It’s not easy replacing ‘mayhem’ with ‘hope’ when the Dallas City Council’s involved

The most notable thing about Maham Road, between North Central Expressway and Spring Valley Road in far North Dallas, is how it’s pronounced: mayhem. Which is only fitting, given how the area has long been portrayed and perceived — as a high-crime hot spot with grim stat sheets full of sexual assaults and homicides and break-ins, where homeless encampments and gangs hide along the nearby creek, where prostitutes and drug dealers once conducted business in a city park filled with weeds left high to act as a crime deterrent.

"If you’re in and around that area for any length of time," said Dallas Police Department Deputy Chief Rick Watson, "its reputation hasn’t been the best." Watson, not long ago a contender for the DPD’s top job, is very good at understatement.

Maham is bracketed to the south by apartment complexes filled with low-income residents who speak little English; along the northern edge runs the Cottonwoood Creek Trail. There are also three schools along the street. But there’s nothing remarkable about it from the driver’s side window.

On Wednesday the Dallas City Council had a chance to do something about that. Something small; something simple. And it whiffed.

At the end of a long meeting, the council was given the opportunity to change the street’s name, from Maham to Esperanza, Spanish for hope. That is something the residents and property owners along and near Maham didn’t have for a very long time.

"The idea of hope, hope is here," said Watson, who took over as North Central Patrol Division’s commander four years ago. "And if you’ve got a little bit of hope, by God go get it."

The community asked for the name change, children loudest of all, when students and apartment residents voted last fall to rename the street. When some 600 ballots were tallied at a It’s My Park Day event last November, attended by hundreds and covered on the city’s own website, Esperanza won out over Harmony and Paz and two dozen other suggestions.

But on Wednesday the city council said no, not today. Maybe later. We’ll see.

Pam Garcia, at far left, and former assistant city attorney and community prosecutor Kelcy Ciluffo at last year’s Park Day event where it was announced Esperanza would replace Maham as the street name.

This request for a name change had, until Wednesday, sailed through Dallas City Hall with resounding OKs from city staff, the Subdivision Review Committee and the City Plan Commission. It was the result of more than two years’ worth of effort put in by people who live and work and own property along Maham, people who want to rid themselves of the moniker — "mayhem, a word with such negative connotations," said Pam Garcia, who manages a complex along Maham.

But Sandy Greyson, who reps far North Dallas, said she was against the name change because she believes Maham is named for a Dallas pioneer and doesn’t want to erase history from a street sign. Maybe. Maybe not. The street shows up in city directories dating back to the 1940s, but the city’s ace archivist, John Slate, told me Thursday that deep digging thus far reveals "there are not sufficient facts to confirm or refute any connection to a historical individual."

Greyson’s Oak Cliff colleague Scott Griggs asked for further research, and reminded the council they need 10 votes to change the name of historic thoroughfares. Used to be the City Council thought nothing of renaming streets for the dead and historic bridges for the living. But with the looming debate over renaming roadways for Confederate generals, perhaps the council’s feet are beginning to chill.

That wasn’t Greyson’s sole objection, though. "I don’t think the name of the street had anything to do with what goes on in that neighborhood," she said.

Do not tell that to the cops who patrol the area and spent years trying to connect with Spanish-speaking residents who were too scared to report crime. Or the kids who couldn’t play in the park.

There were countless people involved in the effort to reclaim the neighborhood and rename the street. Every person I spoke to about the effort — called, now, Esperanza Building Blocks and co-founded by Pam Garcia and fellow apartment manager Cynthia Salinas — gave a dozen other people credit. Among their ranks: area churches and nonprofits; the Richardson ISD school board, which voted to support the name change in March; owners of nearby convenience stores and motels; Chief Watson and his neighborhood patrol officers; former community prosecutor Kelsey Ciluffo; and North Dallas council representative Lee Kleinman.

It even garnered the attention of University of North Texas journalism student Rand Gowan, who documented in great detail the neighborhood makeover. He titled his online presentation From Mayhem to Hope.

"It really was a collaborative effort in this community," said Ciluffo, who’s now at Advocates for Community Transformation in West Dallas. "It was people interested in making a positive impact on those living and working in this community."

No one showed up Wednesday to fight the name change. Problem was, there no one was there to support it either, simply because no one was aware it was on the agenda. Kleinman was out of town and couldn’t make the case for Esperanza. But he thought it would sail through, and was furious to discover it has been sidelined till December 13.

"It’s what the community wants," he said Wednesday night. "It’s the real deal for a real reason. It should have been a good story."

And maybe it will be. If the grown-ups can just get out of the way.

Source Article

Leave a Reply