Seven years ago, just after I returned to Dallas after more than 15 years of wandering the globe, my then six-year-old niece, Taylor, gave me an “imaginary Christmas present” I’ll never forget.

As I sat by the tree with my glass of eggnog, watching the relatives pass around my new baby, Taylor reverentially handed me a carefully folded — and very faded — washcloth. “Aunt Melody, this is for you and Sadie,” she said in hushed tones. “It’s really special. It came from North Dallas.” I don’t need to explain how funny this is to folks who’ve lived south of the Trinity for more than a few years, but those of you who are new to this neck of the woods may need a little background.

As late as 2001, if you lived below Dallas’ de facto Mason-Dixon line and wanted to shop in something besides a big-box store, you were forced to trek to North Park Mall. To Preston Center. To the Galleria. To Snider Plaza. If you wanted to buy something special or eat someplace that didn’t have an ® in its name, you were heading north, no doubt about it. When Taylor conjured up her special “present,” she knew one thing well: If it was nice, it had to have come from someplace across town.

Flash forward, as I type this over a latte on Bishop Street, and imagine my delight at how things have changed in these parts. Last week, my kiddo, Sadie, and I ate (well, I ate, she scarfed) tapas at Oak Cliff’s newly-minted Café Madrid. On Saturday, I sipped cappuccino and read the New York Times while Sadie took her first yoga class at Bishop Arts Yoga. That afternoon, I ran back to Bishop — this time to Bishop Street Market — to pick up a last-minute birthday gift for a friend.

From a good plate of pad thai (Bishop Street’s Chan Thai) to a source for bargain-basement Fiesta® Ware (Dave’s Place) to a hip martini spot (BarBelmont) to, now, a drive-through Chase Bank with more than one retail banking line (Wynnewood Village), it’s getting easier every day to live, work, shop and enjoy the good life here in the Cliff.

Before moving to Dallas, I lived for a few years in Greenwich Village — and I initially thought nothing of hopping a bus to visit friends in Washington Heights or Brooklyn or the Upper West side. I soon realized that I was doing the traveling because New Yorkers are famously loathe to leave their own neighborhoods. Ask somebody who lives at 72nd and Amsterdam to come to Little Italy for dinner? I might as well have been asking them to visit the moon. After a year or so of trains, planes and automobiles, I understood. Why cab it up to Carmine’s on 80th when I could step out of my apartment, cross the street and eat virtually the same linguini with white clam sauce at the Porto Bello on Thompson Street?

These days, the New Yorker in me is rearing its head again. As I waited for the team at Bishop Market to wrap up my purchase, I realized that my reasons for making that familiar trek north are, one by one, falling by the wayside. When I head for North Park these days, it’s because I want to, not because I have no choice.

Fresh new diversions, hot spots, resources here in the Cliff — that’s what this column will be about. Join me and we’ll explore yet another reason why we never have to go north of the Trinity again unless we really, really want to. Or gas goes below two bucks a gallon.