A Few Thoughts from a San Antonio Defector

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A comparison between each city's downtown. (Photo courtesy by MMAC and Flickr).

Many people who engage and contribute to The Rivard Report are striving to make San Antonio a more diverse, appealing place for the creative class and young professionals. It is an admirable goal and I wish them well—but I’m defecting.

I arrived 18 months ago from San Francisco, purchased a condo downtown, joined the Downtown Residents Association and did my best to make San Antonio work. But within months of moving in and exploring my new neighborhood, a sense of disappointment set in. You already know the story—no grocery story, no shopping for residents, few of the amenities commonly found in urban areas and most restaurants and bars geared more for tourists. The nearest pharmacy with extended hours? Four miles away. The grocery store downtowners recommend? Seven miles.

So, we’ve rented out our condo and are making plans to return to a larger city. Vibrant urban living may or may not be on its way to San Antonio, but I’m almost 50 years old. I don’t have a decade to wait for thousands of new residential units to spring up in downtown. I want walkable neighborhoods, jazz clubs, art house theaters, urban groceries, diverse locally owned eateries, cozy nearby nightclubs and lounges and easy public transportation, and I want them now.

To be clear, I think San Antonio is a great place to live—for someone unlike me. It is a terrific city for people raising kids who want a big, affordable home and who like it hot. If that’s what San Antonio wants to be, that’s okay with me, but I sense there’s a desire to have San Antonio be more than just a pleasant mid-tier city. There’s a lot of talk about making San Antonio “world class,” and if that’s really the consensus, then people have to get involved in supporting their downtown.

Downtown view from the Vistana, which enjoys a 90%-plus occupancy rate. (Photo by Carolina Canizales).

One of the shocking things I found about living here is San Antonian’s attitudes about downtown, which are very different from other cities in which I’ve lived. People seem to believe it’s dangerous or that it offers nothing for residents. Neither are true, but these beliefs mean that most people I know only visit downtown once a year—to see holiday lights—if at all.

Therein lies the real challenge with San Antonio’s downtown becoming the vital center of energy and culture some envision. Nothing the Mayor and City Council do will lure people downtown--to visit or to live--who have no interest in it (although it might help if the city stops handing our incentives to send jobs further from the city center).

To make the point, let me tell you a tale of two cities: San Antonio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve lived in San Antonio’s downtown and was part of Milwaukee’s downtown renaissance in the late 90s and 2000s. I suspect Milwaukee is probably not a city San Antonio considers for comparisons—after all, San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the U.S. and Milwaukee the 28th. But when you peel back the onion (and take into account San Antonio is more than 400 square miles), the two get a little more similar.  San Antonio is the 24th largest metropolitan area, and Milwaukee is 39th.

But even though San Antonio is larger, Milwaukee has a much more vibrant and livable downtown. Milwaukee’s two-square-mile downtown zip code (53202) has 23,000 residents, while San Antonio’s two downtown zip codes (78205 and 78215) cover the same area but contain less than 3,000 residents (per the 2010 census). With Milwaukee’s greater population density comes amenities San Antonio residents dream about--two enormous full-service grocery stores, an active public market, a warehouse district full of boutiques, several weekly summer music events that draw thousands, and at least five successful performing arts venues.

San Antonio (left) and Milwaukee (right) downtowns. (Photo courtesy by MMAC and Flickr).

Milwaukee’s downtown wasn’t always so alive. In the 1980s, its downtown looked a lot like San Antonio’s. So what happened? The city furnished incentives for developers, just as San Antonio is doing, but something else happened: people wanted to be downtown. The condo my wife and I purchased in the late 90s sold out the entire project of 79 units in a single week based on a demo unit and no construction underway. Compare that to San Antonio, where the Vidorra (a truly terrific building), Alteza and Broadway were completed more than two years ago and still have substantial numbers of unsold units.

If San Antonio wants to be a world-class city with a pulsating, diverse downtown, the thing that has to change is San Antonians. Let me repeat something I said earlier to try to avoid a wave of critical comments: I’m fine with San Antonio staying just the way it is, and if you’re fine with it, then everyone’s happy. But you can’t bemoan the flight of young people or the difficulties attracting talent to the city and at the same time treat downtown like it’s radioactive. Changing the city is something San Antonians have to commit to, personally.

Your downtown has a lot to offer; just ask the 26 million people who travel from around the globe to visit. Surely if people can travel from thousands of miles away to enjoy what your downtown has to offer, you can venture out of Stone Oak, Rogers Ranch or your corner of the city every now and again to enjoy a bite to eat, a drink and some entertainment.

Dubious distinction? AARP rated San Antonio one of the Top Ten cities to live for people over 50.

Ironically, as I wrote this, I began to see tweets from excited San Antonians that the city was named by the AARP as one of the top 10 places to live for people over 50. That sounded exciting, until I saw the list of cities included--Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Gainesville, Florida, Grand Junction, Colorado and Las Cruces, New Mexico. I don’t think those are the places to which San Antonio wishes to compare itself, but it’s going to take more than blog posts and tweets to have San Antonio included in the same breath as Atlanta, Chicago or even Dallas, for that matter.

I have enjoyed my time here and met many good people whom I will miss. I have a few favorite haunts that I’ll pine for (such as The Esquire, Menger Bar, Taco Haven and Beethoven Beer Garden). I’ll be back to visit, and when I do, I hope I see the vision shared by those on The Rivard Report beginning to take shape.

Best of luck, San Antonio.

Augie Ray was a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin before joining Forrester Research in San Francisco as a Senior Analyst of Social Media. He moved to San Antonio to oversee USAA's social media and social business efforts. Despite loving his job as Executive Director of Community and Collaboration, Ray recently left USAA and is making plans to depart San Antonio shortly. His post explains why.

You can connect with Augie Ray on Twitter.

79 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts from a San Antonio Defector

  1. I suspect the heat of San Antonio has as much to do with his views as the other factors he mentioned. For a guy who spent his entire life in Milwaukee and San Francisco…the temperature difference can be difficult to adjust to, especially considering that he was here for an extended drought with astronomical temperatures not normally seen here. As he noted, tourists find plenty of things to do downtown. I think a major deterrent to families moving downtown is the schools. Families with money prefer to live in neighborhoods in Alamo Heights, Northeast and Northside where their children are more likely to receive a quality education. The inner city districts have so much turmoil with their school boards that they have a hard time keeping (or attracting) superintendents who have the capability to make improvements. I think our mayor is right to focus on education…if he can just get those school boards to set the politics aside, and do what is right for the children….

  2. While not downtown proper, don’t ignore Southtown. One of the reasons we, a family raising small kids (though we’re not much younger than Mr Ray), live here, is because we can live in a mostly urban environment, in an affordable (but small) house, a stone’s throw from a vibrant, active, downtown community. There are not many cities in the US where we can walk to so much, yet have a house with a yard, around the corner from an excellent public school.

    San Antonio indeed has a long way to go to make its downtown a livable place rather than a tourist destination, but with communities like Southtown, it’s well on its way.

  3. Teresa, thanks for the nice comment.

    Judy, I find it interesting you’d presume to know my feelings better than I do. My decision had (almost) nothing to do with heat but with a lack of urban experiences and amenities. If I could put up with 52 inches of snow a year and weeks of sub-zero windchill, I can certainly deal with a couple dozen days over 100. (People down south think northerners are wimps because they freak out when temps exceed 100, while people up north think southerners are all wimps because they wear parkas and scarves when it’s 50 degrees out. Living either place simply requires some lifestyle adjustment to suit the climate.)

    As for families moving downtown, that is exactly the wrong place to start for a mid-sized city. Family do not and will not move to downtown areas until a city gets to be REALLY big. Families may live in Manhattan, but you’ll find few in downtown Milwaukee or even larger cities like downtown Atlanta and Chicago.

