Living Proof: Southtown Lousy With Kids

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Tracy Hamilton

Southtown is hip, but it’s got no community, according San Antonio Express-News columnist Roy Bragg.  In a column that ran last Thursday under the headline “Southtown is Edgy, Hip and Someday Transient,”  the longtime Express-News columnist bemoaned that – get this – Southtown has no children.

“…(T)here will never be herds of little kids riding bicycles to the corner store or playing street football. The traffic is too dangerous. The real estate is too pricey, and there’s not much of it left,” Bragg wrote. “Without kids, Southtown has no connective tissue. It won’t have roots. Without kids, it’s not a neighborhood – it’s basically an apartment complex spread across several blocks of tree-covered lots. It will not evolve.”

C’mon. Really?

I like Roy. I worked with him at the Express-News for nine years, even if I didn’t see him terribly often (Roy has perfected the art of staying out of the newsroom, which I always admired). He also offered me sage advice more than once during my tenure, and for that I remain grateful.

His column caused a stir, and in today’s social media world, a ton of engagement.  On the newspaper’s website, readers posted 23 comments, the majority from Southtown residents disputing his argument.  Dozens more comments showed up on Facebook.

For those that missed it, Roy began with something of a mea culpa. Apparently, many years ago, he was skeptical that Southtown – the historic neighborhoods of King William and Lavaca, just south of downtown – would never escape its “dodgy” reputation. (It must have been quite a while ago; I moved into Southtown in 2003 and the place had clearly been a “livable neighborhood” for some time.)

But, “typing with all sorts of humility,” Roy wrote last week, “Wow, was I wrong.”

He’s apparently been “driving around” Southtown for the “last couple of years … and the transformation has been impressive.”

"The traffic's too dangerous (in Southtown)," Express-News Columnist Roy Bragg wrote. Admittedly, traffic can be rough during some downtown festivals and events – like the First Friday scene captured here. Usually, traffic is slow and mild down South Alamo Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“The traffic’s too dangerous (in Southtown),” Express-News Columnist Roy Bragg wrote. Admittedly, traffic can be rough during some downtown festivals and events – like the First Friday scene captured here. Usually, however, traffic is slow and mild on South Alamo Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

 

Southtown’s aging housing stock has largely been restored and Roy approves: homes here are neither gaudy nor kitschy, he says.

“But …”

The rest of the column is one big but. Roy really brings the hammer down on Southtown residents. There are two kinds of people who live in a metro area, he explains. The “live for now” folk, who want to be near “pricey little bistros and artist friends.”

See: Austin.

Then there are the “long-run people.” They might begin as “live for now” people, but by golly, once they fall in love and decide to procreate, pragmatism takes over and they’re off to suburbs, where they “evolve” into Sunday-school-teaching, carpooling, Chili’s-eating adults whose lives revolve around the kiddos. And that, dear readers, is community.

And poor hip Southtown has no community, because it has no kids.

The Circle School's "Neighborhoods are People" float for the 2012 King William Fair parade was built in the Southtown workshop of Katie Pell and Peter Zubiate. Many current Bonham Academy students are former Circle Schoolers. Photo by Peter French

The Circle School’s “Neighborhoods are People” float for the 2012 King William Fair parade was built in the Southtown workshop of Katie Pell and Peter Zubiate. Many current Bonham Academy students are former Circle Schoolers. Photo by Peter French.

Except of course that Southtown is filled with kids. The place is lousy with ‘em. So many, in fact, they have their very own school, right in the middle of the ‘hood.

Every weekday morning the traffic around Bonham Academy, where my daughter Nola Grace attends kindergarten, slows to a crawl as parents walk, ride and drop their children off for school.

So many, in fact, that local parents clamored to expand the school so the kids wouldn’t have to leave the neighborhood.

The district responded, and Bonham is now growing its very own middle school. Thanks in large part to active parents, Bonham has become a vibrant success story within the San Antonio Independent School District.

Other Southtown kids attend various private schools around San Antonio. But after school and on weekends, they’re often together in the herds Roy apparently missed.

Southtown families celebrate the third birthday of William Hooper Abad, son of Julie Hooper Abad and Jennifer Abad. Photo courtesy Jennifer Abad

Southtown families celebrate the third birthday of William Hooper Abad, son of Julie Hooper Abad and Jennifer Abad. Photo courtesy Jennifer Abad.

