The Rise of Dallas' New Pioneers

And the fall of everything Schutze wastes his time bitching about.

I get window shocked every once in a while. I'm in the car going from some pillar to some post, staring straight ahead thinking about stupid City Hall or the stupid North Texas Tollway Authority or stupid Fair Park, and then for some reason I look out the side window, and ... damn! What the hell is that?

It's a city! An entire metropolis is flourishing out my side window, knitting itself together in an entirely new fabric of living, and it seems to be doing it almost entirely without reference to City Hall or any of the other institutions I spend way too much time thinking about. It's almost as if there are two cities operating in separate circles of life, and that they barely intersect, mostly during hail storms.

Two friends of my son from his college years came to visit my wife and me recently to talk about Dallas. They were getting their bearings. That was our role. We're the bearings. They've been living for the last four years in Austin, which is where I thought they all wanted to live, all of those people, whatever they're called now, Generation IOU or something. One guy has been working in the capitol and the other is in retail. They told us they wanted to move here. To Dallas.

Jared Boggess

We were wide-eyed and blinking, silent for a long moment. Finally my wife sort of blurted, "Why?"

"Austin is over," one of them said. "It's been ruined by Hollywood. Dallas is what's happening."

We exchanged glances freighted with private meaning, a look that said, "Uh-oh. This must be something we're not in on."

So much for bearings.

I don't shock easily, but when something does try to knock me off my pins, I revert to journalistic nerdism to regain solid footing. Everybody keeps saying that some stuff is over and other stuff is happening, but that doesn't mean it's true. I'll be the judge of that. In fact if they don't watch out, I'll do an Excel spreadsheet on the subject.

So I started with my own neighborhood, in Old East Dallas, which definitely used to be happening. I went to the Dallas County Appraisal District site (nerdy enough for you?) and looked at a bunch of properties in the Skillman Shopping Center, just around the corner from me. I took what the appraisal district said were the taxable values of those properties in 2000 and then again in 2011.

I did the same exercise for several large higher-end retail and community-service properties on Preston Road near Lovers Lane, in the Bluffview/University Park area. And then I panned my way across the map to the Bishop Arts District in North Oak Cliff — one of those places everybody keeps saying is so, so happening now. I put those values in my spreadsheet, too.

Wow. In fact, damn. It's not a fantasy. In a decade, the taxable values in Bishop Arts increased by 235 percent. In the Skillman Shopping Center near my neighborhood, values went up by 157 percent. On Preston, 140 percent.

Look, you can't draw too many conclusions from that. The Preston properties started at the top. Bishop Arts 10 years ago was still in the basement and coming from behind. The square foot taxable value in Bishop Arts is still only $2.50, compared to 16 bucks in my neighborhood and 50 on Preston. (Those appraisals, from the looks of it, are about half the actual asking prices.)

But something is happening. The highest prices may be on Preston, but the buzz is in places like Bishop Arts and North Oak Cliff, the Design District between Interstate 35 and the Trinity River levee, the Cedars due south of downtown on the other side of Interstate 30. Those are the places where the people like my son's friends from Austin want to be. East Dallas? Not so much. I think East Dallas is so gentrified by now it probably looks to them like the kind of place you have to visit on Thanksgiving.

I went over to Bishop Arts one morning last week and threw myself on the mercy of David Spence, the North Oak Cliff pioneer developer. I thought maybe he could tell me what's going on. As he always does, Spence told me something about myself that I had never even thought of.

He said our generation, the baby boomers, came into the city in the 1970s with more of our suburban culture and roots than we ever knew. We wanted to be in the city, but we wanted to clear the land around us, rip out all the stumps and plow the soil so we could set up our own little restored cookie-cutter suburb in the city.

"My own coming to the city was as a part of that first urban pioneer bunch, the folks who started turning around Winnetka Heights," Spence said. "Our view of the city had a little bit of trench warfare to it.

"You set up the stockade, and then you move it, you march on down the line. All the language of development was kind of warlike."

Spence sees a different sensibility in the young people coming into North Oak Cliff, and other parts of the city too.

"The folks who come down now are interested in more permeability," he said. "I think they feel the suburbs where they grew up were so vapid that they're wanting to come down to be infused into the city.

"They're down here to soak up the culture. They're not necessarily here to change the culture. It's a real happy bargain in Oak Cliff and I imagine in other parts of town."