    Milwaukee’s renaissance didn’t happen because families moved downtown; in fact, young couples would move into urban condos, get pregnant, and generally be shipped out to the suburbs before the child was old enough to walk and in need of parks and yards (and friends). Even in San Francisco, you’d find very few families living in SOMA, the Financial District, Nob Hill and other “downtown” neighborhoods.

    The focus of downtown needs to be density of residential options and amenities for young adults, DINKs and empty nesters. These are the people who move into downtowns and the ones who either won’t be lured to San Antonio or leave San Antonio because the city cannot provide the lifestyle they seek. This city has plenty for families–if it wants to keep young people and the creative class, it needs a downtown that appeals to someone who doesn’t already get what they want from Alamo Heights and Shavano Park.

  4. Augie’s letter reminds me of my feelings when I left San Antonio in the late 1990’s. I would just tell him that downtown is much, much better now and it is changing very rapidly. I still have regular business in San Antonio and I can see dramatic change in just the last 5 years. I predict all his concerns will be old news in another few years.

  5. Excellent post. The solution *really* isn’t too difficult – it’s just a matter of getting it done, and Milwaukee is a great example. As others have echoed, I think we’re on our way…

  6. Cherise,

    I love Southtown. It’s a very exciting corner of San Antonio, and if I hadn’t lived in downtown, I would have definitely ended up in Southtown. (You may have noticed that half of my favorite place that I listed in my post are in Southtown, and if I added others, they would include LaFrite, Madhatter and The Monterey.)

    That said, Southtown isn’t downtown. There’s a reason why it’s not called downtown, and that’s because it isn’t. Many people moving from large cities don’t want 100-year-old homes and relatively quiet neighborhoods. They want high rises with high density of residents, lots of activities and amenities outside their door.

    I’m not criticizing Southtown in any way. It’s terrific, but it already exists and is thriving. What San Antonio needs is something that does not yet exist–a true urban experience for those who want it.

    Just this week I met with a new resident to San Antonio who had moved from Manhattan in March. He asked for my recommendation of where to look for a home, and I suggested Southtown. It was the first thing out of my mouth! He wrinkled his nose, because he wants something like Manhattan. His ideal is a high rise with a view, a great lobby and community amenities, all close to shopping, bars and restaurants. I recommended the Vidorra, where I lived, but I warned him he wasn’t going to get everything he wanted.

    Southtown’s great. I love the vibe and community feel. But it isn’t the downtown San Antonio needs to fill the gap that exists for some people seeking a certain sort of urban lifestyle (one the seventh-largest city in the nation should be able to offer.)

    Thanks for the comment!

    • But therein lies the problem – San Antonio isn’t Manhattan. It’s not now and never will be. It shouldn’t be. It can’t be. It’s a whole different beast. Anyone who thinks they can find the same thing here will be disappointed.

      I agree with most of your sentiments regarding downtown. It has a long way to go. It does need to focus on its core for residents rather than tourists. It’s *not* the urban experience I’ve had in other cities I’ve lived. One of the advantages of having lived in multiple US cities as well as a few European and Asian cities, is that I’ve learned nowhere is like somewhere else. You’re not the first person to come from a big city, spend a relatively short amount of time here, then complain that it’s not Chicago/San Francisco/NYC etc. As long as one longs for somewhere else, they’re never going to enjoy where they are.

      I think your argument is weakened by bringing in these expectations. We need to focus on what San Antonio can be – as San Antonio – not as a mini-Manhattan. Indeed we need to learn from other cities and use them as examples, but as long as someone is expecting to find *name your city* here, they’re going to be disappointed. I don’t expect to make San Antonio my home forever, but for as long as I’m here, I plan to work to make it a great place to be, and enjoy the great place it already is.

      • re: Southtown – it didn’t exist as it is now 10 years ago. When I first moved here, it was still inner city ghetto with a few good spots. In 10 short years, it’s totally transformed (and prices have skyrocketed with that). This gives me hope for downtown. That’s a bigger beast to conquer, but I saw Southtown transform from crime-infested ghetto to……Hipster ghetto :). Overall, significant progress in a relatively short time.

        • San Antonio sucks. I have lived in Manhatten, Uptown Dallas, Tokyo, and South Beach. All are walkable, and have amenities.

          The only people who don’t realize how bad San Antonio is, are people from here that have never left.

          In my opinion, there are three major social problems with this city: 1) low education level of citizens and families that accept mediocrity for their children in the local schools 2) an almost pathological worship of pedestrian and low brow culture 3) crime–bums, panhandlers, prostitutes, roving gangs of young people, and of course the insane amount of drunk driving.

          Add all of this to a city where the drivers are rude (seriously, go to Dallas or Houston and put your turn signal on and watch how people graciously let you over.) Go to Manhatten, Singapore, San Francisco or pretty much any metropolitan area and notice how clean the city is and what an effort citizens make to live up to a social contract and recycle.

          Now look out your window here! There is so much trash on the street! It is amazing to me how people always complain that this city is crawling with rats and people toss trash all of the time out of their car windows!

          Car horns–why? Why do people in San Antonio use their car horns so much? When I was a young child, I spent many Summer’s at my families horse farm in Conneticut. I will never forget a conversation that my grandfather and a stable boy had, where the stable boy was mortified that he had accidently pressed his horn while driving in town and hoped no one was offended. He and my grandfather discussed how it was the low class that used their horns to beep at each other–and how horns tooting from cars was a clear social signifier as was not using your turn signal.

          I think that may be my biggest problem with this city. San Antonio is like a garish low class–horn tooting uneducated baffon, that throws trash from it’s window while loudly cussing and yelling, and wondering why good civilized people don’t want to come to its trash strewn streets to be accosted by bums and panhandlers.

          We all know what the real problem is with this city, don’t we?

          • James,

            I am sorry you feel that way about San Antonio. I actually feel differently, and I have definitely experienced other cities. I currently live in Austin, TX, and I miss a lot about San Antonio.

            San Antonio is a great city for families, and the city has a lot to offer in terms of cultural and historical amenities. The city is also very affordable, and the community really comes together and shows a lot of civic pride. When you live in San Antonio, you get the feeling that you are also building it.

            I built a business in San Antonio, and I am very proud of the direction the city is moving. Too many people characterize the city as being composed of “low class, uneducated, horn-tooting buffoons”. They write off the city as not having a chance, and they move to places that have already been built. There are people here that have tremendous potential. Instead of labeling them and criticizing them, we should be actively working to build them up.

            David Morin
            Mission Kayak

  7. Mr. Ray, thank you for your commentary. I was born and raised in San Antonio. I agree that some still perceive downtown as still being dangerous. I grew up on the Northwest side with a mom that would never dream of taking us downtown for fear of our safety. Now I have a family, and as do many of our friends, we feel more comfortable going downtown as a family, so the attitude is changing. My husband and I also recently bought a house closer to downtown than where we grew up (about a 5 minute drive) to be closer to the action. One of the many reasons being that we love to eat out, and were tired of our dinner options being Chili’s, Subway, and HEB sushi.

    Metropolis magazine had an opinion piece last year where the writer slammed Austin for not being more Metro-friendly. Perhaps our region is still the wild-wild-west as far as urban pioneering goes, but we are getting there. Having a mayor that has declared this “the decade of downtown” is encouraging. I am proud of us for the progress we have had in the midst of this troubled economy. Come back and visit in 5 years. You may be pleasantly surprised!

  8. I live on the far northside, but chose to send my children to school downtown (private), so I’m not one to visit downtown only for the lights. I embrace all parts of this town, including downtown, and am happy to see the measured way in which many parts of San Antonio are growing and developing — not too fast, not too slow, just right to be sustainable. I wonder if your experience would have been different, Augie, had you been able to stay long enough to really put down some San Antonio-style roots here in our big “small” town, and had you actually worked downtown and built a more multi-dimensional network there. (Btw, I’ve lived in Wisconsin, too, and I am most certainly a Southerner cold-weather wimp. Give me 100+ degrees and sunshine any day!) Best of luck to you and come again.