Perhaps next time he’ll get out of his car (sort of the point of Southtown) and actually talk to people.

Far from being edgy, Southtown these days more often feels like  Mayberry – an artsy, foodie, urban Mayberry, perhaps, but still an old-fashioned neighborhood where everyone knows your name, and your neighbors have your back.

If families are not informally gathering at the Alamo Street Eat Bar or the The Friendly Spot, they’re taking part in one of the kid-centered events dreamed up by resident families – like the annual Easter egg hunt at Upper Mill Park on the river (It’s March 30 this year if you’d like to join in),  float-building for the King William Fair, scavenger hunts, books swaps and swim parties.

 

Former King William resident Deb Cano started the annual Easter Egg hunt about a decade ago; today Deb Mueller and her family keep it going. Parents drop off a dozen eggs per child ahead of time, to be hidden at Upper Mill Park on for the hunt. Photo courtesy Cherise Rohr Allegrini

Former King William resident Deb Cano started the annual Easter Egg hunt about a decade ago; today Deb Mueller and her family keep it going. Parents drop off a dozen eggs per child ahead of time, to be hidden at Upper Mill Park on for the hunt. Photo courtesy Frederic Allegrini.

For the past two years (planning for the third is under way) dozens of Southtown families have camped together each fall along the Guadalupe River in Hunt. The Central San Antonio soccer league, recently created by some Southtown parents, is scrambling for coaches to meet the demand.

So Roy is wrong about the demographic trends of the neighborhood, but I was also struck by his tone, the way he describes “this sort of people,” i.e. those he imagines populate Southtown.

“…one of these ex-hipsters realizes that 20 years ago, he was once a starving artist trying to sell his hand-woven bong cozies to anyone.”

The repetitive use of “hip” as barely-disguised pejorative makes the column feel a little personal, that somehow those who ride bikes, appreciate art and don’t want to spend a third of their lives on the freeway are a personal affront to Roy and others who’ve made different choices.

And seriously, the parents of Southtown are hardly hipsters; there’s nary a whisker of ironic facial hair nor sagging skinny jeans to be found in the lot of them. If they once were, they’ve become Scout-masters and soccer coaches right where they are – they’re de-hipstering in place!

Southtowners revel after completing the first King William Triple Crown paddle/run/bike, a guerilla sporting event conceived, promoted and hosted by Michael Taylor. Photo by Angela Martinez

Southtowners revel after completing the first King William Triple Crown paddle/run/bike, a guerilla sporting event conceived, promoted and hosted by Michael Taylor. Photo by Angela Martinez.

Southtown kids relaxing in the grass during an impromptu Lavaca playdate. Photo courtesy of Caryl Cunningham Teten

Southtown kids relaxing in the grass during an impromptu Lavaca playdate. Photo courtesy of Caryl Cunningham Teten.

They’re staying put (or moving in) because living in a walkable community surrounded by other families, arts, community activities, the river and yes, non-chain restaurants, aligns with their values.

Families like the Gonimas, who moved their 12, 10 and 8 year olds to Southtown last year. Or the Allegrinis, who met in Southtown, procreated there, and now have one of the most beloved backyard-gathering spots in Lavaca. Or Melissa Arangua-Johnson and her husband Adam, who moved into the ‘hood when they learned they were expecting their first child, specifically for the amenities it provides.

There’s Angela Martinez and her husband Rick, who run Slab Cinema and show free children’s movies in lovely outdoor settings like Hemisfair, just up the street. Angela, a tireless Bonham booster who has lived in Southtown since 2000 (long before she procreated) also serves as the community’s unofficial visual chronologist – just last week she gathered the kids to gather at Alamo Eat Bar to make a Southtown kids Harlem Shake video.

Naomi Neuburger recently married into the ‘hood, moving her twin boys to Southtown from Canada. She and husband Lewis recently opened up their porch for First Friday, for the first of what is planned to be a rotating gathering, giving the kids somewhere safe to play while everyone enjoys the monthly spectacle of outsiders coming to enjoy our arts and restaurant scene.

