By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"I don't think anyone here wants to run off someone based on their race or their income," she told me one hot afternoon at Eno's, the Bishop Arts pizza joint favored by bikos. "This is about improving everyone's quality of life, no matter what your income is."
The biko thing, where two wheels and a dream seem to get most people where they need to go, is what Howard calls the "new path." It's a combination of civic savvy and civil disobedience. It's wearing both helmet and hat, whether attending a packed bike-friendly Dallas meeting at City Hall or sipping beers at Eno's.
The Oak Cliff bikos live in a neighborhood that has, for the first time in decades, come under the watchful, financially interested eye of the city and its pet developers. Downtown peers through the arched monocle of the Calatrava Bridge, its sights set on the vast swath of North Oak Cliff and West Dallas that has, in the past few years, become a biko playground for urban experiments on a much smaller scale. A "people-sized" scale, say the bikos.
When I pulled up to the West Dallas Country Club to have lunch last month with Mariana Griggs, she hadn't arrived yet, but a bumper-stickered van sat outside a nearby salvage yard. Two sweaty bikos pushing huge black tires appeared from behind the fence. Zac and Heather Lytle were spending a day working on the site's new dumpster pool.
After my locally grown lunch with Mariana, Zac swallowed a glass of homemade tea and reckoned he'd better get back to sanding down the sharp edges inside the big green dumpster that would be lined with a tarp and filled with water just a few days later. He'd read about dumpster pools in Brooklyn—large, repurposed green garbage bins that are a portable, cheap way to build a kind of instant swimming hole—and figured it couldn't be too hard to put one out at the farm. Undeterred by puffy eyes that resulted from a run-in with some poison ivy at his home near King's Highway, Zac climbed into the searing-hot metal box and cranked up his tools. He didn't have to, though. The original dumpster pool guys from New York will come out and build you a trashy swimming hole wherever you like, at a price.
"They turned it into a business," said Zac, who sports sideburns and has the lanky build of a competitive road biker, but he didn't see why he couldn't just do the thing himself on the cheap and have this nutty swimming contraption for WDCC visitors. So he watched a couple YouTube videos featuring the Brooklyn pools and started the project with the help of Mariana, Andrew Howard and just about everyone else who showed up to the farm over the course of four or five days. It's what Mariana calls a kind of personalized "mimicry." What bikos like Zac are doing isn't unheard of—this do-it-yourself thing. It's that they're further customizing already DIY projects to suit their own needs.
"You can buy anything," Howard later explained, but the unique experience of crafting something personalized is the spirit of their Oak Cliff, and it pervades almost every decision made by the activists. Why do the same old thing over and over again, even if it's worked for someone else? Said Howard: "There's a new energy over here. We're not accepting that it has to be the same way forever."
A couple of words tend to pop up when bikos try to describe what they're doing in Oak Cliff, and yes, one of them has appeared here already: Brooklyn. The other is closer to home: Austin. It's hard to talk about green living and walkable neighborhoods without citing those places as examples. But while the Oak Cliff activists share certain ideals about city life with citizens of those places, the fact remains that Oak Cliff simply isn't Park Slope or South Congress.
Bikos admire and aspire to the ideals espoused by their activist-kin in those places, but find there's something unique about Oak Cliff in its raw potential, rather than the pre-existing coolness of those areas. There's a kind of presto-change-o hipness available in Austin and Brooklyn (and Portland, another oft-cited dreamland for bikos), where green-living bike culture is the norm. Buy a bike and a recycle bin, and you're set.
People seem to believe that "Dallas doesn't have a culture for those things," says Roberts, while on his way to see about starting a food truck—a thoroughly Austin way of serving food out of a restaurant on wheels—one hot August afternoon. Dallas' square, car-oriented culture "has been the broad assumption." Those people who are interested in a DIY lifestyle, says Roberts, instead of "trying to champion some kind of green initiative, will say, 'We'll just move to Austin instead.'"
But not the Robertses, or the Griggses, or the Cowans or the Lytles, or any number of their cohorts, which Roberts estimates to be a core group of about 150 people who consistently bike, garden and attend street fairs and public improvement events in the area. They're sticking around because Oak Cliff is a place where they can really make something happen, all on their own.