We ventured out into the triple digits for a stroll — I swear North Oak Cliff is cooler than other parts of town even when it's sizzling — and Spence introduced me to Megan Wilkes, a partner in a little pie shop called Emporium Pies. Spence is the owner and developer of a Bishop Arts bungalow now undergoing conversion to become the home of Emporium Pies when it reopens in September. Wilkes, by the way, is 25.

"Our generation isn't like my parents' generation, who just really loved the idea of taking something and making it better," she told me. "We weren't taught that when Christopher Columbus came to America he made it better. We were taught that he stole it from the Indians."

She said she and her friends don't want to steal anything from anybody. "If you're going to move somewhere, you do your best to make it better by adding something that's valuable to the community, but I'm not going to try to take any part of that community away. I think that's different. We want to interject our gifts, but we don't want to tell anyone else to change theirs."

She couldn't have known to what degree her words melted my own desiccated heart, but I nearly swooned when she told me she and her husband had a hard time deciding whether to settle in Dallas or Detroit. They almost decided on my own benighted hometown, the Motor City, because, "You could do anything there. It's like the only frontier left in the universe."

But Dallas won out, because they thought it might offer a somewhat more predictable return on investment. So it's not like they're totally un-shrewd, is it?

According to Spence, the new urbanistos have a much greater tolerance for this principle he calls permeability than did the boomer pioneers. It's OK for small commercial establishments such as Wilkes' pie shop to be cheek by jowl with residential areas, as long as they're cool, but it's also fairly OK for the residential area to rub shoulders with people we would have considered extremely uncool back in the day.

"I almost never have to apologize to my tenants anymore for the ruckus next door where the five roofers live," Spence said.

I also talked to Scott Griggs, the city councilman whose district includes North Oak Cliff. He agreed with Spence that there is a finer weave, a more braided and complex texture in the community rising up in North Oak Cliff than what came before. He summarized it as an ethic: Most things are acceptable as long as they come from within the community rather than being imposed from without by invisible forces.

"It's seen as people building up their own community, versus someone coming in," he said. "You see a lot of local ownership. If you know the people, you actually know their faces and you see them, it changes the whole dynamic. There is much more trust."

When I listen to voices like these, walk the streets of North Oak Cliff and see what's being done, all of a sudden it makes sense that this new city weaving itself together all around me would have so little reference to the central institutions of the old city.

It's not that they don't know about City Hall. They know all they need to know, mainly that they want to do everything they can to avoid it. My generation's first impulse was to run down to City Hall and start beating our heads against it. Instead, people are faced in the other direction with a finger to their lips, more like, "Pretend it isn't there and maybe it will go away."

Could that work? Would it make my head feel better? Not sure. I think by now I sort of need the impact. But I'll say one thing. The view is sure better out that side window than what I look at every day through this damned windshield.

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36 comments
jonnyguitar
jonnyguitar

Sometimes I wonder the motivation for the "urban pioneers".  If that is the lifestyle you want, look to the east coast my friend, its already there.  Endless promotion, as in OC, makes me tend to think its about money as much as anything else.  Your argument about the newer generation, and permeability, is total BS.  Nice thought, I guess.  Window dressing, lets be honest.

I grew up in a suburb and found it very boring; thats partly why I now choose to live in East Dallas, Lakewood.   While I do like the neighborhood, it is a lot like a suburb, but with some rougher elements interspersed.  After all, life's no fun if there's no chance you might get robbed ;)

As far as property values, thats another reason I do choose to live in East Dallas.  Your home is one of your biggest investments.  I feel that East Dallas will do better than the rest of Dallas long term.  Just my opinion.  But the endless promotion from some corners is tiresome.  There is nothing great about living next to sketchy people.

My grandparents lived in Casa Linda for 80-odd years, and we hated that neighborhood, thought it was hopelessly old fashioned.  Funny the cycle at work there.

 

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

COOL....PERMEABILITY....SOAK UP THE CULTURE.

 

MY LORD WHAT TOTAL MALARKY.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

such change are always driven by the equivalent of someone with a pony tail and a female with berginstocks or tennis shoes.  but development and sustainability belong to who is investing money...sweat equity and lifestyle do not have enough power to redevelop an urban district...to say nothing about city permits and building and occupancy code municipal czarism, and then the politicians, police, and city services.   When the last REAL important issue rears up...and these young folks get the smoke and dust out of their star struck hope filled eyes...they have to see what SCHOOLS and SAFETY issues are there for....wait....this is a biggie....THEIR CHILDREN.

 

That is what DROVE people to the suburbs....not arrogance or ideology.  And wait...you plan on homeschooling and internet education while you bake pies and run a delivery van and try to make medical insurance payments for your employees.

