I always joke that my tiny apartment is barely more than a treehouse with air conditioning. With only 425 square feet to work with, my bedroom is the biggest room in the apartment. The ten windows leave very little wall space for hanging anything up – which is why more of my travel pictures end up on the walls of my office at work – my stove looks more like a play oven, and I have long since run out of book shelf space. There is no possible configuration that would allow me to fit in one more bookshelf. However I have lived in my treehouse 11 years and am glad to have found it when I did.
Southtown has changed and grown so much in recent years. Some days I feel like I blink and a new restaurant (or bar, or juice bar, or ice cream shop) opens up within walking distance. Southtown has always been one of the more walkable areas in the city, and over the past 11 years, that score has slowly gone up.
When I enter my ZIP code, 78210, into Walk Score, a walkability score of 51 comes up (as of September 2015), giving the area a rating of "somewhat walkable." When I put in my actual address, that score jumps to 76, making it "very walkable." And from my own personal observation, as the walkability score of this area goes up, so does the cost of living here ... at least for renters.
My apartment was one of the cheapest I could find on Centro Properties in 2004. Granted, it was also one of the smallest. But the price difference wasn't too big between my treehouse, and some of the other rentals nearby. In 2012 the treehouse was sold off as part of a larger plot, and the gracious owners have allowed me to stay on, still at a great price. Meanwhile, the nearby rentals were also sold, renovated, and relisted at a much higher price, with the same amount of space, and the same street parking.
In other words, I got into Southtown when it was cheap.
About 70 miles away on the northeast side of Austin, my parents are going through a similar change in their neighborhood, the one I grew up in. As the land that used to be the old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport has now been converted into a mixed-use complex, including multiple shopping centers, apartments, townhomes, hotels, restaurants, etc., my stubborn and immovable parents have gotten used to being asked if they plan to sell their home. The answer is not going to change, and my mother and father now get to reap the rewards of the new development in the area. And to think they bought the house for less than $23,000 back in the 1970s.
Basically, they got into Austin when it was cheap.
Their area may not be considered walkable, with a score of only 39, making it "car dependent," but I will not be surprised if that starts to change.
Like my parents with their own little corner of the capitol city, had I not moved to downtown San Antonio when I did – despite the commute, oddly laid out streets, and my annual parking nightmare a.k.a. Fiesta – and stuck it out in the treehouse, I would have never been able to walk to The Monterey. Which, sadly, I will no longer be able to do come Nov. 4 when it closes its doors for good. But I can also now walk to not one, but two very different ice cream shops along South Alamo Street. And no matter how empty my calendar may be on the First Friday of the month, there is always something to do, see, or eat, that does not require me to get into a car.
I know I cannot live in a treehouse forever. Maybe I will move someday, if only so I can fit in more bookshelves. Cheap rent is incredibly addictive. But I hope to not go far. Walking to Hemisfair Park is not a joy I am willing to give up. Plus, I am interested to see just how much this area will continue to grow and change. Houses that had been vacant for longer than I have lived in Southtown are now being fixed up and sold, lending a certain amount of vitality that was not there before. Large housing projects are also going in on and around the San Antonio River.
New businesses and restaurants cannot get up and running fast enough. There was a time when a nearby space, at the opposite end of same strip as Taco Haven, went through a series of restaurants that would open to much fanfare, only to eventually close. But now it looks like Bite has found success in the small space and is here to stay.
Of course, as excited as I am about all of the changes, part of me does miss the less popular, less energetic version of Southtown that I moved into 11 years ago. It used to be that Fiesta was the only time of year when I would occasionally lament my decision. As the area increases in popularity, the frustrations of long-time residents probably will too. I cannot say for sure what will happen in the future, but for now, I still want to be a part of it.
*Top image: The Southtown Community Garden at 1002 S. Presa St. was officially launched in 2007. Photo by Iris Dimmick.