The home of Josie and Marshall Davidson backs up to the river across from Blue Star; their three kids are part of the herd that scooters, bikes or Big Wheels along the Mission Reach – which runs through Southtown, meaning no one has to worry about traffic.

Roy is now familiar with Josie, who generously pointed out in an email to him that rather than bucking the trend, Southtown families instead represent the leading edge toward the move back to walkable, human-scale neighborhoods.

A typical impromptu backyard party at the home of Cherise Rohr Allegrini and Frederic Allegrini. Photo courtesy Cherise Rohr Allegrini

A typical impromptu backyard party at the home of Cherise Rohr Allegrini and Frederic Allegrini. Photo courtesy Frederic Allegrini.

Far from worrying that folks here will jump ship for the next “cool” neighborhood, we’re pretty sure there’s room for many more Southtowns – on the East, West and North sides of downtown.

So on behalf of my fellow parents, we invite you, Roy – and anyone else who hasn’t visited in a while – to come on by, get out of your car and see what has prompted so many people to lay down roots and grow the connective tissue of Southtown.

 

Tracy Idell Hamilton manages and writes Energized, CPS Energy’s blog. She’s a former San Antonio Express-News reporter who covered energy and City Hall, among other beats. Hamilton moved from Southtown proper to the other side of the tracks, also known as Roosevelt Park, in 2008. While she hopes it’s on the way to “next hip neighborhood” status, she still considers herself a Southtowner. Follow her on Twitter @tracyihamilton.

 

Related Stories on the Rivard Report:

Where I Live: Southtown

Where I Live: Lone Star / South Flores Arts District

Where I Live: A Happy Working Wife & Mom in Lavaca

CPS Energy, like Rackspace and other San Antonio Companies, Tells Its Own Stories

First Friday in San Antonio: A Three-Act Play

Downtown Tuesday: “A Worthwhile Experiment”




There are 23 comments

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  1. Luisa Inez Newton via Facebook

    neighborhoods are like human breaths, inhale, exhale. I’m sure the Native American ghosts of the SA River & San Pedro Springs hover over us and say, water, water, water…..

  2. Mary Nethery

    Great response Tracy. Kudos. Having moved from Baylor University to King Wlliam in 1981, I have witnessed and participated in many improvements that predate the ‘Southtown’ moniker. The success of Bonham Academy can also largely be attributed to years of cash-influx from the King William Association and from the volunteer efforts of numerous NON PARENTS. Somehow, the non parents always seem left out of these discussions of what makes community. It was our community in tandem with concerned, active parents that forced SAISD to keep Bonham open when it was on the closure list in the not too distant past.

    To keep these historic areas vibrant long into the future, I would like to see an updated Master Plan written for both Lavaca and King William. I believe Irby Hightower (Alamo Architects) and Lewis Fisher (Fisher Heck) wrote the last one KW has on file more than 20 years ago. Much like Hemisfair, the area bounded by IH35, I37, I90 and Durango/Chavez, could benefit from long range planning and community design charrettes led by a hired gun. We are being squeezed and pulled in all directions.

    If Hemisfair is the front porch of downtown, then surely we are the front porch of both. One of the biggest pleasures of my front porch and living here so long is watching families grow, watching kids go from trikes to bikes, watching new puppies learn the ropes, meeting grandkids of older, beloved neighbors, and hearing children walk by to go to our Bonham Academy.

    Come on Roy, get out of the car.

  3. Clayton Elkins via Facebook

    I’ve worked in the Southtown area for 5 years, so I’d like to think I am pretty accustomed to what happens in and around these parts. I must say though that my perception isn’t far off from Roy’s. I do see a lot of children at Bonham and at the Friendly Spot, but not out in the streets riding their bikes and playing in the neighborhood and I wonder how many of those kids actually live in Southtown. Obviously, I am going only off of what I perceive. I don’t have any hard data to support it.

    • Cherise

      Out of curiosity, how far do you go *into* the neighborhoods, off S. Alamo? I ask because kids are always playing (after school, more in summer) on Eager St. I tell my own kids not too because they’re younger and people still drive stupidly fast down this tiny street, but the bigger neighbor kids are always skateboarding, playing volleyball, writing in chalk, and assorted other games in the street.

