In North Oak Cliff They Know You Can't Fight City Hall, But You Can Bike Around It

You heard it here first. Possibly. If you have already heard it somewhere else, please keep that to yourself. I want the credit.

North Oak Cliff is the new Austin.

Only better than Austin. Because the new community being created in Oak Cliff is for people who actually have jobs. And those people are creating the world around them. They are making it happen, not just showing up and going along for the ride. That's a big difference.

A very interesting class of 20-to-maybe-40-somethings is gathering in Oak Cliff, putting down roots as a sort of modified Bohemian community, but not really Bohemian. They often have partners, families, jobs. It's a phenomenon that doesn't quite have a name yet. For now, until someone cleverer comes up with a better name, let's call them Bikos. For whatever reason, bicycles are central to their worldview. Vegetable gardens are in there, too, but I don't want to call them Veggos.

These are not hippies. I know hippies. In the midst of these new people are lots of artists, of course, but many of them are lawyers and teachers and urban planners and such. They're both more worldly and in a way more idealistic than hippies—an idealism alloyed with direction.

Last week I rode around Oak Cliff with Mariana Griggs of Community Gardens of Oak Cliff, an umbrella group that oversees six community gardens. She is a teacher. Her husband, Scott, is a lawyer. I guessed she was a 20-something. She's 33, and her husband is 35. My fault. Everybody under 50 looks 15 to me. Only fair. I look 110 to them.

While we rode, she told me about a trip she and her husband took to Europe last August.

"We went to Copenhagen and Amsterdam for kind of a little bike reconnaissance project, to go check out their bike lanes and ride bikes.

"We just loved it. We didn't want to come back. We wanted to live there."

I asked, "How are they about bikes?"

"Oh, it's amazing," she said. "Everybody has a bicycle. Cars have to yield the right-of-way to bikes. It's easier to get places. It's a lot more flat. There's a lot of bike parking. It's what everybody's doing. If you know how to ride a bike already, you're going to do really well."

I said, "See, that's why you shouldn't go to places like that. It's that ride back from the airport that gets you..."

She finished my thought: "It really is. 'Oh, I have to come back here?' Miserable! But then you have to look at it again from a point of view where you say, 'Here, I have the chance to move everybody in that direction.'"

I sense the center of things in that last comment. It's not quite the same as the pleasure of living in a cool place. After all, by most objective measures, Oak Cliff isn't high on the cool scale yet. It's more the excitement of believing you are involved in the creation of a new cool place.

I got the same thing recently in a conversation with Jason Roberts, founder of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff and a subject of Kimberly Thorpe's Observer cover story, "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" (November 26). He talked to me about that same push and pull—visiting a wonderful place elsewhere, coming home to harsh reality, crashing, then discovering the excitement of making this place into one of those places.

North Oak Cliff—the old part of Oak Cliff—is not Old East Dallas all over again. It's quite different. In East Dallas, where I live, we believe we saved our world by fighting off redevelopment. I think this new cool Oak Cliff wants redevelopment. But Biko redevelopment. It's a less rigid place than East Dallas. In fact that was why I was there.

The previous week I had written about a brouhaha in East Dallas concerning efforts to create a community garden in a neighborhood near White Rock Lake. The homeowners in the area rose up in high dudgeon to smack down what they saw as a dangerous invasion of their turf by rough-riding elitist cultural Cossacks.

Gardeners? Cossacks? What does that tell you about East Dallas?

I can tell you what it tells you. Don't come to East Dallas talking about anything new unless you want to get a pointed board from a white picket fence driven through your heart. And guess what! Most of the time, I'm with the picket fencers. I guess I'm just a creature of my own culture.

I had written several times about the ridiculous hurdles people around the city face when they want to create community gardens. I was aware that several successful new gardens are under way in Oak Cliff, and I didn't want to leave the impression it's all hopeless.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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