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