by Victoria Ferrell-Ortiz
Growing up in Oak Cliff, Texas is something I’ve always been proud of despite others’ reactions. When I told a classmate at the University of North Texas in Denton where I was from, he solemnly put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m so glad you got out of there.” I was taken aback – especially when considering that I planned to return to Oak Cliff after graduation.
Although this was my personal experience in 2014, the stigma is shifting. Now when I mention I’m from Oak Cliff, I get a different response: “Do you live in Bishop Arts?” The answer is and will always be “no.” Oak Cliff is larger than just the Bishop Arts District.
The Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association awarded Bishop Arts with a “Great Texas Neighborhood” plaque that was unveiled May 25th. The City of Dallas’ Department of Planning and Urban Design (PUD) was enlisted by Mayor Pro-Tem West, to submit this nomination.
The group that applied for the ‘Great Places’ award published a one-page report on the history of Bishop Arts. In which it notes, of course, the streetcar. The earliest history addressed in their write up was 1956 and tied to the streetcar ceasing operations. When considering restorative planning measures, addressing historical disparities can be a powerful tool to effect positive change in the present day. However, this recognition made no acknowledgement of the Indigenous people whose land the Bishop Arts District sits on. What did make it into the narrative, however, was:
“As growth continues, its active residents remain ever vigilant, seeking inclusive and equitable growth to maintain Bishop Arts as a neighborhood cultural center of Oak Cliff.”
As this exponential growth continues, Oak Cliff, one of the most thriving Latinx cultural centers in Dallas, is transformed by an influx of new residents and development. Currently, under the pressure of displacement, the tethers to history and the residents that helped to build this community, are strained. Remaining ‘vigilant’ is a privilege that unfortunately not all residents can afford.
Regarding Bishop Arts, Councilman West shared that, “No matter what the future holds for us, residents and small business owners remain the heart of the neighborhood.” But just one mile away, West Oak Cliff residents and business owners are concerned about what their future holds. During the city-led West Oak Cliff Area Plan (WOCAP) process, residents have expressed concern about being displaced.
The reality is that the city’s plan can further perpetuate displacement, because the plan labels auto shops, which are overwhelmingly owned by people of color, as hindering walkability due to “curb cuts” in the sidewalk, sidewalks that the city owns. This correlation is important to point out because a handful of areas in WOCAP recommend zoning changes for these areas and suggest removing uses that “may impede pedestrian mobility due to multiple curb cuts.” However, the problem is not the use because autocentric businesses can promote walkability. These businesses are people’s livelihoods, and what they rely on to support their families, building generational and cultural wealth.
Somos Tejas, a local civic engagement organization, has organized block walking events to increase engagement for the plan. Somos Tejas along with RAYO Planning, a urban planning nonprofit, organized to assist roughly 30 automotive businesses and their supporters to sign up and speak at the recent Comprehensive Land Use Plan Committee meeting.
Thanks to the testimony of mechanic shop owners like Vanessa Saldaña who owns Aidan’s State Inspection #4 and Gerardo “Jerry” Figueroa, owner of J & E Express Auto Service and many others, Deborah Carpenter, a CLUP committee member and City Planning commissioner made the motion, which passed unanimously, to put WOCAP under advisement until the next CLUP meeting on June 28th. This decision was made in order to continue the discussion specifically to address the concerns in regards to auto centric uses, as well as other matters for the area plan and with instructions for city staff to give briefing on the issues brought by the committee.
If WOCAP truly sees West Oak Cliff as “a sustainable neighborhood that supports local, minority, women, and immigrant-owned local businesses,” then it must not include recommendations that could displace these businesses it claims to embrace.
Victoria Ferrell-Ortiz is a Public Voices Fellow of the OpEd Project, a Co-Founder of urban planning nonprofit, RAYO Planning, that centers people’s lived experiences. A cultural artist and a ‘for us, by us’ Barrio Historian. She examines how displacement affects the experience of the LatinX community while prioritizing the importance of their history being told by them.