Homecoming? A Couple Rethinks Their San Antonio Departure

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Just over one year ago my wife and I made the decision to leave San Antonio. We wanted to go home to Kansas City so our new son could spend time with his extended family. At the time, my wife Megan had a fantastic job in local government and was involved in multiple volunteer programs. I was working for District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor.

When I wasn’t trying to convince young adults and real estate developers to invest in the near Eastside, I was starting the Downtown Kickball League, mentoring elementary school students, and leading the nascent San Antonio chapter of the Awesome Foundation. In short, we had bought in to San Antonio and were part of the great things happening there.

Scott Gustafson winds up for a kick while teammates and opponents look on. Photo by Vanessa Mulholland.

Scott Gustafson winds up for a kick while teammates and opponents look on. Photo by Vanessa Mulholland.

The desire for our son to build a relationship with his grandparents drove us to Kansas City. The last year here has been good to us. We live in a safe, walkable neighborhood free of stray dogs. Our son loves spending time with his grandparents, and Megan has continued to pursue her career. I have been working as an advocate for bike programming and served on Kansas City Mayor Sly James’ Streetcar Advisory Committee. Basically, we picked up here where we left off in San Antonio.

There was always something missing though. Kansas City has wonderful arts, amazing food, Major League Baseball, our family, our jobs, and we’ve made good friends. What was missing from our lives, however, was San Antonio. Like I said, we had bought in; we believed San Antonio could be a great place to build our lives, yet in the back of our minds we knew we would always return home to KC. It turns out that we were already home in San Antonio. And that is why we are considering coming back.

Scott Gustafson and his son, Abraham. Author photo.

Scott Gustafson and his son, Abraham. Author photo.

In addition to the world renowned Oklahoma Joes Barbeque and watching Andrew Wiggins play basketball at the University of Kansas, another thing I have gained from living in Kansas City is an expanded viewpoint. San Antonio is truly a city on the rise, but that doesn’t mean the city can’t be doing more and doing better. Here are some of the positive things happening in Kansas City, both minor and major, that San Antonio should consider expanding upon.

Local radio

KCUR, Kansas City’s local NPR affiliate, has a host of daily local programming that focuses mainly on events and people in Kansas City. ‘Up To Date’ with Steve Kraske focuses on national and local events with a Kansas City bent. Kraske does a fantastic job of bringing in national speakers who are appearing in Kansas City to talk for 30 minutes or an hour.

The real jewel is Central Standard, a show all about Kansas City. While ‘Up To Date’ is mostly about news and current events, Central Standard is about everything else. The show is on every week day from 10-11:00 a.m. (CST, of course) and covers everything from local history to restaurant reviews and listener recommendations, to interviews with local artists. What makes it so special is that it draws attention to what makes Kansas City special.

This week, the programs have been about local artists and the Affordable Care Act, Thomas Hart Benton, the history of Troost Avenue, renewable energy in Kansas, a local music festival called Middle of the Map Fest, and restaurant reviews.

San Antonio has a distinct, diverse culture, and so many exciting events every day. This history, these current events, and the many talented people who are making San Antonio into a world-class city could be celebrated in the same way. The Rivard Report, among others, is already doing an amazing job of bringing a new kind of story telling and news and information to the public. The local media could build on that momentum and offer additional ways for San Antonio residents to engage in the history and future of the Alamo City.

Crowd funding 

Kansas City doesn’t have the oldest or the biggest bike share program in the country. In fact, at only 12 stations it has limited coverage across this very hilly city. What it does have, though, is buy-in from users. BikeWalkKC, in partnership with local civic crowd funding website Neighborly, has launched the largest campaign in Neighborly history to expand the program by 10 stations. Donors can contribute online to the proposed kiosks located in their neighborhood, near their work, or wherever they choose. It’s like Kickstarter but for civic campaigns.

Its not just bikes though. Neighborly is helping grow neighborhoods across Kansas City and the country.

Trails

The City of San Antonio and Bexar County have done remarkable work in expanding the hike and bike trail system, and that is largely thanks to some very dedicated and hardworking people and public servants. The system still has a long ways to go as many people lack access to a trail that is connected to their neighborhood. The Greenway Trail system and the expanded River Walk are wonderful trails and there should be more of them in San Antonio.

The Trolley Track Trail, an old streetcar line, runs past the University of Missouri Kansas City. The trail is very popular as a walking and jogging destination. It connects the Plaza with UMKC, Brookside, and Waldo. Photo by Scott Gustafson.

The Trolley Track Trail, an old streetcar line, runs past the University of Missouri Kansas City. The trail is very popular as a walking and jogging destination. It connects the Plaza with UMKC, Brookside, and Waldo. Photo by Scott Gustafson.

In Kansas City, half a block from my front door is a 10-mile trail that on many evenings and weekends is so busy that I don’t even consider using it. This trail connects the shopping and dinning mecca, the Country Club Plaza, to the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), and historic Brookside and Waldo neighborhoods. For context, imagine the Museum Reach extension continuing on all the way to Loop 410.

The Kansas City suburb where I grew up has, among other trails, one hike and bike trail that is more than 25 miles long. This trail connects schools, parks, and homes. All told, the metro area has more than 200 miles of trails just for hiking and biking. Across the larger region there are more than 500 miles of trail.

Because of the confusing nature of trail data and the multiple jurisdictions and managing organizations, I don’t believe that includes another 200 miles of mountain bike trails, trails that horses are able to access, or bike lanes.

Its often cold in Kansas City, but when we can get outside the trails are teeming with families, pedestrians, and bikers.