  9. Everyone who has commented has been very kind and very positive, and I appreciate that. (I worked hard on that blog post so that people would see that I recognize the many great and positive things about this city!)

    Here’s something coincidental: Just today, the WSJ published a list of the US’s top cities and compared their economic output to that of countries around the globe. For example, New York City would be the 14th largest country by GDP, beating Mexico but falling behind Australia. San Antonio is 98th on this list, barely beating out–you guessed it–Milwaukee. Both beat our Angola but fall behind Slovakia in terms of GDP.


  10. Thanks for sharing, Augie, and I’m mainly interested in whether or not your vacant position at USAA is open. I’m a defector myself (left San Antonio, returned and left again), living in St. Louis for similar reasons but mainly because the career opportunities there are limited. Would love to put San Antonio back on the radar as a real possibility to settle down.

  11. I think Augie hit the nail on the head. Long road ahead of us but hopefully the tortoise wins this race as he always does. I just hope he has the political AND private will to finish the race.

    Good luck to your new adventures Augie.


  12. Rosario,

    I believe USAA is close to hiring my successor. I gave them many months notice of my intention to leave because I wanted to do right by my team and the association (who always did right by me). And I love Robert’s idea of writing your own “Hire me” post!


    Thanks for the comment. I am not pessimistic for the future of San Antonio’s downtown, but neither do I buy all the “we’re on the edge of something big” optimism. Like you said, it’s a long road, but I think slow-and-steady San Antonio will win the race, eventually.

  13. Milwaukee? Interesting city; great German restaurants, Leon’s frozen custard on the South Side (best in the World!)
    Interesting that in his discussion of SA he does not mention ONE museum: not the Witte, not the McNay, not the SA Museum of Art. Not so interested in culture?
    I don’t care if he comes or goes; nothing to me at all. To each his own. I just can’t figure why he thinks those he left behind are all that interested in his experiences in San Antonio. We live in the Hill Country and wish we had enough money to live downtown.
    As for his employer: Not perfect, but a world-class great place to work. My neighbor is willing to commute 60 miles one way to work there. Good luck, Sir, you’ll probably think of us more than you think you will.

  14. Thank you for this, Augie. As both a native of San Antonio and a young professional who is living and working downtown–you’re dead on. Perceptions must change before the structure can truly change. The sooner that downtown gains support from the greater San Antonio area, the faster things will start to pop up, and create a more complete urban feel. I certainly hope your post is the catalyst that causes citizens to think centro. Best of luck to you!

  15. Bottom line: Why hasn’t HEB opened a grocery store in one of the old abandoned buildings downtown??? An HEB plus would solve a lot.

  16. If you ask me, Alteza and The Broadway are part of the problem with condo sales in and around the downtown area and should not be used to show a lack of interest in downtown condo living. San Antonio is not a $400,000/1 bedroom condo kind of city. Nor do we need whole floors of $3 million dollar penthouse units. We need condos downtown that people can afford to buy and then they will. When I hear people say the condo market is dead in San Antonio, my reply is that the developers of these uber-expensive condos are the ones who killed it. Build something people can afford and they will come and they will buy. As a REALTOR I have people asking for things they can buy downtown all the time. But it’s not here. Come on developers, give us something we can sell.

    • Lynn, you just saved me a long post. Augie mentions the Vidorra as proof that San Antonians don’t want to live downtown, but the reason they are not selling is because they are ridiculously overpriced for the market.

  17. Anna, I was addressing downtown, and only one of those museums you mentioned is downtown. (You missed at least two however, Institute of Texas Cultures and Museo Alameda.) I happen to adore the McNay and was very impressed by the San Antonio Museum of Art (which you can see by my raving Yelp reviews.) My guess is I’ve been to these museums more than you have this past 18 months, so yes, I care about culture.

    But comparing Milwaukee’s and San Antonio’s downtown museums is a bit of a wash. Milwaukee’s Art Museum has a world-famous wing designed by Santiago Calatrava. It is a true wonder to behold–one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. But, I think the San Antonio Museum of Art has a better collection. In terms of natural history, the Milwaukee Public Museum is much larger and nicer than the Witte, which I frankly found a bit of a disappointment.

    As for performing arts, Milwaukee’s downtown is FAR more vibrant than San Antonio’s downtown. Successful performing arts spaces in Milwaukee’s downtown include the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Broadway Theatre Center, Pabst Theater and Riverside Theater (not to mention the 24,000-seat Marcus Amphitheater). San Antonio’s downtown has the Majestic Theater and… well, that’s about it. (Both cities have convention centers and sports arenas where concerts are held, as well.)

    I don’t expect you to care if I come or go. But if people like you in the Hill Country want to live within driving distance from a world-class city and would like your employers to attract world-class talent that wants something Hill Country doesn’t offer, you may want to care just a little more.

    And, since you’ve obviously been to Milwaukee, I am sad to report many of the great German restaurants have closed. John Ernst’s is now a Chipotle Grill, the Bavarian Inn is closed, and Mader’s (where my wife and I had our wedding reception) is a shadow of its former self. I’m afraid Milwaukee’s taste for German food isn’t what it once was.

  18. Great post Augie. Might I add that not everyone is cut out for living in a National Historic District? We forget that the CBD is surrounded by numerous historic districts. Southtown is just a more-recent, ill-defined label for several of our historic districts, which frankly, confuses our brand. Not everyone is cut out to live in a 100+ year old home and NOT EVERYONE SHOULD ATTEMPT IT. People are moving in and bastardizing wonderful, historic properties all for the sake of flipping them quickly. Those of us who have been here 30 years plus are worried sleepless that more homes will be bastardized beyond recognition. It’s quite disheartening to carry the preservationist’s flag and have it ripped asunder by realtors and new owners who know nothing and care less about historic preservation guidelines. Very few realtors understand the architectural care it takes to preserve one of these treasures properly with skilled craftsmen accustomed to this age property.

    So, moral of the story, please buy in a newer neighborhood if your intent is to flip one of these charming, quaint, money-pits. Our neighborhood association does damn little to explain or advocate properly for historic preservation. With a huge, huge wad of cash in the bank, they offer no grant assistance to anyone. Rather than paying outright for improvements such as much-needed sidewalks, they make residents jump through inordinate hoops and pay half the cost.

    We all endure a number of insults: First Friday, ever-rising tax assessments, flippers and uneducated realtors, and of course a grocery store empire run by people who will not commit to having an inner-city store.

    Sigh. I am not leaving, but find it increasingly irritating to think what five-ten years of cramming even more “stuff” into our historic districts (specifically King William – notice it’s not really Lavaca that is being filled beyond comfort quite yet) might look like.


  19. Ellie, thanks for the comment!

    Pat, I was tempted to gripe about the San Antonio corporations and corporate leaders who fail to support their own downtown even as they lament the difficulty attracting and holding talent. It is supremely ironic to me that H-E-B can have their corporate headquarters less than a mile from the center of downtown and yet ignore the needs of people who live around its HQ. And Rackspace moves jobs out of downtown, only to have the Rackspace Chairman announce his commitment to a revitalized downtown (which I really find a head scratching set of circumstances.) And while I loved the USAA campus, I wondered if the company might, in the future, consider a satellite office downtown as a way to invest in the city center and attract some employees who want the urban lifestyle.

    Lynn, I don’t disagree with you about developers over-shooting the market, but I also think there are issues of construction costs, supply and demand. When I moved here, I didn’t even look at Alteza and Broadway–both were out of my range, while the Vidorra was barely in my range. But don’t you think if there was demand for condos that developers could afford to build (and profit from), it would be happening? Developers are neither stupid nor lazy, in my experience, and I have seen developers interviewed for Express articles that indicate they don’t see demand for condos they can afford to construct and sell. Everyone says they want condos in the $200s, but those are hard to find in any urban setting because the land and construction costs make them unprofitable. When developers do put up cheap condos, people complain about the size, quality of construction and lack of amenities. (And, for the record, according to Realtor.com, there are several one-bedroom condos available under $300 in the downtown area, including several at the Vidorra that have been available for years, which suggests that the issue seems to be a lack of demand.)

