Even cats played instruments this weekend at the Josephine Theatre. Photo courtesy of Taylor Allen
Even cats played instruments this weekend at the Josephine Theatre. Photo courtesy of Taylor Allen
rachel holland

Yesterday I read a rather disheartening article that went viral about “San Antonio’s Simple Appeal to Millennials” in Atlantic Cities.

While I am thrilled that we are gaining traction as a city on the rise, I couldn’t help but wince at the journalist’s boring and unsophisticated description of our social scene. Unfortunately, author Nona Willis Aronowitz missed some of the liveliest and most charming parts of San Antonio during her visit.

In an effort to change this outdated but sadly common perspective of our city, I promptly invited her back for round two in San Antonio. This is what I wrote:

Dear Nona,

I just read your article on San Antonio’s appeal to Millennials, and I want to thank you so much for checking out the city and helping us spread the word about what’s going on here. All of my friends have been sharing your article and we are all excited. At the same time, there was one part that I wanted talk more with you about:

“Let’s get this out of the way: San Antonio is not cool.”

On that point, I would have to strongly disagree with you. I firmly believe that we are a city on the rise and would like to invite you to take a second look. (Some text is hyperlinked, please click to find out more.)

Spontaneous dance party at Meatopia last Sunday. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Karney.
Spontaneous dance party at Meatopia last Sunday. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Karney.

What sets San Antonio apart from other cities is our confluence of cultures that we have been celebrating for almost 300 years, and our honest and friendly local culture.

Just this past weekend, I went to First Friday (a monthly art, food, and booze walk in Southtown where the street is basically closed off for pedestrians), rode my bike to Diwali Festival of Lights and Dia de los Muertos celebrations across from each other in the same afternoon, and sampled 30+ different dishes from chefs all over the U.S. at Meatopia, (a world-class food festival held only in New York, London, and San Antonio).

Amazing artistic alters at Dia de los MuertosCelebration in La Villita. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Amazing artistic altars at Dia de los Muertos Celebration in La Villita. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

We are a city that historically has not told our story well or marketed to the right audience. But I am part of an electric movement to change that.

I work for a transformative public redevelopment project, Hemisfair Park, in the heart of downtown, where we are creating a series of beloved urban parks embraced by a vibrant, high-density district. I’m a 28-year-old San Antonio native, went to college at UT-Austin, lived in Houston, Chile, Spain, and France, and moved back to San Antonio after nine years to be part of San Antonio’s transformation into a place where my friends want to live and work.

Hemisfair Holiday Lights
Hemisfair Holiday lights. Photo from Hemisfair Park’s Facebook.

It is a completely different city now than the San Antonio I grew up in, and I am proud to say that I love it here. The picture of “1005 Faces” that you posted in your article was part of a project I helped fund as a Trustee of Awesome SA—a foundation that gives monthly, $1,000 grants to projects that make San Antonio “more awesome.”

Even cats played instruments this weekend at the Josephine Theatre. Photo courtesy of Taylor Allen
Even cats played instruments this weekend at the Josephine Theatre. Photo courtesy of Taylor Allen

I live in the King William neighborhood in Southtown, just south of downtown, the first neighborhood designated “historic” in the State of Texas.

The neighborhood is full of young professional friends, outdoor beer gardens, art galleries, and fantastic local restaurants. There is a bustling food scene in both Southtown and The Pearl, all connected by riverside trail extensions north to the museums (the Museum Reach) and south to the historic Spanish Missions (the Mission Reach).

We have one of the largest bike share programs* in the United States (San Antonio B-Cycle), one of the largest start-up incubators outside of Silicon Valley (Geekdom), and a city-wide Fiesta celebration each spring.

The Something Monday on their way to Alamo Plaza. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
A Something Monday (a casual, social bike ride in partnership with San Antonio B-Cycle) crew on their way to Alamo Plaza via South Alamo Street. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

One of the most appealing parts of San Antonio that I think you missed is that while a young person can move to Austin, San Francisco, or Brooklyn and participate in coolness, they can move to San Antonio and create it. You literally can see your own splash here.

Don’t wait too long before your next trip to San Antonio, because you will honestly not recognize the place in five years. My friends and I invite you to come back for a follow-up visit to your series and challenge you to reconsider the coolness factor. If funding is an issue, let me know and I can find it. You are more than welcome to stay at my place. Thanks again for putting our city in the spotlight and I hope to hear back from you with your availability.

Best wishes,

Rachel Holland

Rachel Holland is a San Antonio native, executive assistant at Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation and all-around firecracker. She is a proud graduate of the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin where she received a BBA in International Business and a minor in Latin American Studies. She enjoys spontaneous globetrotting, adventurous dining, volunteering, and a good dive bar. If you can catch her, she just might talk your ear off about her plans to save the world.

*Updated: A previous version stated that San Antonio B-cycle was the nation’s second largest bike share program. The local program is actually the second largest B-cycle program – second to Denver B-Cycle.

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Rachel Holland

Rachel Holland is a San Antonio native, active member of both LOOP and ULI, and graduate of Leadership San Antonio Class 39. After three years working for the Hemisfair redevelopment project, she is moving...