      Also if you went down a few side streets you’d see yards full of play equipment and kids playing. Depends on the time of day, of course. Mr Bragg would have a much better article if he’d actually talked to people who live in Southtown.

  4. Andrea Lopez via Facebook

    I have to say this: you don’t see children playing in the street in my neighborhood, either. I know children live here, I see them get on and off the school bus. I see them in their yard as I walk down the street, but I wouldn’t notice them if I was just driving by. It’s not really safe for kids to play in the street in most neighborhoods, not just Southtown.

  5. Kate Ruckman

    Great article, Tracy! I’d like to add that the neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt has been around even longer than your photo caption indicates. I helped with it in a minor way in the mid 90s when I was on the King William board of directors, but Lynn Bobbit had been running it for a number of years at that point. Deb Cano kindly agreed to take it over when it needed a new leader.

  6. Mary L. Wagner

    My son and his wife, both attorneys in Houston, have bought a home in King William and plan to spend school holidays and summers here. THey have chosen Southtown and King William because of their love for the small town feel that exists in their neighborhood; they can walk to restaurants, bike the Mission Reach, explore downtown SA, and introduce their children to the intimacies of the innercity. Southtown has an incredible future with incredible people. It is not an either/or mentality. We are a community and inclusive and provide opportunity for all.

  7. Mary Wagner via Facebook

    I left a comment and the site rejected my very positive comments. Everytime I tried to give an oppinion, the site decided I was not legitimate. My point was: My son and his wife, both attorneys in Houston, have purchased a home in King William and plan to spend Holidays here in Southtown. They bring a school age child. They love the small town feel of their neighborhood, the proximity to restaurants, their ability to walk or bike the Mission Trail, their proximity to art and artists. They do not feel their children are deprived of surburban living. That is what they left in Houston. Southtown is a thriving community of a variety of people, who are dedicated to inclusion, diversity, creativity, energy and committment. This community fosters families. Let it thrive!!!

  8. Cherise

    Well said Tracy.
    This past Sunday, a typical day in Southtown: A neighborhood father suggests a pick up soccer game with our kids at the Concepcion Sports Complex. Some ride their bikes, some drive (it was windy afterall…), some walk. The kids kick around the soccer ball. Deciding they’d had enough of soccer and ready to call it quits but not ready to stop having fun, one kid (mine) yells “Party at my house!” Parents confer and agree it works. We all head back to our house, picking up another neighborhood family along the way. Before we know it, 9 kids are playing in our yard.

    Then, thanks to my husband the space guy, we realize it’s a good night to see the comet, but he wants to go west of town. So all families agree to come along. Only, it’s almost dinner time, so we scrounge together whatever is in my fridge while the others run home to see what they can find, bring it back, and we had a big feast for all. Then the three remaining Southtown families made our way out to see the comet.

    Except for the comet viewing, just another day in Southtown.

    Followed by Monday. Being Spring Break, 5 kids spend the morning playing at our house. In the afternoon they move on to another neighbor’s house, are then joined by at least 5 more Southtown kids and it’s another party. Ditto Tuesday, with different houses.

    We may have little aliens invisible to suburbanites like Mr. Bragg, but I assure you they’re very real here in Southtown.

    There are many elements that are key to a community. Kids are one of those. If they weren’t here, I’d be concerned too. Fortunately for us who live here, we know Mr Bragg is wrong.

  9. Doug Robins

    Tracy, thanks for the article. Our family is closing on a house in Southtown next week. My wife and I have two kids – 10 & 12 years old. We can’t wait to walk or bike to Madhatter’s, The Friendly Spot, & Blue Star. We look forward to long walks down the river. It’s my goal to never travel outside of 410 or eat at Chili’s unless I have to. Long live Southtown!

  10. Megan O'Kain Lotay via Facebook

    I found both of these articles interesting. Roy’s article seems to be a somewhat light opinion piece (and according to the response piece and many commenters…wrong). The response piece seems defensive and sarcastic — and just a little too personal to this Roy fellow rather than to the content of his article. That said, there are kids all over the place, and I don’t feel much of a sense of community anywhere in the city. More important than whether or not there are kids in Southtown is whether or not we actually have enough of a sense of community among those hip, non-child tethered young professionals that keep leaving our city in a mass exodus. A study done by Trinity University for the SA2020 initiatives stated, “Young professionals must establish roots in a city, develop a community of peers, and feel a sense of belonging. Ultimately, it is this connection to place that will lead these innovators to stay and to invest in a city.” Maybe a neighborhood full of childless hipsters, yuppies and dinks could be a very good thing for our dear city.