  20. Mary,

    The problem you’re experiencing is very similar to that of a near-downtown neighborhood in Milwaukee called Brewers Hill. Brewers Hill was a rough neighborhood 20 years ago, but it had some of Milwaukee’s oldest and quaintest homes. Slowly people moved in willing to put in the work (and put up with the transitional neighborhood), but soon others followed who didn’t have the same commitment to heritage. Then property values skyrocketed as the neighborhood gentrified and values increase, with some folks seeing triple-digit increases over the course of several years. Eventually the prices stabilized and now everyone seems happy, but the change pushed some people out who couldn’t afford to stay in their old neighborhood.

    BTW, while I love the feel of Southtown, I knew better than to buy a home there. I hardly know which end of a hammer to use, which is why I’m a condo owner. Driving through Southtown, I wish I could be the kind of person who could properly maintain and love a 100-year-old home, but I know I am much better suited for the condo life.

  21. First, a comment: I hate saying Downtown determines whether San Antonio is a “world-class city.”

    Second, a thought on schools: The public schools need to improve if Downtown is going to support a residential base. Alamo Heights can’t be the answer for everything. And if new downtown development is only going to target/benefit those wealthy enough for private school options, another fail. No interest in a single-class area.

  22. Well said, Augie. We’ll miss you in San Antonio and at USAA. My husband and I recently moved to San Antonio from Houston, but I grew up in Pittsburgh and worked in Milwaukee for about a year. The cities seemed very similar to me in so many ways — both industrial towns nestled near rivers that managed to change their course in the late 90’s, early 2000s… and of course, I can’t ignore both cities’ love of beer and sports 🙂

    If Pittsburgh can change, I have faith that San Antonio can too. Not all that long ago, in 2003, I was interning at a company in downtown Pittsburgh. My dad would drop me at the bus stop in Oakland near where he worked at 6:45 am; from there I would catch the bus downtown. It was a scary walk from the bus stop to work at 7 am before the workday action really picked up. It wasn’t a safe place at night and there was very little reason to go downtown any time other than between 9 and 5 on weekdays. Today, it’s a different story … restaurants, wine bars, PNC park and the other sporting stadiums, apartments, condos, clubs, shops. Downtown rivals Shadyside as the “hip” place to be.

    I can’t help but think part of the problem here is the lack of corporate centers downtown. It seems that most of the big employers are based in the ‘burbs (USAA, the Med Center, Tesoro, Rackspace). Pittsburgh is fortunate to have many of the larger employers based in, or near, downtown. People want to live where they work and the infrastructure follows. Here, it’s almost inconvenient to live anywhere but the suburbs if you want to get to work quickly. Add to it that public transportation isn’t what it is in Pittsburgh, Chicago or other more urban cities. As a city, we’re set up to encourage suburban sprawl. Could part of the answer be attracting corporate employers downtown?

    Best of luck in your next move, Augie.


  23. Dean, a world-class city isn’t only determined by a vibrant downtown, but it has to have one. (Name a world-class city without one.) San Antonio has much of the rest already worked out–good job base, affordable housing, etc. I’m open to others’ opinions on this, but when you stack San Antonio against world-class cities, the lack of a livable downtown stands out like a sore thumb.

    As for education, I appreciate the Mayor’s commitment to education, which is vital for San Antonio’s future, but as I noted in my other comment, I don’t believe the quality of public schools in San Antonio’s downtown is a major component in downtown’s revitalization. Families aren’t the backbone of urban areas–they generally are a tiny portion of the folks willing to move to high-density areas with highrises and midrises. Check out the age distribution chart of a typical vibrant urban area (such as Milwaukee’s downtown–http://www.city-data.com/zips/53202.html–or Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood–http://www.city-data.com/zips/60611.html) and then compare it to Alamo Heights (just as an example–http://www.city-data.com/zips/78209.html) and you’ll see that the demographic makeup of successful urban areas generally doesn’t reflect a lot of kids.

    I’m not anti-education, but I think the downtown’s future doesn’t hang on the quality of public education north of Cesar Chavez and south of 35. The city could invest in downtown secondary education and not make a dent in the challenges facing San Antonio’s downtown, IMO.

    • Augie,
      You are dead on with your statement that you “don’t believe the quality of public schools in San Antonio’s downtown is a major component in downtown’s revitalization”. As was similarly pointed out by Alan Ehrenhalt in his book “The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City”, schools are not the “silver bullet”.
      With over 90% of new residential construction in DT having less than 3 bedrooms, are those (mostly) renting those spaces really concerned about where their (nonexistent) children might go to school? It more than likely will NOT be a deterrent. Once we see strollers coming out of the 2 bedroom apartments and boutique baby stores pop up should that begin to appear on their radar. If by that point, all the amenities make it easy to live DT, then they might stay, and take a greater interest in their schools.

  24. Megan,

    Thanks for the insights. I visited Pittsburgh not long ago, and the downtown area was very nice. But, as you point out, it is difficult to make a downtown vibrant when jobs are increasingly moved further away. I hope the city can succeed in attracting more downtown employers, but I fear it will continue to give incentives for more jobs around 1604.

  25. Augie,

    With all due respect, I feel like you have made this argument in this forum multiple times without adding new information. I’d like to know what the goal is, what are your demands? The points you have laid out are valid and probably irrefutable. However, you make assumptions about the rules of the discussion, including that Southtown is not part of downtown. The condos where you live are about the same distance from the center of downtown from most of the residential areas of Southtown. Additionally, there is a highway separating them from downtown, where King William and Lavaca are across the very crossable Cesar Chavez as well as directly accessible down a very beautiful and safe part of the river. You also discount families, which may or may not include people who are young and creative but happen to have children. Many intangibles are at play including social connections to the community and the fact that you just don’t like it here enough to stay while other people do. I’m just wondering why you are so invested in this topic to make several posts over several months and why you just haven’t moved already. I mean this in a friendly way, your comments are valid and you provide an illuminative viewpoint for those companies trying to recruit talent. Some of us just happen to like it and are happy to stay. I speak as someone who has lived in Hill Country Village as a teen, the Medical Center as a young adult, currently in Castle Hills with kids and am about to happily move in to King William for the amenities as I and many others perceive them.

    Best of luck,


  26. Camilo,

    Demands? What, am I holding you hostage? (That’s a joke.) And you ask me why I haven’t moved already and say you mean it in “a friendly way”? I’d hate to see you being unfriendly. (Another joke.)

    You asked my goal and here it is: Either San Antonians have to stand up proud and say, “We’re happy to be a safe, affordable second-tier city that loses young people and has difficulties attracting the creative class” or it needs to stop complaining when people post on the Rivard Report that they want to see change. You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.

    And why does it frustrate you that I haven’t changed my views in the four or five comments I’ve posted to the Rivard Report over the past four months? Have you changed yours? Has the city changed in that period? No matter what happens after I’m gone (which you’ll be happy to know should be in about a month or so), I hope you’ll be open to the concerns and criticisms of all people who care and want to support what the mayor is calling the “Decade of Downtown.”

    As for neighborhood names, I’m puzzled why you think I’m setting rules. Downtown and Southtown are not names or geographic areas I’ve defined. Others have done so, and they are not overlapping. Southown isn’t downtown; downtown isn’t Southtown. No one I know who lives in Southtown believes they live downtown and vice versa. I thought the distinctions between the two neighborhoods were pretty well established. (But, you are correct, the Vidorra does not technically reside in downtown.) Why do you think I’m being arbitrary?

