On Feb. 17 we published a piece by former Lake/Flato architect Jeremy Fields, a dual citizen who left San Antonio for Hamburg, Germany several years ago. Fields argued that while San Antonio has made significant strides in building a more livable downtown, it will continue to struggle to recruit and retain talented people who seek a more sustainable lifestyle. Here is a link to that article:
Daniel Lazarine is a designer with Kell-Muñoz Architects and an avid long-distance runner and member of the Third Street Grackles, the same cycling team Fields belonged to when he lived here. He takes issue with Fields, and today offers his own reverse perspective, having spent part of his boyhood living in Germany as the son of a career Army officer. Lazarine and his wife, Eileen Gaughran, recently bought a home in Mahncke Park to be closer to downtown San Antonio and their jobs there. Eileen is with the American Payroll Association. Both enjoy a three-mile bike-able commute from home to work.
By Dan Lazarine
“San Antonio? Not anytime soon.” I must admit I had a conflicted reaction to Jeremy Fields' article extolling life in Hamburg, Germany compared to San Antonio. I have good memories of my own 4 ½ years in Heidelberg. I once thought it was the ideal place to call home. I really wanted to believe that popular catch phrase we’ve all heard before – “Well, in Europe they. . . (insert perfect way of doing anything).”
I lived in Heidelberg as a high school kid in the mid-80s, and Germany, indeed, was my Utopia. The U.S. dollar was strong against the now obsolete Deutsche Mark. There was no drinking age. The whole Cold War thing? That was for my military parents to fret about.
A trip back to Heidelberg in 1999 for a high school reunion changed the taste of the sweet German Kool-Aid I had been savoring since I was dragged from Heidelberg back to San Antonio kicking and screaming. It was during that two-week trip where the phrase “you can never really go back home” hit me like a ton of bricks. The Heidelberg I had longed for had somehow vanished. Gone were the idyllic surroundings I fell in love with and thought would never change. In its place were urban and (gasp) suburban sprawl, trash and graffiti, neighborhoods that were no longer safe to be in after dark, and an autobahn that reminded me of driving in Italy rather than the once uber-orderly ribbons of high-speed concrete. What had happened to my Germany and why was I actually looking forward to returning home to San Antonio? And why was I ashamed for dragging my fiancé to Germany after selling her on it as the land that the United States could never be?
The answer, as I came to discover, is that no part of the world--however pastoral and perfect it may seem at one point--is immune to the geo-global forces acting upon it. Yes, Germany had survived two World Wars, and nearly 45 years as a politically and geographically divided nation. Reunification posed the most daunting challenge to its identity, in my opinion. The demise of the Berlin Wall, a horrid artifact of the Cold War and an insult to the landscape, was a harbinger of troubling times to come. The Wall was a symbol of a crumbling Soviet Union, which has left its mark on Europe in ways even more significant than the dismantling of the Wall.
My description of the new Germany is not just my musing as a tourist. This description came to me from my German buddies over a few of steins of beer as they caught me up on almost 20 years of change.
So here we have the crux of my conflict. Yes, I loved Germany. In fact, I loved it so much I joined the military in the hope that I would be stationed in Germany to continue my love affair. But alas, the Air Force had a different plan for me – they felt I needed to experience the Orient to round me out as a world traveler. Unfortunately, there was no spark there, but it was not a hate-hate relationship either. Getting back to the crux – a beloved Germany that had lost its luster versus the reality of San Antonio, my hometown, working hard to change in a positive way despite suburban growth bent on gobbling up land in huge proportions – where should I place my heart and soul?
My answer is San Antonio. It's not the perfect example of a progressive city, nor is it a world-class city like Hamburg. But it is my home. If ever I have had a love-hate relationship with a place it has been with San Antonio. The suburban sprawl is out of control and there are political forces at work here that, in my opinion, are not looking out for health and welfare of the city as a whole.
That said, I am not completely discouraged about San Antonio’s future. And while Fields acknowledged the success of the Pearl development, other wonderful advancements here were overlooked. Here’s a list of some of the projects recently completed or in the works:
The River Reach project aims to restore the natural path and flow of the San Antonio River. This is combined with improvements to the adjacent running and cycling paths, making it easier to access the Missions and the newly completed Mission Library.
* The River North improvements expanded the River Walk northward, allowing access to the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Pearl development and Brackenridge Park.
* A renovation of the Municipal Auditorium is in progress, and when it’s completed the state-of-the-art Tobin Center for the Performing Arts will feature a direct connection to the River Walk.
* Hardberger Park, while a suburban project, sets a precedent that not all prime tracts outside of Loop 410 have to be consumed by gated communities and strip malls.
* The Linear Park system for Salado Creek, Leon Creek, the Medina River and San Antonio River offers 34 miles of vehicle-free green space for running, hiking, and biking—more than 1,200 acres completed so far and more to come.
* A new Federal Courthouse aims to celebrate the history of San Antonio’s West Side while spurring a new master plan for HemisFair Park and the revitalization of the historically significant San Pedro Creek.
* The St. Benedict Lofts live-work development in Southtown continues the revamping of the city’s near Southside.
* A new Master Plan for Broadway calls for the extension of the River Walk even further northward along with a street car line reminiscent of the ones that existed here in the early 20th century. A new Children's Museum will open in a few years.
* The expansion of the Pearl and developments like 1221 Broadway are changing the look of Midtown on an almost daily basis. Broadway is now becoming a place to live and not just a surface street to drive on.
* A new master plan is in the works for Alamo Plaza. There is even talk of closing the Plaza to vehicular traffic and turning the street between Lake/Flato Architects and the old Post Office into a green space.
* The city has initiated the Free Parking Tuesdays Program to remove the greatest complaint for not partaking of the wonderful nightlife the River City has to offer.
* A Bike-Share program was recently implemented in sleepy ol’ San Antonio as well. And now our progressive Austin neighbors are wondering and asking, “How did you do that?” A car-share program is also in the works.
* The near Eastside will be the site of another revitalization project in the way of the Ellis Alley redevelopment project.
* A composting bin project is being piloted in Mahncke Park along with my favorite new ordinance – a smoking ban during Fiesta parades.
* San Antonio celebrated its second Síclovía Festival this month, attracting more than 40,000 cyclists, runners, and walkers to experience a vehicle-free Broadway for most of a Sunday .
Did I mention the weather? A recent March morning started off at a brisk 40 degrees, perfect for an early morning run. It quickly warmed up to a sunny 70 degrees. San Antonio enjoys average temperatures just under 70 degrees compared to Hamburg’s average of 48 degrees. San Antonio has 83 days of rain per year compared to Hamburg’s 180 days. Those are more than just numbers to a cycling junkie!
While I am extolling the list of the wonderful attributes of San Antonio, I should mention the wonderful neighborhood where Eileen and I call home – Mahncke Park. Just north of downtown and within walking distance to Brackenridge Park, the Witte Museum, the planned Children’s Museum, and Central Market. It's the perfect blend of urban/suburban life. We can ride our bikes to work in under 15 minutes, without the traffic typical of a large metro area. We can ride or walk to local restaurants, the Broadway Daily Bread bakery, even a barber shop.
San Antonio is changing, and very much for the better. Hamburg has an 800-year head start on San Antonio. It's a major port city and the second largest city in Germany. Give us another 800 years and let's see what happens!
Photos courtesy of Dan Lazarine and Eileen Gaughran.