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By Sarah Acosta
If you’re one of those Dallas residents wishing to move to an area like Austin — or if you just have the hard-time skyscraper city blues — hop into your car (or on your bike), and travel towards the Bishop Arts District, but keep going past it.
Whether you’re traveling on Davis or Tyler streets, near Kessler Park in North Oak Cliff, you won’t miss it. Residents have dubbed this area “X +.” The “X” is the intersection where Kings Highway crosses Davis Street, and the “+” is the adjacent intersection where Tyler Street crosses Seventh.
The best way to travel this smiling artistic neighborhood is by bike or on foot. You can say it’s a reaction to the Bishop Arts District transitioning from true arts district to a culinary and shopping destination. When live music and art became a no longer everyday scene in Bishop Arts, X+ residents picked up right were Bishop Arts left off giving X+ their own identity.
Local X + resident, musician, DJ, and artistic director of the newly renovated Kessler Theater, Jeffery Liles, describes the neighborhood as a creative nexus.
“A place where all kinds of creative people can come together and feel at home,” Liles said. “A neighborhood where there is an implicit appreciation of the arts.”
Touring with the X+ Curator
To truly grasp what the neighborhood is all about, we decided to venture around in this creative mecca with Liles as our guide. We don’t even drive a block before we ran into someone he knows; Holly Jefferson, one of the locals who helped open a two-day pop-up flower and gift shop, called Wigwam. We get out, and walk around Tyler Street, where by noon the residents are bustling.
A group of women are making potted plants, as they are getting ready for the “Build a Better Block Project” for the weekend. Jason Roberts, a local X+ activist behind the project and another trolley system project, sits on the bumper of his car, helping prepare for the weekend. Roberts was one of the masterminds behind Dallas city council’s approval of the $23 million federal grant to fund a trolley system to connect downtown with North Oak Cliff.
This project will allow for the trolley to run right into the X+ neighborhood right along Seventh Street.
Roberts recent project, the “Build a Better Block” weekend, took place April 10-12 to show the city and neighbors how to recapture public space by looking at the life between the buildings. To highlight this, the project had pop-up shops, coffee stands on street corners, a kids art studio, bike areas, and music. Roberts explained to us that they are currently trying to show how the area can be more hospitable by highlighting that the current zoning and ordinances are holding the area and streets back.
“We should re-think our public spaces by making them more inviting to people, more economical and safe,” Roberts said. “We’re trying to enable that, because right now the form of the area is wrong.”
Appropriately stationed in the heart of the neighborhood, Oak Cliff Bicycle Company is part of the engine behind Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, where throughout the year they have hosted events like “Bicycle Block parties” and “Cyclesomatic,” that bring families together with bands, bike films, competitions, and group rides.
We’re also introduced to Carlos and Opal Salas, owners of bookstore Cliff Notes Prolonged Media, as they set out books on shelves on the sidewalk preparing for their move next to the Kessler Theater. Cliff Notes is one of the hosts behind “Poets on X+,” where the community can watch slam poets, performance poets, and open mic performances once a month at Mighty Fine Arts owned by Steve Cruz.
We hop back in the car, (we’d probably be on bikes if we’d brought ours along) and head down to Seventh Street. Liles shows us where the new trolley system along Seventh Street will be, and you can also spot new murals popping up all along the backs of businesses. We stop and say hello to local artist and owner of Cube Collective, Kevin Obregon, as he makes final touches on his bright red octopus looking mural.
Liles points out more thriving businesses along the way, like Rose Garden, the non-profit thrift store; From The Ends of the Earth, a “Fair Trade” world imports store; Daniel Padilla Gallery, Mighty Fine Arts, both art galleries; Bolsa, Nova, and Oak Cliff Pizza, plus Norma’s Café, all popular restaurants in the area.
We end our tour with the newly renovated Kessler Theater, which Edwin Cabaniss recently bought and turned it into a mixed-use theater, dance studio, and art gallery. Liles shows us the music stage and bar area on the first floor, where almost every Thursday a different musician plays, and new art and photographs hang on the walls. We walk up to the second floor where more modern art ornate the walls. We enter a dark room, where Liles hits the lights and the theater comes to life with a huge main wood floor and stage, art on the balcony walls, and even the original theater chairs.
X+ with a Future?
One of the reasons why X+ has been so successful is because it consists of local businesses buying old vacant buildings with cheap costs, and transforming the image of the area. Roberts explained to us that the appeal of the neighborhood is the location, low rent, strong consumer base and, of course, the innovation and entrepreneurship of the residents.
One concern exists however. When attractive areas, like X+, resurrect in Dallas, people flock to them. This drives up the value of the area and next Dallas tends to tax the residents and local business owners out of the neighborhood. This happened to Deep Ellum and the Bishop Arts District. Roberts told us that this is a concern of his, and is not totally sure how to prevent this from happening to X+. He said that the reality is that the entire city should be actively developing in a truly livable/walk-able fashion, just not 3 percent at a time.
“Comparatively, in communities in Europe and elsewhere, you have a healthier environment that brings all groups into the same footprint and accommodates for those who are typically marginalized, like the old, you, and poor who need to be chauffeured wherever they go,” Roberts said. “There are several strategies for this, including senior housing into mixes, and mixed-low income housing. You also want to stay away from simply trying to only force one socio-economic group into a single area but distribute it equally.”