    • Augie –

      Great stuff. I’ve heard many King William residents over 30 years say that they live downtown. I say that relatively often and get a bit miffed H.E.B. doesn’t consider us “downtown” residents. Perception is 9/10th of the law, maybe=> The grocery store battle is one that deserves more discussion, not less, from all of us. We hear about and some have frequented legendary new urban stores in other cities, yet reasonable options still elude us. Get some boutique grocer in and see our monopoly run them out of town in 5 – 7 years. No one wants that and it’s the fear most often heard. Whole Foods and things that have managed to stay viable in tonier zip codes won’t come downtown yet. Would love more on positive solutions. We all thought CoSA was negotiating with H.E.B. and it was part of the Hemisfair mix; but, all that talk seems dashed on the rocks again. Would love some stats or stories on what it takes to get past our quagmire.

      Thanks. Good reading.

  27. It is friendly Augie. I want you to stay and I want you to like it. I do think southtown is considered downtown living by myself and others. Again explicitly acknowledging that SA is not NYC as an analogy you can live in Greenwich Village or Midtown Manhattan and still live in the city while distinctly not living in a suburb. I appreciate seeing a diversity of experiences and opinions on this topic. I don’t think either one of us should expect for the city or each others opinions to change over the course of four months.

  28. A number of years ago a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Chicago published a text in the foreword of which he explained how his view of cities was strongly colored by having grown up in San Antonio where two distinct and seperate cities existed: Old San Antonio and Loopland. He defined the very problem that you bring up, Augie. Of two seperate realities that do not mesh and that leave each diminished relative to their potential as a united whole. I was as ambivalent reading this some 15 years ago when I lived in Arlington, VA as I am now reading your reasons for departing and your suggestion of how to fix it (bring Looplanders from the far northside to downtown).

    I grew up in San Antonio and left it at age 19, swearing I would never live here again. San Antonio was, in my estimation, a terrible dull and boring town that held no attraction for a young man like me. In the intervening 28 years I was blessed with the opportunity to live in many cities and other countries and to travel widely for work in Asia, Latin America and Africa and visit Europe for fun. The more I travelled the more I appreciated Old San Antonio as I returned to visit family and friends. I moved back and right into the same neighborhood in Old san Antonio that I grew up in.

    One of the things that I had learned to love was San Antonio as the farthest northern city in Latin America, a cultural zone of transition that has many of the finest elements of la cultura latina y gringa. I also loved that San Antonio has not been a throwaway city that trashed its old housing and building stock…gracias a la first conservation league in the US. I also was able to see how San Antonio’s past of institutionalized discrimination — anglos to the north, “mexicans” to the west and south, and african-americans to the east — still strongly marks our current development patterns (though now it is economic classes that fit into the old geography built by the old anglo political elites…with yet too-similar and current ethnic outcomes). Downtown (which in my geography includes Southtown, La Tuna and things proximate)is where so much of that comes together and the old geography is broken.

    The last 15 years have brought some pretty amazing and positive changes to San Antonio; pasos lentos, maybe, but firmes. When I compare it to what it was when I drove a tour boat on the river and was downtown 6 nights a week in the early 1970s, it is a whole other world contained within a world still familiar to my eyes. And, we avoided/escaped urban decay to the extent that many US cities (Milwaukee?) experienced it through the late 1960s and into the 1980s. I like that. I would rather see San Antonio evolve a la San Antonio than make the same leap that places like Bethseda, MD and Arlington, VA did in going from “lame” residential to vibrant urban spaces, full of the young creative classes that loved living amidst a high-rise architectural wasteland with no sense of place, populated by national retail chains where few years before recently arrived immigrants had opened small mom-and-pop ethnic restraurants…all torn down and built over and over built.

    As my Australian friends tell me “Its horses for courses” and many Looplanders (amongst which are dear friends and family) simply don’t like Old San Antonio. They like the new cookie cutter, anywhere USA, retail concept San Antonio found under that sea of ugly roofs visible along 1604 on the north side (and on the recharge zone, for god’s sake!). I am not sure I would like as much the downtown San Antonio that would attract them. I do, however, agree with you that we need to get more people from San Antonio to take advantage of downtown. It is only a 20 to 30 minute bicycle ride away for those of us on the south, west, and near-north sides. And when you get there, you might find what the young female Brazilian percussionist, playing in a jazz trio at Rosarios a few years back, told my Brazilians friends that were visiting when they asked why she had stayed in San Antonio: “Because its a really cosmopolitan place.”. Wow! Horses for courses.

        • I would love to if I can find some time to think it through…it seems to me that a couple of elements are missing from this discussion: 1) why SA is SA…a lot of history, culture, 20th century political economy, etc etc that we need to understand if we want to evolve along some particular path; and 2)the challenges of “development” and risks of imposing some ideal or idealistic economic/development model on local communities. The two are inextricably combined.

  29. Again, thanks for all the nice comments. (You, too, Camilo.) 🙂

    I would like to address a question that’s come up, about “who’s a downtowner” and why housing density matters for a true downtown. Obviously, I don’t care whether people do or don’t think of themselves as living downtown, even if they live in the Vidorra, Southtown or at The Pearl (none of which technically fit the definition of downtown based on many maps you can find online.)

    But here’s why the real downtown matters: Because we all acknowledge that San Antonio’s downtown needs resident amenities that it currently lacks–most notably a grocery story. To get them, we need enough people nearby so that H-E-B and others can see the value of the investment. That requires urban density of the sort you see in cities with healthy downtowns, but San Antonio keeps scattering its new development around the outside of downtown.

    For example, adding residents at The Pearl won’t help solve this problem because it won’t increase demand for a downtown grocery store. Those folks live closer to the Central Market than any location at which H-E-B is likely build a grocery store along Cesar Chavez. Those new Pearl residents won’t create demand (or economic justification) for H-E-B or anyone else to invest in a downtown grocery store.

    For some reason, San Antonio city planners like spreading development around when what the city needs is development close together. We have the Vistana on one side of downtown, The Vidorra over a mile away on the other side of downtown, The Pearl is a mile and a half to the north, and the development by the Blue Star is another mile to the south. Everything happens a half mile to a mile outside of the center of downtown. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like such a big deal in a state that thrives on open spaces and driving, but if you took just these four areas of development and put them together within blocks of each other, do you know what you’d have? A walkable, vibrant urban neighborhood where H-E-B would be happy to build a grocery store. Instead, we’ve got four separate islands of development, and almost everyone still gets in their car and drives to Alamo Heights to shop.

    If what we all agree we want to see is a great livable downtown, then the city has to stop shotgunning development around the outskirts and start focusing on the under-utilized land and buildings near the center of our downtown.

    Just my opinion, of course. I appreciate y’all listening.

    P.S. It’s going to take me a while to lose the “y’all.” I was at an interview in the NYC area not long ago when “y’all” slipped out, and the guy interviewing me looked up and raised an eyebrow. I told him it might take me six months of intensive therapy to stop from using it. Y’all got me saying “Y’all” a lot!

  30. “The focus of downtown needs to be density of residential options and amenities for young adults, DINKs and empty nesters. These are the people who move into downtowns…”

    I detest that line of thinking and can give you good examples as to why. I recently moved here from Cleveland, which has the same perceived “downtown problem” that you speak of. The problem is, an area getting “hot” is merely transient and does not parlay into long term gains. Twenty years ago, the “Flats” in Cleveland were all the rage, with restaurants, condos, etc. being built. It is a ghost town now. Ten years ago, “Tremont” was the same way. It is starting to become dilapidated now. Today, the “Warehouse District” is all the rage, and with that come exorbitant prices in both restaurants and food. However, cycles tell us that the trend-setting youngsters, lol, are fickle and the new DINKs don’t want to live/develop where the DINKS from 10 years ago did. I guess my conclusion is that marketing to this crowd is a temporary fix that, while it can make immediate money, doesn’t bode well for long term. It’s kind of like using an area as your whore and then abandoning it. I’d hate to see that happen to downtown San Antonio, as it is more dignified than that.

    I do agree, however, that the absence of a Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or HEB near downtown (Southtown?) is a vast oversite.

