As a native of San Antonio who's had the privilege to work internationally and study in New York and Los Angeles, I feel obligated to share my insight into a potentially vibrant part of town that's been underrepresented until recently.
Like a community wall plastered with graffiti, to the visionary artist, it has the potential to be transformed into a beautiful street art mural that represents its inhabitants and a becomes beacon for others.
I had the privilege to study Urban Studies under Dr.Robert Von Mahs (New School of Public Engagement – NYC), I don’t see how this city's Eastside growth will come from a new brewery, which was inferred at a recent panel discussion sponsored by San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside.
Eugene Simor, founder and owner of Alamo Beer, is now planning for the construction of his new Alamo Brewery in Dignowity Hill at the foot of the Hays Street Bridge. Will it serve as a catalyst for additional development and neighborhood rebirth? Only if it’s a local microbrewery that also services the immediate area, in my opinion.
Reading Bekah McNeel's article on the Rivard Report, I think the panel missed an underlying truth about how neighborhoods change and come alive again with cultural and economic activity.
The key is young people, creative young people.
Inner city neighborhood regeneration and growth is primarily driven by youth; artists, small business owners, and venues that attract traffic. If you visit East Austin, separated from the rest of the urban core by I-35, you’ll find plenty of local shops, venues, art studios, and lofts in what was once an impoverished area. Art and a local lifestyle attracts young professionals who can work close to home.
The prime urban example of a dynamic change in an underrepresented neighborhood is Brooklyn, a once-sketchy borough in New York. It was huge on crime, dilapidated, and mostly impoverished until the late '90s. Urban revitalization programs were launched to combat the crime rate and rejuvenate what once was the city's sprawling industrial complex that was socially polluted as well as environmentally polluted. Environmental goals are mostly driven by the youth in schools who are active in raising awareness and promoting sustainability.
Artists priced out of Manhattan, even its once untouched downtown pockets, were attracted to Brooklyn's affordable housing. They opened studios, started local businesses, and helped property values as crime rates improved and neighborhoods once strewn with garbage took on a well-kept look. Click here to read more.
The lesson here: As artists move in, they brand their own image, and that, in turn, attracts other youth into the area, thus transforming the neighborhood
“There goes the neighborhood,” is the inevitable outcome of such change, and what generates tensions. The biggest obstacle to growth is a lack of a desire to change, as can be seen in King William Historic District, understandably. However, while rising property values lead to further gentrification, low-income families are forced to move elsewhere in search of affordable housing.
“My Brooklyn” is a documentary filmed in 2012. It demonstrates gentrification’s rapid impact on what is now one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S.
Some of San Antonio’s most rapid growth is focused around the Pearl Brewery in Midtown and Blue Star Brewery in Southtown, yet the reality is that these locations are more than just brewery locations. They are renovated districts that offer mixed-use spaces for restaurants, performances, galleries, studios, and lofts. This is what the Eastside needs.
In 2011, I assisted City Councilman Diego Bernal's social media in his Vote for Diego campaign, as I believed he had the right qualifications, as an artist, for an enriched inner-city that will some day match the larger metropolitans. Since then, there have been many improvements and rapid growth coinciding with his tenure and the Mayor's SA2020 plan.
As a local filmmaker, I would hope to see SAGE make an effort to promote studio spaces for creative services like film and game development. Many empty lots and warehouses can be renovated into studio lots that could drive international traffic along with local economic growth.
Oakland natives started a program that offers 6 months free rent in vacant spots, called Popuphood. It removes the entry barrier for small businesses, allowing young entrepreneurs to develop their businesses, increasing public accessibility and commerce. Detroit also offers an economic development fund called the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program (DRFP), which offers a fellowship for professionals to connect with local businesses in the area. There are many vibrant ideas which exist, yet lack the exposure.
An example of a local nonprofit arts organization that needs a home, The Arts United San Antonio, is offering amazing opportunities to organize and display many talented artists, yet their showcases have been floating between various spaces downtown due to cost, exhibition space, and property owners unwilling to cooperate. My friends Daniela Riojas (recently awarded Best Photographer on Current's Best of SA 2013),and Will Bermudez, state that they would love to have an established location, since they are also seeking to release a magazine in parallel with their exhibits. Their newest showcase on Metaphysical Expressions will exhibit May 18th at the Mercury Project.
[Video:The Arts United - Critiquing & Reimaging Society]
Conclusively, like historic South Alamo street and the renewed Pearl Parkway, the East Side could bring more local galleries, shops, cafes, and even food co-ops, yet with a more affordable entry. That’s what I envision bringing me to the East Side from the sprawl of the Northwest Side.
Rick is the Media Director for the internationally renowned San Antonio Film Festival. A transmedia producer of film, video games, and digital media. He's lived many lives, but found immortality in storytelling and consultation. He's also currently pursuing a M.A. in Media Studies at the New School for Public Engagement in NYC. Available at Rickcanfield.com.