Callie Enlow, a young journalist who arrived in San Antonio a few years ago and has a knack for writing things people read and respond to intensely, raised a ruckus with her most recent contribution, “Left Behind: Why People Leave San Antonio.” If you haven’t read it, take a few minutes to do so and then come on back.
Interest in the article, posted Monday evening, built steadily, and on Wednesday it set a new one-day traffic record for the The Rivard Report, now two months old. Readership peaked Wednesday, but stayed strong through Friday afternoon. The story was the most talked about posting all week on the local version of reddit.com. Callie could attend her own wedding Saturday to Ben Judson, who blogs for Plaza de Armas, knowing she is making a real difference in her adopted city.
New arrivals to TRR will enjoy Enlow’s earlier, related piece, “South of Southtown: Life on the Other Side of the Tracks.” We won’t link to every article in the sequence, but it all began with my first posting on Feb. 13, 2012, the day we launched the site. “Urban Renaissance for San Antonio? Keeping Score in a Fast-Changing City” was an upbeat survey of the changing face of San Antonio’s urban core. It provoked a former Lake/Flato architect now living in Hamburg, Germany, to fire off a TransAtlantic challenge: “San Antonio? Not Anytime Soon.” The debate was on. More voices entered the conversation and can be found below. Anyone else care to weigh in?
Enlow’s latest piece hit a nerve with others her age. Even as many young newcomers to San Antonio listed the various reasons they live and work here or feel so attached to San Antonio, they agreed with her observations in overwhelming numbers when it comes to what the city lacks in the way of must-have urban amenities, such as better public transportation. As a member of the Baby Boomer generation, I agree with their constructive criticisms of the city, and I also understand that they can’t see what someone who has been here for years can: namely, how much San Antonio has changed for the better.
Some readers from my generation or, perhaps, even older, responded less agreeably. Go to The Rivard Report page on Facebook to see what I mean. One individual in particular, Roger Glenn Stephens, posted so many responses I stopped counting them. I did read them all, Roger. What surprised me in reading, or trying to keep up, with Stephens’ postings is that they were written by a highly educated lawyer who lives in Southtown and is passionate about a multitude of progressive issues and projects downtown. He is a regular contributor of photos and observations on the Seen in Southtown page. Now that particular page skews toward a different demographic than the one Enlow represents. Membership includes older, longtime Southtown residents who sometimes express ambivalence about the neighborhood’s changing face. Not many Millennials here.
One thing’s worth remembering for those “who got here first” and now feel put out by the criticisms of younger people. The people who fought in World War II and then started the suburban movement were as confused by their children in the 60s, who rejected their conservative values and stunted cultural mores that seemed so repressive and, well, 1950s. Now those same children of the 60s are today’s aging parents and some, it seems to me, are as tone-deaf to the message of change as were their parents. How ironic.
When I read Enlow — and I think both she and her fiancé are talented communicators who merit close reading — I feel like I am a fly on the wall at Luke, or the Esquire or The Friendly Spot, and am privvy to what young professionals half my age, members of the “creative class,” are saying to each other over a beer or burger. I am pleased we are being invited into that conversation. Even where I might not agree with everything said, I want to know what motivated them to say it and believe it.
Put another way, it’s imperative that our city’s civic, business and cultural leaders listen carefully to Enlow’s generation and respond to their needs, or accept the reality that we will continue to lose them to other cities. Rackspace Chairman and SA2020 Tri-Chair Graham Weston has a question he likes to ask when speaking before leaderships groups, especially when an audience member challenges the value of downtown investment or Weston’s well-known desire to quicken the pace of change in San Antonio.
“I ask people, ‘How many of you have children who attended college and then decided to not come back to San Antonio?’ and without exemption all hands go up except for one or two people, here or there, where a family business has led to children returning,” Weston said. “I want a city where our kids don’t all leave en masse and where it is easier to convince talented young people to move here and stay here.”
We are on our way, in my opinion, but I understand that some very smart people argue just as convincingly that we are changing too slowly, not moving fast enough. How do you see the state of living and working in San Antonio compared to other metropolitan areas? Does our city make your list of Top 10 Downtowns?
Mayor Julián Castro and others tout San Antonio as the seventh largest city, but that’s a number games to me. I accept our status as a top 25 metro area and don’t pretend we’ve really passed Boston or about to overtake Philadelphia. The regional cities I most enjoy don’t seem to spend any energy pretending to be bigger than they really are. They focus instead on why they are better than somewhere else rather than bigger than somewhere else. Being big is not analogous to being good. Rate of growth and inventory of urban amenities are better measures.
I did sit down and make lists of my favorite cities, big, regional and small. I have no desire to go elsewhere. I’d rather be part of transforming our city. But that doesn’t mean I rate the home team as number one. My own choices are based on where I have been, and I haven’t been everywhere. This will probably start a bar argument or provoke some snarky commentary, but I bet the people agreeing with Enlow would probably agree with me that my lists are a good road map used by all those young, creative types who are not coming here, or worse, are on their way out.
Top 10 Regional Downtowns Top 10 Big City Downtowns
1. Austin 1. New York
2. Seattle 2. Los Angeles
3. Portland 3. Chicago
4. Denver 4. Boston
5. San Diego 5. San Francisco
6. San Antonio 6. Miami
7. New Orleans 7. Washington DC
8. Indianapolis 8. Philadelphia
9. Milwaukee 9. Atlanta
10. Louisville 10. Dallas
Top 10 Small Cities
1. Boulder, CO
2. Madison, WI
3. Santa Fe, NM
4. Bend, ORE
5. Fort Collins, CO
6. Asheville, NC
7. Charlottesville, VI
8. Traverse City, MI
9. Portsmouth, NH
10. Bozeman, MON
I reserve the right to change my mind.