    • Thank you for echoing some of the fears of long-time historic property owners. It would be nice to have a few more Emily Edwards types around to galvanize preservationists. Too many people misunderstand the work of the San Antonio Conservation Society. CoSA Historic has precious few resources to prevent really bad things happening to our historic stock. So talk of gobs and gobs of Cevallos Lofts (no matter how fancy and wonderful it looks on facebook) stuffed into our “golden goose” King William Historic District might result in a PATE none of us can really afford, much less stomach.

      Whether KW is downtown or not, we still are downtown’s playground and front porch.

      I hope we end up with a wonderful mix respectful of all our cultures and incredible architectural heritage. This only happens with an informed citizenry.

      Great threads Augie.

    • I was just thinking of The Flats in Cleveland. I spent some time hanging out there in my 20s, in the early 90s. Sad to hear it’s now a ghost town.

      I think, though, you’re not as at odds with Mr Ray as might seem. What downtown needs to be livable is the elements of daily living – grocery stores (plural!), regular clothing stores (as opposed to San Antonio t-shirt shops), book stores, etc. The latter of which are not necessities so much, but are the everyday things that come to mind. Basically, the stuff for which we currently have to drive to the suburbs. Despite some 20-somethings lamenting, we actually have a fair number of hotspot places in and around downtown. But as of now, it’s still a place to go out, rather than a place to live.

  31. Thanks Randy. I’m sorry you detest it, but you can look at the demographic curve of every healthy urban downtown and it will tell you the same story. Families stay where there are yards and space. Singles and couples without children make up the backbone of downtown neighborhoods. San Antonio can invest all it wants in trying to attract families to downtown, but the easier route is going to be focusing on people who want to live in high-density housing and not ones that want yards.

    By the way, here are some pages where you can see the demographic distribution of other city’s downtowns:

    Milwaukee’s downtown: http://www.city-data.com/zips/53202.html
    Chicago’s Streeterville: http://www.city-data.com/zips/60611.html
    Chicago’s River North: http://www.city-data.com/zips/60610.html
    NY Upper West Side (considered the best Manhattan neighborhood for families): http://www.city-data.com/zips/10023.html
    Boston’s South End: http://www.city-data.com/zips/02118.html
    San Francisco’s South Beach: http://www.city-data.com/zips/94107.html

    Now compare those to the demographic curves of more traditional San Antonio neighborhoods:

    Alamo Heights: http://www.city-data.com/zips/78209.html
    Stone Oak: http://www.city-data.com/zips/78258.html
    Alta Vista and Olmos Park: http://www.city-data.com/zips/78212.html

    It does San Antonio no good to invest to try to draw people who are not interested in an urban lifestyle. I’m not saying that San Antonio has to draw young people to “hot” neighborhoods. (Heck, most of the people who live in the Vidorra now are 40 and over, I’m sure.) The point is to know what will work, what won’t and invest wisely.

  32. This is fun…great topic Augie and thanks for hosting Robert.

    First, cities can offer incentives to private business but the cannot open grocery stores (or neglect to open them for that matter). Augie is partially right that demographics are destiny for a downtown grocery store but another factor is per capita income….more on that below.

    Having said that, I remember looking at floor plans of downtown condos that were under construction back in 2002 when we were planning to move back to SA. I couldn’t understand why housing in Monte Vista could be had for 200k and the condos were 350k and above…until I saw the kitchen designs. Pinche little gallery kitchens to minimize “lost” space for their target clientele: wealthy Mexican couples that don’t cook, but dine out. If we stuck all those buildings together would they support a grocery store or more coffeee shops, book stores, wine bars and restaurants and other amenities that Cherise suggests? How do demographics and country of origin breakdown in these buildings?

    BTW, I would just like to reiterate that when we talk about downtown and its immediate surroundings we are talking about an area of great diversity in terms of age groups, etnicity and socio-economic status. I have met quite a few dynamic and creative young people moving into neighborhoods such as Highland Park (a mere 15 minutes away from “downtown” by bicycle)…but they are not working in high paying jobs. Rather they are teachers, social workers, city staff, artists, and the like in terms of income. They are moving into neighborhoods with thousands and thousands of working class households with below median income who are just as forgotten in terms of a grocery store since the last HEB packed up and left near downtown a few years back. Point: can we please be substantially more inclusive of San Antonio’s existing residents in this discussion. I don’t want a vibrant downtown that further marginalizes those who are not amongst our societies more fortunate members.

    • You bring up great points, Jim. For example, have you ever noticed that the majority of the loft renovations are marketed as “luxury lofts?” Why does everything have to apparently skew high-end in city development? And how “luxury” is it, really, when you have to walk 100 yards through hallways and elevators to get to your unit when you can virtually park right outside your door in a typical home? And your price discrepancy is duly noted, as well. Why not build smaller, more toward simplicity of life, and space-saving (all of which could lead to cost savings)? *That* would bring people downtown, and it is the future as well. When I located here, I looked at the various loft renovations. There’s no way I was going to spend $1500+/month just to live in a trendy renovation. I found a place outside of downtown for $575 instead! Moral: they lost me because of their coveted opulence, and I’m a person who appreciates that stuff but I’m not going to overpay for it.

      The prevailing thought seems to be to build large, opulent places and then all the upwardly-mobile people will rush to them. Yeah, this might have worked well at one time–and in some cities–but it is far from a universal truth. It’s time to not rely on outdated conventions while moving forward.

      And lastly, what’s this chatter about a “world-class city?” What the hell is a world-class city anyway? And why is it important to be one?!? Can’t a city just be a city that functions well for its inhabitants without being compared to any other city? Does San Antonio have to ape London (for example) to be functional and successful?!? Wouldn’t it actually be better if it simply suited itself instead?

  33. I have been reading and silently appreciating all the pro and con views on downtown/city center living, but I’m losing my patience. To change around a hip hop song, “I like big dogs and I cannot lie,” so while I am childless, I need a house and a yard but I want to be near downtown because I like the city center.
    I have lived on West Whittier Street, across Roosevelt from the start of the Mission Reach for about 8 years now. I bought a home built in 1918 that was converted into a duplex in the 30s. It was originally on Roseborough and was moved to the current location in the 60’s. I am the fourth owner of the house; I love my house and my neighborhood, or what I thought it was going to be.
    I moved here because, at the time, I worked at the Express-News and the house seemed like a good investment in an “up and coming” neighborhood with character that was close to work. I love old houses, could afford to renovate this one and saw it as a good investment for a 20-something-year-old. Now I work for Bexar County, so I’m still close to work, but I’m still waiting for that “coming.” And I’m closer to 40 than 20-something.
    Here comes the big BUT:
    Last night someone unloaded their weapon on my street, one that is book-ended by a school and two churches. A week ago, my boyfriend attempted to walk our puppy at 9:30 p.m. and was circled twice by a man on a bike in Roosevelt Park before he could even make it to the river. He decided to come home instead of walking her before the man came around for a third circle. Every time I decide to take the bus to work I am propositioned at the bus stop – in my professional clothing and before 8 a.m. – no kidding! I once flashed my fire marshal badge to get some d-bag to leave me alone. I can see the neon of the Relax Inn Motel, which I affectionately call the “Cocksucker Inn,” excuse my bluntness, which is just the beginning of a long trail of by-the-hour motels. One night I walked out on my back porch to be greeted by muzzle flashes. I called my city councilwoman at the time, she called the SAFFE officer and he and I had a lengthy conversation about the SAPD surveillance on a suspected Mexican Mafia house just a block behind me. We’ve been attacked by dogs while riding bikes, chased by dogs on foot, roused from bed by gun fire, random door bell ringing at 4 a.m. etc. for a while now. My neighbor across the street ripped us off while we were renovating.
    My point is, I used to think those were funny, kinda quirky and adventurous things about my neighborhood, but not so much any more. I don’t imagine myself living anywhere else in this city because I can’t afford the places where the aforementioned things might not happen, and I don’t want to live in those affordable ‘hoods were events might be less exciting. Notice I haven’t even touched on the oft-mentioned lack of palatable grocery shopping in the vicinity. I go to Lincoln Heights when I have the time.
    I read a lot about Southtown in the comments, perhaps I’m not considered Southtown, but something has got to give if this city expects to have a vibrant city center. Because I certainly consider myself part of that, but I’m reaching my limit.

