This is my second interview in the Fascinating People from Dallas Series in-which I'm reaching out to people who I think are doing cool things and providing value to the city and for those living here. It didn't take me long to think of someone who has brought some awesomeness and instilled pride for the city in a neighborhood that often gets the short end of the stick, Oak Cliff.
For a place that Stevie Ray Vaughn, Erykah Badu, Edie Brickell, Dennis Rodman, and T-Bone Walker once called home, Oak Cliff sure gets slapped around a lot in the media. Then again Oak Cliff was also the home of three of America’s most notorious criminals: Bonnie and Clyde; and Lee Harvey Oswald.
Up until last year, I didn't realize how cool Oak Cliff, the Bishop Arts District, and the Tyler Davis Art District were before asking an ILiveInDallas.com contributor to write an Insider's Guide to Oak Cliff. A lot has changed since then, and there are new businesses and events, which brings us to the topic of today's article in the Fascinating People from Dallas Series, Mr. Rob Shearer.
Go Oak Cliff is an organization run by Shearer and a group of founding members, and over the last three years Shearer and the other founders have used this organization as a platform for change. In my opinion, he helped put Oak Cliff on the map (even for Dallas people) by organizing and sponsoring some amazing events such as : Bastille Day, Brew Riot, Mardi Gras Crawfish Boil, and others.
According to its website, Go Oak Cliff is a:
"Non-profit news, advocacy, and quality of life organization focused on supporting and inspiring the Historic Oak Cliff Community which lies directly southwest of Downtown Dallas, Texas. Go Oak Cliff’s mission is simple: to develop North Oak Cliff as the most livable community in the nation."
He's also current or formally been on the board of quite a few business and community organizations - Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, Oak Cliff Transit Authority, Oak Cliff Foundation, Bishop Arts Merchant Association and Oak Cliff Chamber's Quality of Life Committee.
I find Mr. Shearer fascinating because, in my opinion, he has become a true change-agent for the Oak Cliff neighborhood. A lot of people have great intentions and talk about doing things for the community. Rob doesn't just talk, he blogs and then does them. We've covered several of his events right here on ILiveInDallas.com using the organization's website as a resource.
I caught up with Rob the other day and had a few questions for him.
ILive: How did Go Oak Cliff get started?
RS: All of the founding members had been previously doing things independently in the neighborhood to bring about change. Jason Roberts had started the Oak Cliff Transit Authority to work to bring street cars back to Oak Cliff, Edwin Cabiness had started the amazing Kessler Theater, Amy Cowan had hosted the huge Democratic Watch party in Bishop Arts the night Obama was elected, and Matt Spillers had started Eno's Pizza in Bishop Arts. I had previously started a magazine for the neighborhood called CliffDweller which we later sold to Advocate Magazine.
ILive: What's been your driving motivation for doing so much for the city?
RS: We love our neighborhood and were tired of folks leaving Dallas for places like Portland or Denver because those cities offered a quality of life that Dallas didn't offer. We felt as a group we could make a direct impact on the quality of life in our neighborhood and hopefully also in Dallas in general.
ILive: Can you tell more more about the Better Block Project, and what it did for Oak Cliff?
RS: Better Block was the brainchild of Jason Roberts. He imagined a scenario where you get a ton of volunteers and a little money and you transform a block for a weekend. The first one was an experiment - a proof of concept. But with a small army of friends and neighbors we saw a block completely changed with pop-up shops such as a kids art space, coffee shop, gift shop, art gallery, etc. The cool thing is that the kids art space went from a weekend idea to a full time space, now called Oil & Cotton. This event perhaps more than any of the others we've been involved with gave us all the sense that a little hard work by a group of concerned citizens could make substantial change in the city.
ILive: What are your top three favorite restaurants in Oak Cliff?
RS: This is a really tough question - I am a big fan of Oak Cliff restaurants and love that each offers something special. If I want great BBQ, I have to go to Lockhart. If I want amazing cheese enchiladas, I will go to El Jordan. I think Zen Sushi may have the best sushi in Dallas. But probably my three favorite restaurants in Oak Cliff are Lucia, Bolsa and Smoke.
ILive: What's the new hip thing to do in Oak Cliff?
RS: Bikes are hot and seem to be getting hotter. Some of this is a result of Bishop Arts getting so popular that parking has become challenging. If you live in the neighborhood it makes so much more sense to ride your bike to dinner than struggle to find a parking spot. We've got a great bike shop (Oak Cliff Bicycle Company) in the heart of Bishop Arts that organizes rides around town.
ILive: What's in the works for events in Oak Cliff? Can you give us some hints on new events that have not been publicized yet?
RS: Well, let's start with events that have been publicized. Bastille on Bishop is Thursday, July 14 and it's going to be huge. This is a party that you don't want to miss - regardless of whether you love French food. It's just a fun street party and not like anything else in Dallas. And the second annual Blues, Bandits and BBQ event will be October 22 but we're changing the location. This year we're having the event at Lake Cliff Park, one of the beautiful parks we've got in Oak Cliff - and this venue change should make it even more popular. I would also expect some food themed bike rides this fall - we've talked about a taco tour on bikes as well as a BBQ tour on bikes.