Mariana Griggs Is Making This Place Cool Instead of Moving Somewhere Cool

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turkyilmaz. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

Twelve years ago, Mariana Griggs was one of those people whose parachutes got messed up. Instead of landing in Portland or Brooklyn -- one of those cool bicycle, community garden, chickens-in-the-yard kind of towns -- Griggs wound up living in the North Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. It wasn't exactly the kind of place she had yearned for. So Griggs, 25 at the time, set about turning it into a place she would. When a recalcitrant City Hall staff balked at a bunch of ideas they hadn't seen before, Griggs had a way of going around them, even setting up community gardens where they weren't strictly legal. There was even a rumor, never confirmed, that she might have had something to do with the midnight painting of makeshift bicycle lanes where none had been ordained by official city policy. "I'm not going to sit around and wait for them to say, 'OK, now you can go do it,'" Griggs told the Observer in 2010.

Her vision then, she said, was not to move somewhere else and tag along on somebody's else's already-cool city. It was to make a cool place here, a new city that would grow from the soil of community gardens to the top of the tallest high-rise. Now, four years after uttering those brave words, Griggs is the wife of a second-term city council member and the mother of a brand-new baby girl. So how does her garden grow?

"I still see room for pioneering new ideas here," Griggs says, "but I don't see it as quite as easy as I used to think it was. I see it as slightly more difficult. But I do think if you have the gumption and you really really want it, it's still open here. It's still a place where you can settle and make a name for yourself, but also there are people who are going to support you."

Far from waning, her interest in gardens and bicycling has deepened, taking her a distance from the world of hip young couples with college degrees to the realm of refugee communities and other corners of the city, where people need cheap sustainable means of survival.

As for the parachute question, she thinks North Oak Cliff has already become the kind of place where a young person is lucky to land -- a mixture of what's cool elsewhere with economic opportunities some of those places may not offer, like a Brooklyn where your parents don't have to support you. "Dallas is a place of a lot of really good businesses," she says. "There's a lot to learn. But as you grow into the community and get to know your neighbors, there's an opportunity for you to be able to support yourself." Her vision of the city 12 years from now is of a place where everybody -- everybody! -- rides the bus.

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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