 

age 25 is just great for hope and change you can believe in.

age 40 is when reality kicks in....not so much for journalists and dreamers and complainers.

stephenb51
stephenb51

We chose to live in Hollywood Heights because we both liked it's proximity to White Rock Lake, JL Long, Woodrow and the Lakewood shopping center. I enjoy the "feel" of the neighborhood however and not just it's proximity. My wife and I moved here from Austin after she completed her graduate studies. We miss Austin, but Dallas is home now and will be for a time to come. We lived in Uptown when we first moved here and enjoyed it for a time but realized that was not a long term place for us. The suburbs were not even a consideration.

 

I appreciate Mr. Schutze's chronicling of the current issues the city faces, but it does have enjoyable features and some very caring and concerned citizens. I've met a lot of friends through organizations like the DRC, our neighborhood association, social running groups at local fitness stores, etc. The good features are out there, it's just in Dallas you have to maybe look a little more closely to find them. I do really enjoy what's happening over at the BA and have several friends that live there and one that's currenly building a new home in north Oak Cliff on a vacant lot.

 

Keep the good and very interesting work Jim. I think the Observer blows the Chronicle away in terms of it's city reporting and that's what matters to me.

CasaLindian
CasaLindian

First of all. Real Estate prices all over the country have gone up over the past 10 years. That's the evolution of real estate. If it didn't, our economy would be in worse trouble.

 

Second, not all baby boomers are created equal. Those of us who are younger by 15 or 20 years, than older boomers, don't have the same warlike attitude you describe.  We walk when we can and spend a lot of time outside, at the lake. 

 

That is our cultural structure. It is not less cool than OC.  It is just different. My bakery is located next to a garage over on Lindsley and cater corner from a taqueria. Hardly gentrified!  Do I have to drive to it. Yeah. So what, the people I know who live in OC drive their cars over to Bishop Arts and other places in OC. The only area to walk around is BA, but let's not kid ourselves, people who live in OC neighborhoods don't walk to Bishop Arts from the Methodist area, Kessler Park, or from anywhere in OC for that matter, they drive over and then walk around.

 

What an over simplification and divisive piece, on many levels.  The activists don't incorporate the long time ethnic population in the planning of events and consequently, there is a huge divide over there between Jefferson area and Bishop Arts.  Why don't you write about that?

 

The activists have clearly marked their territory and OC will continue to attract a younger demographic and artists, who tend to have a lower income because they cannot afford to buy into East Dallas.  Just like I couldn't afford to buy into Preston Hollow, when I was 20 something. Just because our homes are worth more, doesn't mean we are less creative, cool or in the know. 

 

It just proves our media is desperate for the attention of young readers and will say anything to get them, even if it means giving them constant  attention, while ignoring the creations that are taking place all over the city.

OldEastDallas
OldEastDallas

I'm not sure what part of East Dallas you are referring to, but if you go to the East Dallas PAST the Arboretum (and even just past Casa View Shopping Center, you'll see an entire different East Dallas than you are referring to.  Goodfriends backs up to the local charity White Rock Center of Hope (which serves to keep food on the table for so many local families), and just across the street is a great little place to get killer tortas!  Go further East than the Arboretum (trust me, Garland Road doesn't stop where the planned change to 'Arboretum Blvd.' will) and you'll see the truly exciting things in the East Dallas so many of us know and love!

ew_cummings
ew_cummings

I so loved what was going on in Oak Cliff that two years ago, a friend of mine and I started a garden shop in Oak Cliff just a few blocks west of Bishop Arts.  My business partner is a thirty something accountant and I am a thirty something architect.  We had each moved to Oak Cliff and started families here, she 12 years ago and me 7.  We rented a 1936 gas station that had been vacant for over 4 years, invested our life savings, and went to work.  Just this last weekend we had to quickly liquidate our shop because we fell behind on our rent that we had always struggled to pay in the slower months of summer and winter and caught up on in the spring and fall busy seasons.  What was different this time?  The building owner had another garden shop interested in the space, ironically from Lake Highlands where I grew up.  As we sold off our inventory this weekend, I can't tell you the number of loyal customers who came up to us and said, "We loved what you did here.  The pioneers get the arrow, but the settlers get the land."  So beware, North Oak Cliff, the settlers are coming.  May enough of our pioneers survive so that Oak Cliff remains a wonderful place to call home.

