Shawn Williams: The mixed blessings of Oak Cliff

Here’s a column I wrote for the Dallas Morning News as it appears in Thursday Morning’s edition. 

It wasn’t long after I graduated from college and started a sales career in North Texas that I began to tell my friends that I wanted to live within Dallas’ city limits. Most felt that my intentions were good but unrealistic: “Married people with college degrees don’t move to Dallas,” I would hear. “They get as far away as they can.”

When I expressed a desire to move to Oak Cliff, they treated me as if I planned to leave the country.

 

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My wife and I purchased our first home in Grand Prairie, but my desire to move to Dallas never dissipated. I followed Dallas County politics, identified with the city’s challenges, and traveled miles to and from Dallas to church and the private school my son attended. But finding single-family housing that fit our budget and needs proved to be more difficult than expected.

In 2005, we finally moved east, settling on a new development in a scenic part of southern Dallas. Our neighborhood is surrounded by mature trees often inhabited by cardinals and blue jays; rabbits and roadrunners dart in and out of our back yard. All of this an oasis in the middle of what most would consider urban blight.

It was probably not the smartest real estate decision, and we continue to evaluate our move as we approach three years of living in Oak Cliff.

One of the biggest struggles involves retail options. After moving into our first house, we watched dozens of stores, shops and restaurants pop up along Interstate 20 and Great Southwest Parkway in Grand Prairie. But the slice of I-20 closest to us now has had a far different fortune, and the store closing/grand opening ratio is not working in our favor.

We continue to do our mall shopping in Tarrant County, purchase groceries in Duncanville and ride to Cedar Hill when we want to expand our dining options. Nearby retail improvements lag, and I imagine the struggling national economy won’t help. We also choose to have our son participate in Arlington Parks Department’s youth sports program.

Crime has not been a factor, but the sagging pants phenomenon is. No matter which route I take home, I’m destined to pass some young brothers with their drawers hanging out for all to see. I struggle with what my son must think of this unfortunate trend, one I once took part in myself.

All of that said, the move to Dallas has been a good one for the Williams family. Our neighborhood is quiet, the people are nice, and the hills that roll through our community make for challenging bike rides. My neighbors are predominantly Latino, while African-Americans live in the apartments to our south and the townhomes to the west. That’s pretty much it when it comes to diversity.

The biggest advantage has been cutting down on windshield time by moving closer to where we work, learn and worship. The most pleasant surprise has been finding like-minded individuals who choose to live in southern Dallas when their income and education level might suggest they do otherwise.

Community organizing may have become a punch line in recent weeks, but it has been refreshing to see fellow Dallasites like Mike Davis, Danielle Ayers, Casey Thomas and Janet Morrison investing their time and talents in our city. There are many folks outside of Dallas who work to make our city better, but the stakes are higher when you actually call Dallas home.

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