are to have a multi-modal transportation network, we have to consider the daily habits of what we want that culture to yield and do everything we can to make those habits as viable, convenient, and dignified as possible. If we’re able to maintain this over a long period of time, our commuting culture will build value for the city.

My intention is not to render culture heartless by assigning it a formula, but rather to gain a better understanding of how we use the word and a deeper perspective of how people behave. It’s fun to observe brunch culture, voting culture, development culture, and even cell phone culture. After all, our habits define our behavior, which defines our identity, which we often share with other people. If we can look at the behavior that we’ve maintained over time, we can find better solutions for ourselves and our city, provided we’re willing to improve our habits.

Harry Potter and the Dallas Citizens Council

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Professor Horace Slughorn

As a citizen of this city and a nerd in general, I’ve taken it upon myself to learn about Dallas history to understand the place we live in today. An organization that always comes up in my reading is the Dallas Citizens Council, made up of Dallas’ business elite. There’s a lot of vilification and conspiracy surrounding the group within my East Dallas bubble, but I’ve stumbled upon an analogy that helps me to better understand the Citizens Council.

I recently rewatched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince because you can never be too old to appreciate magic and mystery. Horace Slughorn is the new professor this year at Hogwarts, and his characterization strikes me as relevant to my studies in how Dallas works.

Professor Slughorn is a very powerful and knowledgeable wizard, but what makes him unique are his connections with the elite of the wizarding world. Like the Dallas Citizens Council, Slughorn won’t remember your name unless you’re powerful, successful, or well-connected. The Professor’s “Slug Club” dinners suggest to me of what Dallas Breakfast Group events might be like (since I’ve never been to one, I can only speculate).

giphyBeyond his ambition, Slughorn is significant to both the book and this analogy because of his connections: he’s been privy to important conversations that have significant consequences to the world in which he lives. The Catholic in me recognizes the Professor’s guilt and denial in his reluctance to own up to a terrible decision he made in the past that gave information and power to Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter’s evil antagonist. Still, Professor Slughorn possesses the knowledge and key to defeating the wizarding world’s greatest enemy, which he eventually shares with Harry.

Since its inception in 1937, members of the Dallas Citizens Council have been privy to important conversations and decisions that haven’t been open to public scrutiny. Just as Slughorn reconciled his past sins, our past leaders need to unpack bad decisions and revisit past mistakes in order to fix our housing problem, to make the best out of the Trinity, and to repair Fair Park.

The organization has pivoted and wants to “work within the system,” in which case, reaching beyond its Slug Club will be necessary in order to find the best solutions to the myriad problems in our city. Otherwise, we’ll need an unfathomable amount of felix felicis to get us out of this mess.

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