Joseph
Joseph

The Bishop Arts/North Oak Cliff area has been on the verge of booming for decades...a group of real estate, retail, home-owner, and other business interests have been promoting the area as the next hot spot in hopes of raising property values. All this huff and puff of Bishop arts being grassroots against all that  city hall stuff seems kind of silly to me...Bishop Arts is just as Dallas as West Village: high priced, high-end, business-led, development engaging in shameless self promotion. The Bishop arts promoters pretend to be activists, yet by targeting top down government as the problem, and pursuing only a consumerist, nostalgic vision of how a neighborhood or city should function, they leave little room for discourse on more pertinent social, political, and economic crisis affecting this city. This is not true activism, this is a new group of largely white business owners and developers attempting to capture a piece of the pie. Sure they capitalize on important trends in urban design Dallas is years behind on...but lets not pretend they are the future of Dallas. 

J_A_
J_A_

AHHHHH! Hipsters are invading!

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

"I think East Dallas is so gentrified by now it probably looks to them like the kind of place you have to visit on Thanksgiving."

 

The problem isn't the gentrification as much as it's the single-use zoning, the car-dependency, the lack of walkability, the lack of creativity in place-making, design, cuisine, etc., etc.

elsenor
elsenor

lets not carried away just yet.  bishop arts consists of like three restaurants.

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

 @jonnyguitar 

 

You'd be surprised how many people living in these places are NOT promoting them.  They don't want the places to become Uptown because these places are cool as hell right now as they are. It's not about living an "urban lifestyle."  It's about living in cool, creative communities with people who know how those are made and lived.  People who really don't GAF about rising property values, if those mean living in ridiculously boring and anti-intellectual places.  

icowrich
icowrich

 @rufuslevin It's not all blight.  DISD is a nightmare district, but the exception happens to be right in the city's center.  Booker T. Washington and Townview are both excellent schools.

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

 @rufuslevin 

 

You sound really desperate to cover over the quiet desperation of a mindless suburban life.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @ew_cummings HOPE AND CHANGE DOES NOT PAY THE RENT.  REALITY CAUGHT UP WITH YOU....IT.S THE ECONOMY STUPID IS NOT A POLITICAL RALLY CRY.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @ew_cummings Same thing happened in my neighborhood in East Dallas. Now I wish we could get those guys back out in the alleys at night with the automatic weapons fire to run off the suburban ninnies. 

imagepimp
imagepimp

 @ew_cummings We loved coming into your shop and hate to see this happen to such good, hardworking and decent people, especially when you were providing a service for the community that had not previously been there. If their other shop is an indicator of what they plan to bring to Oak Cliff (as I suspect it is), I do not look forward to the outfit that will be coming into your space on Davis. I hope at some point in the future that you guys can regroup and give it another go: should you choose to do so, we'll be back, buying native and adapted plants to surround our little house. In the meantime, we're glad that we at least still have you as a neighbor. Be looking for that clipping at some point in the next few weeks. All the best.

mcdallas
mcdallas

 @Joseph Thanks for your uninformed opinion/jealousy/hyperbole.

"This is not true activism".  But your comment is?  Great.

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

 @Joseph 

 

Silly comparison to West Village aside, I get your point.  Bishop Arts is cool, but it has also become a place North Dallas white women are no longer scared to cluster after sundown.  (See also, Williamsburg Brooklyn.)  The coolest spots in Oak Cliff now are much further down Davis and Jefferson Ave.  But this is all a good sign.  It shows Dallas is growing up, developing options for educated and intelligent people beyond the uber-Republican, anti-intellectual wasteland that are North Dallas and its nearby burbs. 

travishuse
travishuse

 @Joseph If you think that Bishop Arts and West Village are the same thing, you're absolutely insane.

travishuse
travishuse

 @MikeDunlap Depends how far East. Close to downtown, near the hospitals, in Junius Heights, Swiss, Peak's Suburban Addition, it's got a more West Hollywood feel, where there's space and culture. Casa Linda, though, yech. It may as well be a suburb.

Harley14
Harley14

 @MikeDunlap  So one of the few living options for the "educated and intelligent" is the "anti-intellectual wasteland?" C'mon, Mike — stereotyping is so, um, anti-intellectual. I'll grant you that outside the 635 Loop there are plenty of people who fit your description, but the whole "us vs. them" mentality is pointless and divisive. Can't suburban dwellers appreciate and enjoy all that the city has to offer? And once in a while, don't you trek out to the 'burbs? (There is life outside the Loop that doesn't revolve around soccer moms in their Lexus-es. Lexii?)