  34. Charlie Gonzalez spoke about this in his last speech to the Westside Chamber.

    He didn’t put it this bluntly, but basically there is a massive white zombie population out in the sprawl that has had its property values and infrastructure subsidized by the rest of us for the past 30+ years. Now they are aging, afraid of death, and getting even more government-dependent, which only causes them to act out more against anything or anyone that is different from them, their way of life, or any program that doesn’t directly benefit them (examples include opposition to immigration and gays, but support of property tax exemptions and anything to maintain the car-dependent lifestyle at any cost, economically, militarily, or environmentally). For instance, while they benefit from hundreds of millions in local funds for ONE project on 1604, they act like lesser spending for several projects downtown is a socialist plot.

    Gonzalez correctly identified the cultural dynamic plaguing this city. These people view themselves as the “winners” (even though they are hicks even by the standards of Houston or Dallas). They view everyone else as “trying to take it away”. Now before they die they are trying to cement their dead hand control to screw things up for the next generation. Moreover, the city is stupidly trying to attract MORE of these sheeple as a selling point: YAY! Play lots of golf! Vote against every school bond! We’ll keep taxes low and a Mexican will keep your drink full! YAY!

    Castro is doing what he can. But until we pull the plug on these people and stop subsidizing their doomed lifestyle there will be no progress. Castro is trying to substitute a cadre of urban developers and contractors and an urban political base for the sprawl developers and contractors and the white zombie political base. In a way he is just diverting the subsidy. Unfortunately the old reactionary fawks vote and they are racists so unless there is demographic salvation or an oil shock, progress will be too slow and SA will stay behind other cities.

    Basically, a large diverse city is being held hostage by a group of delusional, ever-more-senile lower middle class hicks who think of themselves as upper middle class, live in isolation pods in a cultural wasteland far beyond the city itself, and get most their information from television. If you were running an efficient society, you would kill them off on that basis alone, because that lifestyle is DEAD. Instead you get to subsidize them for decades more and have your life diminished by the public debt they’ll pass on. And they want you to like it, because they identify more with their jobs, their only narrow route of social advancement (to be the boss), and their fear of everyone below than they do with humanity.

  35. Augie, you are completely accurate on every point. I would probably give up on San Antonio if I didn’t feel a spiritual connection to her. We’re gonna buckle down for the long haul & try to be a catalyst for driving young people downtown. I may not fully see the complete transformation in my lifetime. Pray that our spiritual community is successful in this endeavor. You can learn more about us at downtownmovment.com

    Best of wishes to you in San Fran. It’s a fantastic city.

  36. http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mhj45jded/1-houston-tx/#gallerycontent

    Oddly enough, I didn’t see Milwaukee on Forbes list of coolest cities. I was refraining from commenting on the obvious, but its Friday, and I just have to ask—why would someone take a job in the suburbs and move an hours (rush hour) drive away to a part of town that obviously is lacking in amenities? The area around USAA is really nice, many wonderful options for living from big houses with yards to wonderful condos—and some of the best places to shop eat and be entertained in the city. Maybe you just didn’t think things through? Makes me wonder. Best of luck wherever your wanderings take you. Sometimes in life, one has to make a choice to settled down and contribute, rather than come expecting to be handed things. But, among Baby Boomers, entitlement has always been an issue.

  37. Thanks, everyone, for the continued dialog.

    Doug, Thanks for the comment and best of luck to you!

    Laura, I’m sorry to hear about the troubles in your neighborhood. I never had any real safety issues living in the downtown area. My wife was hassled once while walking alone, but that isn’t much different than the fact we were hassled TWICE in the parking lot of an I-10 department store just this past week. My only real gripe in terms of police protection downtown was that after much was made of the panhandling laws, you could still see people harassing tourists and residents for money. It didn’t seem the police were interested in enforcing that law much. Hope things improve in your neck of the woods!

    Roger, you must not have read my post closely before posting. Clearly, the lifestyle around USAA–with large homes, big parking lots and no walkable neighborhoods–was not at all what I was seeking. I can assure you I thought it through quite a bit. Also, in the interest of promoting downtown, I have to correct a very erroneous statement you made: San Antonio’s downtown is NOWHERE NEAR an hour away from USAA, even during rush hour. I could get from door to door in about 18 minutes (which is probably a lot less than folks navigating the bumper-to-bumper traffic along 1604 from Stone Oak). The reverse commute was almost never unpredictable and never backed up (provided I got on the freeway at Santa Rosa and not on the east side of downtown near my condo). Lastly, if you think Forbes is the arbiter of “cool” or that any list that has Houston as the “coolest” city in the US is an accurate one, then it’s really not worth arguing with you.

  38. Just to add to the discussion – I’d like to point out that downtown SA does have opportunities for fresh foods and groceries in walking distance of downtown housing where poor people can afford to live (emphasis on the latter).

    Heck, food trees are used for ornamentation in many of these neighborhoods . . . and some cases, fresh foods walk to you – in the case of cut fruit vendors in laundry mats, etc). . . although more could be asked for from existing small scale retail near neighborhoods, including gas station convenience shops (calling Valero!).

    The solution is not necessarily an HEB downtown or other new development– particularly if it undercuts existing small business or local production.

    Take for example La Michoacana Meat Market on North Flores:

    It is not an HEB, but it certainly covers the fresh food basics – and is less than a mile from the Central Library, Riverwalk, etc. Their offerings could be broadened further if downtown customers desired it / asked for it / supported it – but that takes more effort than driving to the nearest HEB.

    Generally, I disagree with the deficit-mindset and consumerist view of urban life expressed above. What is amazing about San Antonio (beyond the history, climate, architecture, traditions, culture, etc) is the low cost of entry and industriousness of its residents – who aren’t necessarily big wage earners or 9-to-5ers (or interested in wage-earning, corporate factory life, the ‘quality’ of their commuting etc).

    Sorry, but jazz (tejano, cinema, etc) is made – and occasionally gets exported to ‘lifestyle’ cities like Milwaukee and San Fran that no longer have the resources, opportunity or ability to make their own . . . where the stuff that everyday SA locals do daily gets elevated to costly after-work downtown entertainment for a hand-picked few

    Sounds to me like zoning for people. If that’s vibrant give me lame!

  39. Once I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the identical comment. Is there any approach you’ll be able to remove me from that service? Thanks!

  40. Mr. Ray makes a compelling argument that San Antonio is not New York. On further reflection, and along the same line of thinking, in my experience San Antonio is also not many, many other places. In fact, I would say that San Antonio is only San Antonio. I am quite happy with that fact.

    • Te, I appreciate the comment. As I noted in my original post, I am not advocating for San Antonio to be different than it is, but many people seem to have this desire. They WANT a viable downtown that attracts younger professional and the creative class. If that’s the case, as I noted in back 15 months ago, then it isn’t city government or HEB that has to change, it is San Antonions themselves.

      • Augie, Coincidentally I am on a consulting job right in now in SE Asia and I have spent the last week listening to my local government counterparts explain to me why the ethnic minorities here are too uneducated, culturally backward and lazy to benefit from economic opportunities. They firmly believe that they know what “development” is and therefore what is best for these communities. To play on H.L. Mencken’s quote on democracy “They have a theory that they know what is best for common people, and propose to give it to them good and hard.” Excuse me if I am misinterpreting you but your “many people” having a desire that requires entire communities to change themselves to fit accommodate someone else’s worldview strikes me as being uncomfortably close to what I have been listening to for the last week. If San Antonio wants to attract people who are economically better off into living in or near downtown the top priority is getting the public school system serving those areas to offer a quality education for all children. As to the possibly mythical socioeconomic construct called the “creative class”, take a look sometime at how that is defined and tell me if San Antonio is actually so depauperate of those types as you assume. I hope you caught the West Side Horns before you left town. Vaya con Dios.

