The Where I Live series aims to showcase our diverse city and region by spotlighting its many vibrant neighborhoods. Each week a local resident invites us over and lets us in on what makes their neighborhood special. Have we been to your neighborhood yet? Get in touch to share your story.

Like many teens living in San Antonio in the late ’90s, I moved to Austin after I graduated high school. I lived there for seven years and loved it, but something was missing. I wouldn’t find that missing piece until much later, after moving back to my hometown.

Before that, I moved to Oklahoma City, following a promotion for my husband at the time and promising our kids we wouldn’t move until they graduated. Sixteen years later, in the summer of 2017, I moved back to San Antonio. 

While I was away from my hometown, I came back often for holidays but didn’t really explore the city. After more than 20 years away from home, I saw San Antonio had changed a lot. Though I still miss the White Rabbit, I’m happy to see so many exciting additions to the St. Mary’s Strip. It’s also nice to see so much more public art and a thriving art scene.

Despite all the changes I was met with when I returned, San Antonio still felt like my hometown. My high school sweetheart and I even reconnected and got married at the Pearl during Fiesta. We bought a home in the Arena District neighborhood on the East Side in 2018 and have been here ever since. 

As soon as we moved to the East Side, I found that “something missing” that I was searching for in Austin: community and culture.

We love our community, neighbors, and local businesses deeply. We know our neighbors by name, help each other, look out for each other, and we do our best to make our neighborhood better. 

Patty Toms enjoys coming to the Dakota Eastside Ice House to relax and hang out with friends. Her favorite thing to order is the Hackberry Express.
Patty Toms enjoys visiting The Dakota East Side Ice House to relax and hang out with friends. Her favorite thing to order is the Hackberry Express. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

When the pandemic hit, our neighborhood banded together and helped each other out with food, water, and other necessities. When the winter storm hit in 2021 and we lost power for a week and a half, our entire neighborhood gathered and helped each other out with emptying toilets and filling them back up with water, making hot meals on propane camping stoves and dispersing them amongst neighbors, and making sure everyone had drinking water each day. 

The sound of Tejano music and the smell of barbecue wafts through the neighborhood every weekend. It reminds me of visiting family on the East Side as a child for Sunday barbecues, catching lightning bugs in jars, and busting out in a cumbia dance on the sidewalk. 

We have some of the best local businesses like Mark’s Outing, which has the best catfish on the East Side; Estate Coffee, where the lavender latte is delightful; and The Dakota East Side Ice House, where we go for live music and the best customer service. If it’s your first time at The Dakota, don’t leave without trying the Hackberry Express. You can thank me later.

Garcia Street Urban Farm is another gem in our community. They have done so much for my neighborhood and the surrounding area, not only from a food standpoint but also by hosting vaccine pop-ups and teaching the locals about urban farming. 

The monthly newsletter City Council District 2 constituents get from our current Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and his team is refreshing. We see that they’ve really worked on the issues that our community has brought to their attention and have already done so much for our district. 

The Garcia Street Urban Farm is spread across a few acres of land in the Arena District. Neighbors and community members can learn about urban farming, bee keeping and growing their own food.
The Garcia Street Urban Farm is spread across a few acres of land in the Arena District. Neighbors and community members can learn about urban farming, beekeeping and growing their own food. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Still, there’s a lot of work left to do. Safety is an issue here and must be addressed. There’s not a weekend that goes by where you don’t hear gunshots. And while you get used to it, learning not to go out at certain times and which areas to avoid, it shouldn’t just be a fact of life on the East Side. My neighbors and I have talked about safety concerns and we feel like all we can do is keep an eye out for each other and text each other if we see anything suspicious.

Gentrification is another issue facing our community. Every week we see new modern townhomes being built and old homes being completely renovated and sold for outrageous prices, leaving the elders of our neighborhood who have lived here for generations with property taxes they can’t afford. And with everything happening so fast, it’s difficult for them to keep up with the changes and find resources that can help them. I don’t have the answers, but for now, we in the Arena District can continue making our voices heard on the issues that matter in our community.

I also understand that being so close to the AT&T Center and having St. Philip’s College close by, there’s so much opportunity on the East Side for small businesses to prosper and for creating new tourist-friendly spots — and I’m hopeful that we can strike a happy balance between taking care of our longtime neighbors and welcoming new ones. I’d like to see the city invest in making the East Side shine. It deserves a chance.