I AM AN OAK CLIFF RESIDENT. AND I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.
It’s not just me. Many others feel as I do: that Oak Cliff is a nice place to live but that a City Hall/North Dallas mindset treats our neighborhood south of the Trinity as a red-headed stepchild; that while we are continually assured by the mayor and City Hall that they love us, Oak Cliff natives just don’t see the actions matching the words.
That is why, during a specially called neighborhood meeting, the normally sedate Cliff Temple Baptist Church rang with 300 resolute and angry “amens” validating talk of secession from Dallas. The proposal to carve Oak Cliff into several new voting districts may have been the last straw, but the truth is that Oak Cliffs feelings were hurt long before this spring’s redistricting talk.
We like it here. The rest of Dallas can’t seem to understand that.
I have noticed the subtle bias of my friends north of the Trinity River, and so have my neighbors, with whom my family gathers regularly at the Oak Cliff YMCA T-Ball and soccer leagues, and at the Rosemont Elementary PTA meetings. The standard joke among my peers is that we are the “Oak Cliff Ohs”: whenever anyone asks where we live and we respond “Oak Cliff,” they respond “Oh.”
There is a perception among my North Dallas and Lakewood friends that my family lives in a crime-ridden ghetto, and that the only reason we have chosen to live in such a slum is because we do not have the means to afford a nice Fox & Jacobs home in Piano or a more acceptable (to them) address in Prestonwood. The fact is that my family moved to Oak Cliff from Piano for the same reasons most of my neighbors did: a roomy home on a big lot with big trees in a real neighborhood.
When my wife and 1 were preparing for the delivery of our second child, we had planned to convert our third bedroom into a nursery, eliminating our space for overnight guests. When friends suggested we look at the old Oak Cliff rent house they were planning to sell, we concluded we had nothing to lose by just looking at it. We drove down from Piano and were stunned to find a two-story, four-bedroom home sitting behind a creek, shaded by large pecan and oak trees and just a chip shot away from the Stevens Park Golf Course. We purchased it immediately and moved in before my son was born.
We found our new neighbors to be normal people, not crack dealers or gang leaders. Many were (dare I say it?) young urban professionals who had done what we were doing-buying older, larger homes and fixing them up-only these folks had moved to Oak Cliff years before we had and had already finished the job. Their homes were mansions built in the Thirties and Forties, when houses were constructed of cut stone, marble, brick, and tile, not staples, particle board, glue, and sheet rock.
Julie and Dan Madden moved to Oak Cliff after looking at homes in the “M” Streets and lower Greenville. They settled in a huge, stone mansion overlooking the Stevens Park Golf Course, along Kessler Parkway. Dan is a practicing attorney who offices downtown, while Julie is active in the Rosemont Pre-School Association.
“We just liked how beautiful it was down here and felt that we could get more home for the money, not to mention living by the golf course, because we both play,” says Julie. “Once we moved in, we noticed that we had a lot of trouble getting our North Dallas friends to come visit us.”
The perception that Oak Cliff is totally crime-ridden, an armed camp where no one is safe, is ridiculous. There is crime all over Dallas, not just in Oak Cliff. Burglary is a chronic problem in North Dallas. Kids are on drugs in the finer homes of Piano. Say what you want to about Oak Cliff crime, but at least Walker Railey didn’t live here.
Nor does the perception that we are all poor minorities down here hold water. There has been a steady influx of young white professionals who like the older homes and the neighborhood values of Oak Cliff, but there is also a strong black and Hispanic middle class here that belies the ghetto and barrio stereotypes.
“Oak Cliff is the only part of Dallas that is truly integrated,” says Charlotte Witney, editor of the Oak Cliff Tribune. “It happened naturally, not by court order.”
Blacks, whites, and Hispanics live on the same block. It’s not that we are an island of liberal thought; some of the most bigoted rednecks I have ever met live in Oak Cliff. But at least they aren’t as hypocritical as the North Dallasites who live in lily-white neighborhoods, send their kids to private schools, and insist that they “have nothing against black people.”
WHEN THE SUBJECT OF OAK CLIFF’S SECESSION
was mentioned at a North Dallas friend’s home, 1 said that I was all for it because we are not receiving the return on our tax dollars that we feel entitled to. My friend said emphatically that we didn’t deserve as much money because our property taxes were not as high. Blood pressure rising, I informed him that Oak Cliff Chamber President Bob McElearney, who’s spearheading the secession movement, says that for every dollar Oak Cliff pays in property taxes, only forty cents returns to Oak Cliff. The rest is spent in North Dallas.
The sneer and putdowns we could ignore, or live with, but what really cocks an Oak Cliffer’s pistol is the continuing slights that we receive in city services. While we can drive in North Dallas and find all of the streets paved, the potholes filled, and the curbs intact, a motorman’s journey of Oak Cliff will lead you over-and into-more craters than Reynosa, Mexico (or the lunar surface; take your pick). Recent studies have shown that even though Dallas streets are required to have curbs and gutters, there are more substandard streets south of the Trinity than north of it. Another report shows that we have more unlighted freeways than the rest of Dallas.
We also feel that we are slighted by the retail and commercial community; our Tom Thumbs and Minyards, for instance, lack the delis and bakeries that are standard in the chains’ North Dallas stores.
Theories to explain our shabby treatment are many. Maybe it is because in most Texas towns the northern part of the city has traditionally looked down on the southern, or perhaps the natural boundary of the Trinity River (much like railroad tracks) makes it easy to put us on the “wrong” side.
The fact is that Oak Cliff, annexed to Dallas in 1903, was home to Dallas’s wealthy sixty years before North Dallas could claim that honor. Of course, history is lost on most Dallasites, who think that Big D wasn’t settled until NorthPark Mall was built, and that NorthPark potentate Raymond Nasher (not John Neely Bryan) founded Dallas.
Oak Cliff doesn’t want to be embraced and doted over, just treated fairly and equally. V\e pay taxes just like the rest of Dallas, but we would like to see some of that money spent down here where we and our children live. We would like to see our parks and our roads kept up as nicely as those in North Dallas. That’s really all that we ask, but for some reason Dallas continues to think of us as a separate city. When D Executive Editor Chris Tucker asked me to write this piece, he said that he hoped I could explain our situation to Dallas. Then he stopped and said, “Wait a minute, you are part of Dallas.”
You’re right, Chris, we are. Now if the rest of you would just accept that fact, we’ll stop all of this talk about packing our bags and leaving and we can kiss and make up.