Panelists at Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr PC’s “DFW Reimagined” panel discussion focusing on Oak Cliff offered an alternative perspective Thursday to the typically negative view of gentrification.
The southwest Dallas neighborhood has experienced a recent surge in activity, including projects like Exxir Capital’s $70 million mixed-used development and Alamo Manhattan’s $65 million residential and retail development called Bishop Arts Station.
Former Dallas city council member Angela Hunt moderated the conversation, which included panelists David Spence, Monte Anderson, Michael Nazerian, and Wade Johns.
Though most people associate the word “gentrification” negatively, it doesn’t have to be seen that way, said Spence, founder of Good Space and an Oak Cliff resident. “To me, gentrification looks a lot like desegregation,” he said.
The home-ownership rate in North Oak Cliff was 71 percent in 2010, Spence said. In contrast, the average home-ownership rate in Dallas was about 45 percent. He also noted that 72 percent of homes in the “high-equity” area were owned by people with Hispanic surnames.
“A lot of those folks bought those homes a long time ago for $15,000, and [Michael] paid $400,000 or more for some of those houses,” Spence said, referring to Nazerian, owner of Exxir Capital. “The rezoning that took place put a lot of money in a lot of pockets. It was a huge success of wealth transfer from rich white guys to less wealthy minorities. I don’t see the tragedy in that.”
Spence also cited research from data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowtiz, who found that the No. 1 factor propelling people who are in the bottom 20 percent wealth bracket—as well as those in the top 20 percent bracket—is proximity. “In other words, if you want to pull people from the bottom, then put them next to people who aren’t poor and who are starting businesses and owning property,” Spence said.
Anderson, president of Options Real Estate and another Oak Cliff native, echoed some of Spence’s thoughts. Part of the problem lies in people’s misconceptions that only developers can own something, Anderson said. He encourages people to buy property instead of renting.
“In southern Dallas, in this country, we have not done a good job of teaching people how to build wealth,” Anderson said. “I’m not talking about super wealth—you know the wealthy billionaires—I’m just talking about basic wealth for a family that can have something to pass on.”
Spence also said gentrification is not something we should run away from, because it’s natural. “Cities evolve; they have to evolve,” he said. “If they don’t evolve, they die.”
London native Nazerian, meantime, said the idea of community initially attracted him to Oak Cliff. “My father and I had always talked about trying to create urban spaces in cities in America that at that time were only built for cars, like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, [and] Denver,” he said.
Nazerian made the move from New York to Dallas’ West Village in 2006. But the kind of urbanism he saw there was not the kind he’d seen in New York’s West Village. While local candle shops and bakeries lined the streets of New York, corporate stores filled Dallas’ spaces. Still, he recognized a demand for a sense of community. That prompted him to create an urban space that would “stand the test of time.”
That project took shape in Oak Cliff’s Bishop Arts District: a 500,000-square-foot mixed-used project called Bishop Arts Village. The development will include space for retail, green open space, art gardens, and a boutique hotel. Nazerian said the new structures are in line with Bishop Arts’ 1920s-style buildings.
Seattle native Johns, an executive with Dallas-based Alamo Manhattan, talked about the company’s Bishop Arts Station project in North Oak Cliff. It will include two buildings with 216 units and 25,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and restaurants. Johns said that Alamo’s project, which received $11.25 million in government tax increment financing, will also preserve the community’s unique area and community.
He admitted, however, that the initial plan was not received well. In response, he hosted a community meeting at Eno’s Pizza Tavern, where he listened to residents’ concerns. The new project, he said, will reflect that.