Laura Dunn photo by Celesta Danger She had decided early on in the process to look at the Barton Springs debate through the eyes of Gary Bradley, one of Austin’s most influential developers and perhaps the most loathed man among the city’s environmental activists. The fight over Barton Springs has been going on for 20 years, and Bradley has become, for many, the face of rapacious development. Bradleya former West Texas farm boylong has been at the center of Austin’s debates over private property rights and environmental preservation. Environmentalists claim that his Circle C Ranch subdivision southwest of town, and his efforts to get the MoPac Expressway extended over the Edwards Aquifer, hastened degradation of Barton Creek and Barton Springs, and opened the door to massive development over and around the springs’ environmentally sensitive recharge and contributing zones. Bradley’s actions cleared the way, they argue, for groups like Stratus Properties Inc.spun off from Freeport-McMoRan Inc., a corporation famous for its disregard of environmental regulations in the United States and abroadto develop its own subdivisions alongside Barton Creek, increasing impervious cover and runoff in the region and damaging the water moving from the Edwards Aquifer into Barton Springs. As soon as Dunn met Bradley in his office, she knew she had found her film’s center. “People couldn’t understand why I focused on Gary Bradley,” she says. “But he’s so interesting. I may disagree with him in a lot of respects, but he’s a really compelling person, and as a documentary filmmaker, that’s what you’re looking for. “When I first met him, I pulled up to his office, which is in a castle overlooking the city. I walked into this huge room with this enormous aerial map of Austin behind him, with all the areas he had developed delineated, and this big, black marble table. It was so dramatic. It was one of those things that stuck in my mind. And I remember thinking at that time, ‘This is the story. If someone’s concerned with environmental issues, this is what’s interesting: How can I see this through a developer’s eyes?”‘ Bradley proved remarkably candid as a subject. In the opening scenes of The Unforeseen, as the camera takes in the vast West Texas countryside where Bradley grew up, the developer speaks about a harsh childhood that instilled in him an almost pathological sense of ambition. “Even from an early age;’ he says, “I wanted to be someplace else. You can’t win if you’re a farmer; all the odds are stacked against you.” Recalling the thunderstorms that wiped out his family’s crops when he was a boy, Bradley gives us a glimpse into his views on nature as a destructive force that needs to be reined in. “Nature very quickly in your life, as a child, becomes God,” he says, “a God that is of great abundance at times and takes everything away at times. My goal was to get out of there and get into a life I could have more control over?’ Bradley came to Austin in the late 1960s with ambition in his heart and dollar signs in his eyes. He looked out on the city’s generous green space and water \(both shocking to a young man saw this natural world as a “blank canvas” upon which he would paint his masterpiece, with buildings and roads and sewer lines as his tools. For Bradley, development is an art, a sense, and a skill to be cultivated, much like painting, 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 6, 2007
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