An Evolving Love Letter to Dallas


I grew up at the heels of oilmen and real estate moguls. It certainly wasn’t a scene out of Dallas, but true to the stereotypes the show capitalized on, there were moments that could have been.

I bought into the idea of Dallas as a mash-up of cosmopolitan and cowboy. It seemed to me a place full of swagger. A boomtown promising wealth and prosperity.

I bought into the idea of Dallas as a mash-up of cosmopolitan and cowboy.

The reality that I now understand was that picture was as much fairytale and make-believe as it was reality. It was the ’80s, and between rock-bottom oil prices and the savings and loan crisis, the economic reality for the city was bleak.

My recollection of all of this is filtered through the imagination and story-land of a pre-teen, so while my struggles may have been limited to frustrations about not having access to the latest Guess jeans or Gap t-shirt, the adult version of that era was much more serious.

And that story — the adult story of Dallas — wasn’t seeing troubled waters for the first time. By a long shot.

Cities have so many stories to tell, and ours was further complicated by our own meteoric descent after Kennedy’s assassination just a few miles from where I’m sitting right now.

Prior to that, our “inland port” was an international hot spot thanks to visionaries like Ray Nasher and Stanley Marcus. (See Peter Brown’s awesome TEDxSMU talk for more on that subject). And yet, our own version of Camelot died to a large degree alongside President Kennedy.

I left Dallas after high school prepared to write it off as a city in my rear view mirror.

Dallas lost so much of its pizzazz over those decades, and in my mind our city had devolved to a vast land of ho-hum office parks and multi-nationals without much soul. I was not a fan.

I left Dallas after high school prepared to write it off as a city in my rear view mirror. Early in my career, I wanted to be in a place that bristled with change and progress. I wanted Austin or San Francisco, and sulked if I had to come back to Dallas for more than a two-day command appearance.

Simply put: I wanted to be ANYWHERE BUT Dallas.

And then, in 2009, I agreed (somewhat against my better judgment) to come back for five months to collaborate on a project with SMU. Given my work, I was thrust into a world of start-ups and social entrepreneurs and artists and visionaries. There was nothing vanilla about this Dallas.

While I had kept my eye on places like California and New York, Dallas seemed to have once again reinvented itself. I felt as if I had found a little bit of my own personal Mecca — a place rife with opportunity and that good ol’ Texas tenacity and audaciousness that means things really do get done here.

There was nothing vanilla about this Dallas.

Fast-forward seven years from the time I moved back, and that sense has only intensified. It feels like we’re in a pretty special moment in time for this city.

Today, I hear from friends like Salah Boukadoum about his vision for Dallas to become an international hub of impact-based work, or I look at what Gabriella Draney and her team have built with Tech Wildcatters, or what Clyde Valentin is doing with the Ignite Arts. This is a city bristling with change and progress.

As Stacy Caldwell, the former CEO of Social Venture Partners Dallas, used to tell me, she had a vision for a place where the suits and the jeans could come together and make magic. I think that’s happening en masse across our city in so many pockets now. We have this great mix of capital of all sorts: financial, yes, but also human capital. And creative capital.

This is a city I want to bet on. These are people I want to do business with. This is a time I’m proud to live in Dallas, and excited about what the future holds for the city. I know there will be highs and lows going forward. Economic cycles are all but an inevitability. But the potential for us — for Dallas — is palpable. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what unfolds.

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Sharon Lyle is the co-founder of Public City, a culture-driven public engagement consultancy and studio. Public City works to create authentic culture-based experiences that allow its clients to deep(...)