I'm from Philly originally, where the urban sprawl towards the suburbs took place over a couple generations. But over the past 10-20 years, a lot of the "left-behind" neighborhoods have been revitalized by community-minded people and now host some of the most interesting cultural attractions and most popular restaurants. Instead of building a barricade at 635 (or NW Highway, if you want to be even more exclusive), why not be more open to all comers? Seems a downright neighborly thing to do for Texans.

Joseph
Joseph

 @travishuse I didn't say they were the same thing, I said they are both high-end consumer spaces driven largely by developers, business owners, property owners. Sure one of them has more hipsters that shop there (although with Union Bear in West Village it looks as if the trendy Bishop Arts folk are attempting to expand their philosophy into uptown as well), but the differences are more in consumer taste than any sort of radically alternative vision for the city. That's fine, I myself prefer Oddfellows, expensive artisan chocolate, or art films and local musicians...can't say the high-priced retail does much for me...Lets just learn to think of Bishop Arts as the Whole Foods of neighborhood development...great philosophy, educated consumer base, expensive none-the-less...but ultimately not the final word in sustainability, equity, etc.

 

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @travishuse CASA LINDA HAS MORE POTENTIAL TO BECOME A PEACHTREE CITY, WALKING NEIGHBORHOOD, SERIOUS AND SECURE NEIGHBORHOOD AREA...UNFORTUNATELY SURROUNDED BY TRASH RENTALS, BUT MORE POTENTIAL TO BECOME 100% LIKE MINDED RESIDENCE....COOL DOES NOT DEFINE A NEIGHBORHOOD...IT DESCRIBES A HIGH SCHOOL PROM.  SOLID DESCRIBES A SUSTAINABLE AREA.

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

 @rufuslevin 

 

So much fear.  Good luck with that, dude.  Oh, and you might want to check your Caps Lock button.

rufuslevin
rufuslevin

 @MikeDunlap WAIT UNTIL KIDS START HAVING TO PAY OFF STUDENT LOANS....AND PAY TAXES...AND BUY HEALTHCARE INSURANCE....THE BLUSH WILL DROP OFF THE ROSE LIKE A LEAD BAGEL.

URBAN PIONEERS WAS A WORD DEVELOPED TO PROMOTE HISTORIC PRESERVATION ACTIVISTS AND TREE HUGGING LIBERALS WANTING TO RENOVATE OLD BUILDINGS AND NEIGHBORHOODS....FORGET THE CRIMINALS NEXT DOOR...JUST PUT A POT OF GERANIUMS ON THE PORCH AND REFINISH THE HARDWOOD FLOORS.

 

 

YOU WANT TO DEVELOP NEIGHBORHOODS OF FRIENDLY SHARING HAPPY FOLKS...GREAT...START BULLDOZING THE WORTHLESS CRACK HOUSE BUILDINGS AND MOVING OUT THE ILLEGAL RENTERS AND WELLFARE KIDS.   UNTIL A "NEIGHBORHOOD" IS SAFE AND COMPOSED OF 100% LIKE MINDED EDUCATED FAMILIES...MARRIED, OPPOSITE SEX, WORKING FOR A LIVING, RAISING KIDS WITH VALUES AND RESPECT, NO DRUGS AND EXCESSIVE BOOZE.....IT IS MERELY AN EXERCISE IN CIVIL POETRY WRITING.

 

 

MikeDunlap
MikeDunlap

 @Harley14 

 

I'm not saying educated and intelligent people don't exist in the burbs.  I'm just speaking to what is reflected in the whole of the areas; their cultures.  They are largely mindless, anti-intellectual places.  This isn't any ground-breaking view, obviously.  The anti-intellectualism of American suburbia is pretty widely acknowledged at this point, even among many who live in suburbs.

 

I get why people to choose to live in such places (protecting the kiddos and what not), but let's not pretend these places aren't largely a white-flight created tragedy, even if some intelligent and thoughtful people find a way to survive them until the kids are off to college.

 

Center City Philly is great, by the way. Was there briefly last weekend.  I often tell people Philadelphia is the most underrated city in the country.  

ThatGuy
ThatGuy

 @rufuslevin Seriously, turn off the capital letters.  It is shouting and considered rude.  You will be taken more seriously if you don't yell all the time.

CasaLindian
CasaLindian

 @MikeDunlap Casa Linda is one of the few neighborhoods, whose streets were designed specifically, to connect to the shopping center, by walking. You obviously don't know Casa Linda!

 
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