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By Christine Breit
I was raised at 8,000 feet in the foothills west of Denver. I grew up on a dirt road that my Dad had to plow in the winter so my family could to get to work and school. Everything was a drive. It took 15 minutes to reach my best friend’s house, 20 minutes to get to the grocery store, and 30 minutes to make it to Denver. While I cherish my upbringing in the woods, ever thankful for my profound connection to the natural world, I have always pined to live in a city.
Even as a youngster, I understood that cities contain the interesting people, the best bookstores, and endless cultural and entertainment options. In cities, you can go for a walk and actually get somewhere, and evening activities don’t stop when the sun goes down. When it came time to choose a college, I was drawn to urban campuses in intriguing cities. It was important to me to be of the world—not removed from it, studying away in the countryside (no offense Carlton, Whitman, Grinnell).
I’m not certain if I fell in love with Trinity University or with San Antonio. When my Mom and I made our Trinity visit in February 2008, we spent the bulk of our time touring King William, eating at Rosario’s,shopping at La Villita and Whole Earth Provision Company, and taking morning power walks on the River Walk. I was immediately captivated by the charm, distinct cultural identity, and beauty of San Antonio.
Approaching graduation last spring, I knew I did not want to leave the River City. In my time here, I had developed incredible social, civic, and professional networks. I had worked on a consulting project for SA2020, and I had met some of the incredible people who form Lavaca’s thriving neighborhood-based support system (my Urban Studies capstone explored the form and function of urban community at the beginning of the 21st century through the lens of Lavaca). As trite as this sentiment is, in San Antonio I had found the perfect mix for me: the opportunities of a big city and the “everyone-knows-everyone” charm of a small town.
The same week that I finished my final exams, I was offered a job with Enrollment Research Associates here. Then I happened upon my dream apartment in MidTown/Brackenridge Park, located just north of the Pearl between the San Antonio River and Demo’s Greek Food. For the first time in my life, I can reach places without driving.
From my neighborhood, I can walk to all of the exciting programming at Pearl and I can hit up the hot spots on the North St. Mary’s strip. Last Saturday night my friend and I wandered over to the free Echale concert at the Pearl Amphitheater and then ran into fellow Trinity alumni at Hi-Tones. A few weeks prior I went to the Borderlinea showcase at The Mix and had the pleasure of rocking out to the Melissa Ludwig Band.
Not only do I love living close to these venues because of accessibility, but it is incredibly invigorating walking around this bustling area at night. On weekend evenings, North St. Mary’s is akin to a music festival: Each establishment—each stage— pulsating with its music de jour. Herein lies the best part of where I live: not only can I walk to places that I intentionally set out to visit (the store, the post office), but in doing so I often happen upon new things that I would otherwise not notice or appreciate by car. The world is so different by foot: I notice the intricate craftsmanship of the homes in Monte Vista, the smells of the succulent South Texas flora, the soulful melodies from Tycoon Flats’ Friday night concerts, and the seemingly omnipresent signs commemorating Texas history.
“The world is so different by foot.”
I prize MidTown’s walkability not simply for entertainment value but because it keeps me sane. Nothing helps me de-stress and center myself better than a romp on the Museum Reach. Whether I’m running as fast as I can after a long day at the office or slowly meandering – peering into the river to ogle at the frogs, turtles, and fish – the River Walk is my life-line. On days when I especially feel the urge to explore, I take the River Walk to the Blue Star Arts Complex and then walk back home on the street level, stopping in at the boutiques at La Villita and Pearl. When seeking a more natural setting, I follow the river north to Brackenridge Park where I enjoy watching the couples, runners, and young families that populate the park.
MidTown is both a perfect area for walking and a fabulous central point for accessing the rest of the city. To get to work, I drive a block and a half, jump on Highway 281 at Josephine Street, and then enjoy a super breezy “reverse commute” to the north side of town. Downtown is within walking distance of my front door, I can bike to Woodlawn Lake, and Southtown is only a short drive away.
It’s this kind of accessibility that keeps me healthy. I can honestly say that despite the proximity of Candlelight Café’s bottomless mimosas and La Gloria’s molcajetes, living in MidTown has made me a healthier person. I can walk and bike anywhere, I’m surrounded by trails, parks, and bike lanes, and all of the cool things are within walking distance. Rather than sitting on the couch for entertainment, I stumble out my front door, innately happening upon something intriguing. I am convinced that if I lived in the suburbs I would be 15 pounds heavier and incredibly bored.
I feel especially fortunate to live in an area of town that is so walkable. According to Walk Score, San Antonio (overall) is the 40th most walkable large city in the nation. I believe that. I remember my initial shock and confusion when I discovered the complete lack of sidewalks on Hildebrand during my first week at Trinity. Unfortunately Hildebrand is not an anomaly. In lieu of sidewalks, dirt paths along roads are common throughout this town. I don’t blame the City for this deficiency; it’s just unfortunate that older areas of the urban core were largely developed without consideration for pedestrians.
I’m the direct beneficiary of the City of San Antonio’s current development efforts. In both 2008 and 2009, the city established tax increment reinvestment zones (TIRZ) that include my neighborhood. As such, new bike lanes have been established, sidewalks have been installed and improved, the Pearl Brewery site has been masterfully re-developed, and apartments are sprouting up like wildfires all over Broadway.
The most obvious sign of commitment for me is reflected in the extension of the River Walk from downtown to just south of Brackenridge Park (with tentative plans to extend it all the way to the park). The Strategic Framework Plan for the Center City commissioned by Centro San Antonio highlights MidTown, striving to further improve “river to street connections.” Considering my current elation with the condition of my neighborhood and the accessibility to the river and trails, I cannot even fathom the developments and improvements in store for this area.
While I eagerly anticipate the future developments in this area, I hope that my neighborhood continues to be an enviable blend of new and old, white and brown, moneyed and lesser endowed, and young and not-so young. I chose my apartment largely because it is in a neighborhood that is so real, so organic. Whenever I go to downtown Austin I am struck by the fact that I never see anyone under 30. To me, that ecosystem is both incredibly unnatural and not terribly desirable. (I guess my dorm days are long over.)
But, I must make a confession. Although I absolutely love the feel of my neighborhood, the walkability, the amenities, the location, and the nearby venues, I do not actually know my neighbors.
In my four-plex alone, I only remember the name of one other tenant. I’m not so certain if people in this neighborhood simply prefer to keep to themselves or if there are thriving relationships between neighbors to which I’m completely oblivious. Regardless, I would like to break through my own shyness and Yankee proclivities and make a concerted effort to actually meet my neighbors, learn their names and perhaps form friendships. A few twenty-somethings moved into the four-plex right next to mine. Maybe next time they’re out on their balcony listening to music, I’ll drop by with a Shiner and ask to join the festivities. A distinct possibility in such a friendly city.