"If we had no more oil from the Midwest, which cities would be most affected? They are the Sun Belt and western cities -- not the more compact northern cities.

"The economy in cities like Dallas and Houston is really a prisoner to the energy situation. We are terrifically obligated to gasoline. In the next 10 years that's going to become a matter of competitive disadvantage for us."

The words are those of Lee Simpson, a young attorney just elected to the Dallas City Council. The attitude is several degrees more alarmist than typical Sun Belt attitudes. But it is not unique.

Consider this, for example, from Jim McConn, the homebuilder who is mayor of Houston, the headiest growth city of them all. I asked McConn if Houston was considering restricting outward residential movement to encourage "infilling" of closer-in areas. He replied:

"Even if it weren't a smart policy decision, the extraneous pressure of fuel shortages, high cost of gasoline, and our lack of mobility because of the traffic situation in Houston, is causing people to take a second look at where they're going to live. And many who fled the suburbs are now fleeing back into the city."

One hears in Texas cities today a whole set of attitudes simply unthinkable early in the '70s, or even two or three years ago. The new trend is pro-planning, pro-neighborhood, pro-mass transit and anti-sprawl.

It has to be taken with a large grain of salt. Stiff planning and farmland preservation requirements, in the style of an Oregon or Vermont, would still be considered socialistic in Texas, if not downright Communistic. The auto's dominance remains supreme and areawide mass transit is in the earliest stages of infancy.

Some people may be selecting inner-city housing locations, but there is still immense pressure for sprawl development on the urban periphery.

Still, there is no mistaking the fresh straws in the wind. I was flabbergasted to hear that apartment construction had outpaced single-family housing starts by far last year in Dallas. Or to hear Mayor McConn predict for Houston "a large increase in the condominium, multi-family concept, away from the single family house," because high density means lower per-unit costs in a city setting.

McConn also sees shifting life styles behind the new trend: "The ideas of my generation were that you had to have a big lot, shrubs, grass and so on. But the younger generation isn't interested in mowing the yard as attending cultural events.

"You have to realize the life styles of the new generation is different from ours. So often now the husband and wife both work, which wasn't the case before."

In Dallas, second-term City Councilman Steve Bartlett said: "I'm conservative and business oriented. A healthy business economy is the first half of the equation to building a healthy city. But I'm also pro-homeowner and pro-residential. We don't want to have major eight-lane thoroughfares built every two blocks through city neighborhoods -- which has been done."

The missing half of Dallas' equation, says Bartlett, is building and protecting "the residential city -- which means planning and protection from growth at any cost."

Politicians like Bartlett and Simpson want to see a master plan for Dallas drawn up, to balance growth between parts of the city, to draw existing housing and open space and transportation plans into a rational whole. e

"We want a city that relies less on territorial expansion -- the classic way with Houston and us in the past -- and more and more on regenerative growth, including downtown and the recycling of older neighborhoods," Simpson emphasized.

Again, the visitor has to pinch himself to be sure he's in Texas -- not Minnesota or Washington or Maine. No hard figures were offered, but again and again I heard that energy and market forces were driving people "by the droves" back into older inner-city houses and apartments.

In Dallas, a big suburban developer is building $107,000 to $145,000 houses within easy walking distance of the central business district and selling them without difficulty. Developer Trammel Crow wants to build four large market-rate apartmment towers in downtown Dallas in the new "central arts district," which is due to have a new museum, symphony, library and other facilities.

With a variety of cultural attractions and actual residents, the inner city could actually come to have "life beyond 5 p.m."

Substantial residential redevelopment in downtown Houston -- the inner-city area within the Interstate 610 loop -- may be delayed until the mid-1960s because of a federally imposed moratorium on new sewer hookups while the city builds a sewage treatment complex that will cost several hundred million dollars.

But recent years have seen substantial movement into "trendy" older Houston areas, such as Montrose. City Councilman Lance Lalor predicts a spectacular "implosion" into Houston's inner city when the sewer moratorium is lifted.

The only question, he says, is whether that growth "will be guided or not." Planning could be started now to provide green space and amenities, and to assure that lower-income families would not be routed out by rapid land speculation in the city that boasts no zoning. Even if Dallas is now ready for some kind of comprehensive plan, one gets the feeling that day is still far off in Houston.

However much Sun Belt attitudes may have begun to change, the strand of faith in old-fashioned boosterism and unfettered growth persists.

Houston's McConn told me he's getting "pretty tired" of "articles that prophesize doom for Houston because of our growth." As McConn sees it, "that's uninformed, a jealous reaction to the No. 1 city in the United States today.

"Sure, growth creates problems. Sooner or later, something is going to happen to Houston. Sooner or later, the world's going to come to and end. And Houston might withstand that."