Occupation: Lawyer, Dallas City Council member
Home Base: Oak Cliff
If long-suffering Oak Cliff is on its way to becoming one of the coolest spots in the sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth megalopoplex -- with The New York Times last year extolling the artisanal and hand-crafted joys of strolling through its Bishop Arts District -- one of the reasons is Scott Griggs.
Elected to the Dallas City Council in 2011, ousting incumbent Dave Neumann with 57 percent of the vote, Griggs is at the forefront of an upcoming generation of activists working to turn Oak Cliff and neighboring West Dallas into an urbanist's paradise crowded with commuting cyclists, trundling trolleys, indie eateries and the people who love them.
But don't tell Griggs that he's just trying to re-create Portland on the prairie.
"We're actually taking Oak Cliff back to the way it was," says Griggs, seated at a wooden table upstairs at Eno's, one of the area's signature hangouts right now. He notes that there used to be trolleys, street life and a comfy sense of community back in the day. "It's now attracting a younger group who see a need for a higher-quality public space."
He has been a proponent of bike lanes on major streets like Fort Worth Avenue, a backer of the $23 million project to bring a trolley from downtown Dallas to Oak Cliff (the first segment of which is due to be finished in 2014), and a major opponent of gas drilling in Mountain Creek, on the western border of his district.
"He has brought the perspective of the creative class [to the council]," says Jason Roberts, director of Team Better Block, an Oak Cliff-based activist group that has received national attention for attempts to revive and bring street life to urban neighborhoods. "This younger generation is looking more at urbanism, ideas of walkability and bicycling, and timeless ways of building you find in places around the world."
Roberts first met Griggs four years ago when they worked together on the Oak Cliff Transit Authority, a group formed to return trolley service to the neighborhood. He was impressed.
"He's wicked smart. You don't want to play chess with this guy," Roberts says. "That's a good thing, but sadly that can be a detriment in politics where being smart can be looked upon by some people as condescending."
Griggs, an attorney by trade, stumbled into politics after he bought a house in Oak Cliff just over a decade ago. Though he grew up in North Dallas, both he and his Brownsville-raised wife, Mariana, went to school in Austin -- he at UT's law school after graduating Texas A&M, while she got her undergrad degree at St. Edward's -- where they grew fond of the area's rolling landscape. They were looking for something similar in North Texas.
While others might've been put off by Oak Cliff's hard-edged reputation -- after all, three of the most famous gun-toting criminals in American history, Bonnie and Clyde and Lee Harvey Oswald, once called it home -- or (shudder) the lack of major retail, "we were drawn by the hills and trees," Griggs remembers.
He soon found himself on a neighborhood traffic committee. That blossomed into a position as the neighborhood association president and then a stint as the head of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group and as an appointee on Dallas' Board of Adjustment.
He says he wasn't eyeing a political career. He didn't even decide to throw his hat into the City Council race until halfway through 2010. "I saw what a critical time it was, and I wanted north Oak Cliff in particular to go more in the direction of urbanism," he says. "West Dallas was getting neglected, and there was the Mountain Creek area with the gas drilling. All of those issues were coming together."
Today, Griggs divides his time among his law practice, the City Council and helping maintain a community garden in West Dallas. And, if he's not cycling, you might find him behind the wheel of his white 1968 Chevy truck.
If all that sounds too obnoxiously hipster, too Williamsburg for words, Griggs says the goal isn't to totally alter Oak Cliff's working-class Hispanic vibe but to supplement it. "We're keeping our buildings, keeping our character," he says, noting he has no interest in Oak Cliff going through the boom-and-bust cycles that have haunted other Dallas areas like Deep Ellum and Lower Greenville.
"Traditional Dallas has been big and sexy, like the TV show," he continues. "We're focused here on the small, organic things. And if small things can get results in Dallas, the city of the big, then it can work anywhere."