  41. San Antonio is a very vibrant city. There are plans to build an H-E-B in the downtown area. Believe it or not, at the moment San Antonio has the largest economy in the country, even better than Austin. One of my college teachers came from Phoenix just to work here. My thoughts are that San Antonio will turn around, it just will take time. In fact, several businesses are coming in from out of state like In N Out Burger and the Culinary Institute of America are in San Antonio these are businesses from Napa Valley, Los Angeles, New York, and Singapore. San Antonio is revitalizing its downtown and greater area. It will just take time.

  42. Thanks for posting this. I was offered a job in San Antonio, but I think I am going to have to pass.

    1. My work keeps me downtown, and I was wondering how living in downtown San Antonio was. I was suspicious it was how you described.

    2. It was so strange going to restaurants and realizing that everyone there was speaking a foreign language — seriously? #what country am I in?

    3. I looked and looked for quality public schools within a close drive to downtown. I then gave up and just began looking for a decent public school that was in a reasonable commute to downtown. The public schools in San Antonio for the most part are horrid! I was able to find a couple of really nice private schools though.

    4. The traffic in San Antonio is horrendous. It is exasperated by some of the rudest drivers I have ever seen. Unlike in Dallas, Orange County, or San Fransisco where I currently live, drivers in San Antonio seem to have a “me first” attitude and do not politely take turns or stop and let people in. It is really bizarre! I wonder how much of this must be an influence from foreigners.

    5. San Antonio is dirty. I found it really bizarre to see people littering out of their vehicles, I remember seeing people do this when I was a child in the 80’s, but I have not seen anyone do something like that in many years. I also noticed that apparently the city does not bother with landscaping highways or medians, and what is with the graffiti? Seriously? It also seemed like a throwback to the 1980’s. There is more graffiti in just downtown San Antonio, than in all of San Fransisco. I can count on one hand the number of graffiti or broken windows I saw in Dallas. Orange county? I never once saw any graffiti in orange county. San Antonio really needs a public works project and some beautification.

    6. San Antonio smells. The whole city smells. It smells like hot moldy trash. I don’t know why, maybe there are industrial plants located nearby that make the smell, maybe it is some sort of local tree ,or mineral in the ground. It smells bad. Seriously.

  43. New york, LA, chicago,philly,san fran,houston, boston,dallas, seattle…etc ive just named 9 cities that are larger (population) then san Antonio without giving to much thought, ro say that san Antonio is ranked as #7 is a bit confusing cuz you e given this post some thought and im sure you have researched some things to come to your hypothesis and we can both agree that san Antonio sits around the #25 spot.

  44. All of Wisconsin is better then the liberal cities of Texas. (Most of Texas is a blue collar state except the big cities).

    Wisconsin has mostly Republicans and Conservatives which actually are TWO different groups which Wisconsin is friendly towards business. The recession was felt very little in that state unless you were an investor doing stupid things and didn’t pay attention when to get out.

    Republicans are or were into their own global dollar while Conservatives wanted simply a smaller more manageable government. That does not mean get rid of social benefits just make them more easier to fund/manage with minimum lechers.

    (Lechers as in people who have the benefits but don’t need them or are in any way disabled using fraud to get it) which makes less available for people who are disabled mentally and physically needing it.

    Republicans and Democrats often cross vote to whomever is the winning end so therefore what they say in the beginning is usually meaningless and they know it so they say outrageous goals that cannot be obtained knowing if they lose they will use the bait/switch tactic.

    The danger of Trump is like Obama instead of going too big of government he will throw the baby out with the bathwater which will leave millions of American’s screwed because both President’s don’t realize the middle class is pretty much dead so in order to do the things Trump wants done a slow methodical plan is needed to minimize damage.

    Right now It’s just the wealthy who can afford big fancy houses and the poor who are living paycheque to paycheque left. Both Bush and Obama are in bed with the Clinton’s Tax Ponzi schemes that really screwed banks.

    That is why most companies are not American based as they know doing so in a sick economy is not good.

  45. If you don;’t like bad traffic avoid moving to Portland or anywhere in Oregon because our freeways haven’t been upgrades since the early 90s and it’s showing with potholes and poor signs.

    ODOT takes YEARS to do one street! I’ll get into the reasoning in a moment.

    One street Kubaler *I am not sure how to spell it* was under construction for 3 and 1/2 years just to repave and widen it.

    We moved from Silverton to Aumsville in 2013 which while we were house hunting in the area that street was a mess until last year.

    ODOT is unionized which means most of the workers are seen not doing anything or maybe one guy running the equipment and five other people having a smoke.

    Cal Trans at least in the 1980s when we lived there would’ve gotten that road done in less then 6 months. They do entire mountain routes within a year keeping things up at least when we lived in California. Don’t know if that’s still the case since California is in deep debt.

    As for road signage there is NO ahead of time. At an intersection you might see a sign that says 1-5 this way but no real indication of where it actually is if your lost. And when you get to 1-5 you never know which lane you might need to be in if your going a certain direction as some areas it’s obvious while others you have to kinda go *backwards* in what seems the wrong direction but the turn is there and driving to the onramp that seems the right way has *Do Not Enter* on it.

    You don’t know where the onramp is till your literally on it with minimum time to react where most states the freeway sign is one stop light ahead of you telling you which lane you need to be in and prepare to merge.

  46. OH and the reason for the lack of upgrades is the people in charge in the late 90s it was in the news at the time agreed that everybody should ride bicycles as *they* don’t need cars.

    Yeah if you live in the heart of Portland you won’t need a car but most people do not and most will not bike from Portland to Eugene. It’s totally asinine yet they insist that cars are bad for Portland so make it unfriendly towards vehicles.

    They even ripped some roads up to put in a trolley thinking it would *revitalized* the town yet Dad worked up there and would see the trolley go by less then half full most of the time meaning they are operating at a loss.

  47. Interesting article and great read however I would have chosen a picture of the entire San Antonio skyline and not just the Hemisfair district.

    San Antonio’s downtown area goes beyond the zip codes of 78205 and 78215. You will find downtown residential in other zip codes, 78203, 78204, 78210 and 78207. The zip code for Milwaukee includes; Downtown Milwaukee, East Town, Ward district, and the lower East side district that has single family homes and a suburban-urban environment.

    A fair comparison would be to include Southtown, Cattleman Square, Alamodome District, and other areas that are considered downtown San Antonio. San Antonio’s urban core encompasses a larger area than Milwaukee’s.

    According to a report by Fannie Mae and Brooking Institute San Antonio’s downtown area had a population of more than 20,000 and lists Milwaukee’s at about 11,000 downtown residents. This study is a bit dated and downtown San Antonio’s has seen a resurgence in residential growth since then.

    Nonetheless this article does focus on some of San Antonio’s weaknesses and where improvement is needed and by looking at the date of the article it seems there have been some milestones since then.


  48. If San Antonio were to make the changes you suggest, it would no longer be San Antonio. Building all of the amenities downtown you suggest would forever change the personality of San Antonio, and it’s rich heritage.

    People come here to visit because of it’s culture and heritage. Your changes will make it like New York and who would want New York in Texas? Certainly not a Texan. One of our major complaints about people moving into Texas is instead of them embracing and enjoying our culture, they immediately want to change it to be exactly like the place they left. Well we don’t want to be a Las Angeles, a San Francisco, New York, Chicago, etc. As a native Texan with family dating back to the 1800’s, I love Texas and its culture. So love it or leave it, preferably the last one but certainly STOP trying to change it. Texas is a treasure. It’s different from any other state partly because we fought for and won our independence from Mexico. We are proud of that fact and also proud that Texas was not annexed by the United States, instead we became part of the U. S. by popular vote. We love being part of the United States but don’t want to be like every other state because we are not. We are Texas!

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