A question-and-answer session with Gail Thomas

Recipient of the 2014 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award

What do you think is the most important ingredient of a world-class city?

One of my mentors, Jane Jacobs, says the most important ingredient of a city is the element of “surprise” – the unexpected. I would say “beauty.” Beauty can be discovered in a handshake, or in a well-produced play, or in the graceful architecture of a building or a bridge, or in watching a child splashing in water. A world class city offers places for these experiences.

Is Dallas there yet? If not, what's left for it to achieve?

Dallas has almost everything—superior economic advantages, excellent arts venues, fabulous fashion, excellent architecture, fantastic food.  What has been missing is access to nature—hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding.  The Trinity project is attempting to correct this omission.

What's one of your favorite aspects of the Trinity River Corridor Project?

The element of surprise, whether on one of the trails, in a kayak on the river, or the future possibility of riding a horse in the Horse Park. One never knows what is around the corner. And, of course, the beauty and wildness of the Great Trinity Forest itself.

What’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of the project? 

All aspects seem to be misunderstood. And this is such a shame, because the Trinity River Corridor Project holds the promise of a very real lifestyle change for Dallasites who want to start their families here and grow their companies here. So much is happening, and so few know or understand the impact.

When it comes to urban living, what do you foresee happening in Dallas in the next 25 years?

Dallas citizens will be living/working in the inner city on both sides of the river, vying for those residences that have the most propitious views of the river and the beautiful skyline of the city and riding public transit, or walking, or biking to their desired destinations.

Did you know Mayor J. Erik Jonsson? If so, how has his leadership, and his "Goals for Dallas" program, made an impact on you?

Yes, I knew Mayor Jonsson and his family personally. His Goals for Dallas influenced me greatly. The first civic committee I joined after my marriage was the Goals for Dallas “Design of the City” committee, and I attended the second Goals for Dallas conference at Lake Texoma.

What's one thing you learned during your time at SMU — something you've always carried with you?

Family comes first; friendship is to be treasured; knowledge must be combined with vision carried out from the heart.

What advice can you give the next generation of leaders to help them become innovators?

Discover your special gifts and use them, giving back always more than you receive.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming book, "Recapturing the Soul of the City"?

The title says it all.