Twitter

I knew that the Kansas City metropolitan area had a lot of trails, but because the region is divided across a state line and dozens of municipalities, there was only one place I could turn to get the information I needed on total trail miles – Twitter.

I asked one friend on Twitter how many hike and bike miles there are in Kansas City and within the hour people from municipalities and park organizations across the city had sent me all the data and maps I could use. It’s not just residents who are connecting on Twitter; so are local governments.

Twitter is a good tool for citizens to communicate with elected officials and city departments but it can also work wonders for all the new people moving to Bexar County.

Jones Pool

I’ve not been to Jones Pool, partly because it’s not my scene (I don’t often drink Cristal poolside) and mostly because I have a one-year-old child. From what I know about it, though, it is something San Antonio should be doing.

Jones Pool is tucked between skyscrapers in downtown Kansas City on the third floor roof of a grocery store. Photo by Scott Gustafson

Jones Pool is tucked between skyscrapers in downtown Kansas City on the third floor roof of a grocery store. Photo by Scott Gustafson

Jones Pool is located in downtown Kansas City on the roof of a nondescript building. Three floors above the city sits a pool that attracts young adults from miles around. For just a few dollars anyone can get in and enjoy the view, the cool water, the cabanas, and the 150 linear feet of bar space.

In a city with a growing number of residents who live and want to be downtown, something like Jones Pool would be perfect for any of those 100 degree days in San Antonio.

I don’t want you to think it is all sunny days and urban growth in Kansas City. KC has just as much to learn from San Antonio.

Last week’s Downtown’s Best Awards are proof that innovative and talented people are committed to making San Antonio a premier American city.

To Kansas City, I say look south toward San Antonio, because there are things about urban development you can learn too. Here are a few recommendations.  

Proximity

The Rivard Report has brought attention to many neighborhoods in San Antonio over the last two years. The Where I Live series has been a fantastic source of information about the city and the many people who care deeply for their neighborhoods.

San Antonio is still trying to grow itself as an urban destination and needs the density of energetic people downtown, in Southtown, along Broadway, and increasingly in Dignowity Hill. As we have seen in the last few years, these are neighborhoods that are attracting young adults, young families, and empty nesters. If San Antonio is going to continue to be a vibrant and walkable city, it needs the people interested in this lifestyle to remain in proximity to each other and the neighborhoods that make it a possibility.

Historic homes in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Kansas city. One advantage to multiple hip neighborhoods is that housing remains affordable.  Photo by Scott Gustafson.

Historic homes in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Kansas city. One advantage to multiple hip neighborhoods is that housing remains affordable. Photo by Scott Gustafson.

Kansas City has more hip and urban neighborhoods than I can count. Here is a list of the urban, walkable neighborhoods that are reminiscent of Southtown: the Plaza, Downtown, River Market, Columbus Circle, Westside/Summit, Crossroads, Westport, West Plaza, Brookside, Hyde Park, Waldo, and Historic Northeast. I’m sure I missed some.  The point is that creative, talented people are all over Kansas City and as a result of this dispersal have few opportunities for chance encounters and collaboration.

The proximity to one another of San Antonio’s hip neighborhoods and the creative and talented people they tend to attract allows for chance encounters and the exchange of ideas that is making San Antonio’s urban core into a dynamic place.

Collaboration

Geekdom, Awesome SA parties, Artpace Taco Friday, and PechaKucha are just a few of the many regular events in San Antonio where people from different industries and backgrounds can come together and learn what is happening in their city. At PechaKucha, presenters are the main attraction, but the conversations and new introductions before and after are the straw that stirs the drink.

Many of the fantastic projects that I worked on in San Antonio were a product of chance encounters that couldn’t have resulted without proximity to the many talented people who live in San Antonio’s coolest neighborhoods. The ease of getting from Southtown to Dignowity Hill or from downtown to The Pearl allows for the easy dissemination of new ideas and collaboration across fields and industries.

Streetcar Downtown: A two-mile starter line for the streetcar is under construction downtown. Its will run from the River Market north of downtown, through the Crossroads, and end at Crown Center, the Hallmark Corporation headquarters. Photo by Scott Gustafson.

A two-mile starter line for the streetcar is under construction in downtown Kansas City. It will run from the River Market north of downtown, through the Crossroads, and end at Crown Center, the Hallmark Corporation headquarters. Photo by Scott Gustafson.

In Kansas City I live in a walkable neighborhood that has some good third places but they only attract people from the neighborhood, except on the weekend. The bus to downtown takes about 40 minutes and that minimizes the opportunities for exchanging new ideas with people from across the city.

Pride

Even though I stated it earlier in this article, I still feel a little silly when I say things like “city on the rise” or “decade of downtown.” Us Midwesterners are burdened by too much humility, which makes it difficult for Kansas Citians to strongly declare KC as a “place to be” or a “city on the rise.”

I think this is changing in Kansas City. Young people are embracing the city’s future in a way that previous generations did not. A level of cynicism, though, remains. Kansas City is too cool to embrace itself and too humble to sell itself. You can make a pretty good living in Kansas City saying bad things about the place.

That is one thing that I love about San Antonio. Residents are proud of the city – its culture, history, and future. It is a city that is forward looking, that embraces new opportunities, and challenges itself and outside notions of what it is.

I realize that there are people in San Antonio and Kansas City who are already working on many of the things that I have recommended and I hope to be proven wrong. In the meantime, let’s work to make both cities into the best places they can be.

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One thought on “Homecoming? A Couple Rethinks Their San Antonio Departure

  1. The natives seem to love it but the massive influx of out of towners through the last decade and a half all seem to find something wrong with it.

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