    • Tracy Idell Hamilton

      hi Megan,

      You might be interested in this study from 2012 that found San Antonio is actually benefiting from a brain gain, countering the conventional wisdom that bright young things are fleeing.

      They are, to some degree, but it turns out that those who return are far more valuable than those who never left. It’s a fascinating study. I wrote about it while I was still at the Express-News and so got a chance ot talk to the researcher; it really blew up my notions of in- and out-migration in US cities.

      http://therivardreport.com/the-key-to-continued-brain-gain-specialized-higher-education/

      None of that to say San Antonio doesn’t have a way to go, but as you noticed, it’s a city that’s really striving, in many quarters, to offer young, bright — and yes, hip — people reasons to return, reasons to come, and reasons to stay.

      Thanks for reading.

  11. Cherise Rohr Allegrini via Facebook

    I won’t try to refute the data of the Trinity study, as I haven’t read it but have heard similar comments often enough to assume there’s a very good reason to want young 20-somethings to stick around. But from personal experience, I have a different perspective. After working for state and local agencies, as well as being a volunteer working with assorted local organizations, it seems Texans, and San Antonians in particular, are intent on re-inventing the wheel, along with all its trials and errors, rather than looking outside our borders to examine others’ success stories (and failures). So often it’s obvious that something is done some way because it’s always been done that way and the people, having never lived outside San Antonio or outside Texas, know no different. When someone introduces a new thought, more than likely they have at least lived elsewhere and returned even if they were from here.

    I’m not dismissing natives’ opinions or expertise. Certainly knowing a place is important, but there is so much to learn from elsewhere too. As a now 40-something with kids and definite roots that I’ve put down in San Antonio (I have no extended family here except the one we’ve created), but who spent the better part of my adult life as a bit of a nomad, both in the US and abroad, I find that having experiences outside one’s hometown is vital to overall growth and progress. To that end, I’d *encourage* our 20-ish recent college grads to go elsewhere. Go outside Texas, go outside the US, learn how the rest of the world functions, for better or worse, then return if you wish and share that experience, infuse new life into this city once they’ve gained some new life experiences. In the meantime, let’s appeal to 20-something recent college grads from outside Texas to come to San Antonio, learn from us and share with us their experiences and perspectives. Twenties really *should* be transient. It’s time to enjoy one’s freedom, not return to the same-same they’ve always lived.

    As much as I will want my grown kids near me, when my kids reach college age I will strongly encourage them to go outside Texas, and to live outside Texas before returning to raise my grandkids here in Southtown :)

  12. Megan O'Kain Lotay via Facebook

    @Cherise — I absolutely agree. We just moved here a year and a half ago, and to be honest for the better part of the first year, I was looking for a way to get out. The problem I suppose is, it’s hard to get young professionals (and I include 30 somethings in this, since I am over 30 and all :)) to want to come here — and then stay for a while.

    It seems there are actually a lot of job opportunities for educated young talent, but the city doesn’t offer the same sort of community as any other city we’ve had the pleasure of living in (Pittsburgh, Houston, Chicago, even Milwaukee and Kansas City). When we arrived, I looked all around for the young professionals scene… and found that there isn’t much of one. Part of that seems a by-product of the fact that there is no “it” neighborhood where like-minded young people live.. there are some in Southtown, some in Alamo Heights, Stone Oak, etc… all over the urban sprawl. As much as people love Southtown, it wasn’t for me… it just doesn’t compare to where we lived in Houston (near Rice U.) In that sense, I agree with the Trinity study.

    I also agree with you and not just as it relates to San Antonio. Young people, if they can, should live elsewhere and travel as much as possible… come back if they want, but bring new ideas and a different perspective.

  13. Megan O'Kain Lotay via Facebook

    Oh — and I want to add, there is a lot of effort around this changing… LOOP and TYP for young professional networking… new hip restaurants and bars… the Rivard Report is also building a sense of community. All good things… we are excited for the change, and we are here to stay (for a good while at least!)


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