Dignowity Hill residents surround the newly built table as Cotton Estes jumps off after testing it's structural stability. Photo by Scott Ball.
Dignowity Hill residents surround the newly built table as Cotton Estes jumps off after testing it's structural stability. Photo by Scott Ball.

Volunteers planted new trees and cleaned up Lockwood Park, Dignowity Park and four empty lots surrounding the Dignowity Hill neighborhood on Saturday. The neighborhood, which suffered from City divestment for years, has experienced a resurgence, thanks to new attractions and a combination of federal and state grants awarded to the area.

Michael, a Dignowity Hill resident walks a tree back to his house. Photo by Scott Ball.
Michael, a Dignowity Hill resident walks a tree back to his house. Photo by Scott Ball.

As the funding for community-focused improvements through Eastpoint come to an end, volunteers hope that the City will use funds from the upcoming 2017 Municipal Bond to improve the safety and appearance in the parks.

“We’ve got a lot of vagrants in the empty lots, so there’s a lot of beer cans left around here,” said Dee Smith, president of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association. Smith said this was the first neighborhood cleanup event, but she wants this to be the first of many events to improve the area.

Smith suggested the City could install new chairs and tables, perhaps in front of the basketball court at Lockwood, where families could watch the game or enjoy a view of the San Antonio skyline.

“We’ve got a pretty nice court, we just need a place to sit,” Smith said. She credited the area’s new, young residents with increasing community participation and activating change in the neighborhood.

Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association President Dee Smith puts on her gloves at Lockwood Park. Photo by Scott Ball.
Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association President Dee Smith puts on her gloves at Lockwood Park. Photo by Scott Ball.

“When I first attended meetings for the Neighborhood Association, most of the members were 50 and over, now most of them are in their 30s, and that makes a big difference,” Smith said with a laugh. “Back then, we relied on the City to take care of things. We called them over and over to get them to do something, like clean up the park or cut the grass. Now we have people with the energy to get something done. It’s going to get better.”

Several participants tried to plant the trees along a well traveled path, but the sidewalk proved too narrow for the plants.

“People often walk in the street rather than the crumbling sidewalks throughout the Park,” said volunteer Allison Hu, an architect at Overland Partners. Hu mentioned that the City had given them 50 free trees to plant to increase the tree canopy of the neighborhood.

Carsten Griffin grabs trees from the back of a pickup truck. Photo by Scott Ball.
Carsten Griffin grabs trees from the back of a pickup truck. Photo by Scott Ball.

“We’ve been playing kickball in the park for the past few months, so we invited the neighborhood out for a ‘guerrilla cleanup effort,’” said Will Maney, who organized the event through a post on Facebook.

Maney is one of the many young professionals looking to the Eastside for cheaper property and a historic community. He helped pass out free trees to event attendees and assisted volunteers to build and paint makeshift tables for the park to use.

“This area is eventually going to be the ‘living room’ of the neighborhood,” Maney said.

Maney has already begun planning another event in the spring, which will have “more people, more trees and a more substantial project in the park.”

“This is really improving public spaces in general, whether that’s a park or sidewalks or the streets,” Maney said of the cleanup. “It’s about making that a little better for different types of people.”

Becca Najera, the associate director for the Martinez Street Women’s Center, is a longtime resident who is excited to see physical and interpersonal improvements taking place in the community. Najera was also present for the cleanup events, located just outside the center’s program space.

Becca Najera, assistant director for the Martinez Street Women's Shelter, talks about the importance of the Eastside area in relation to San Antonio's growth. Photo by Scott Ball.
Becca Najera, assistant director for the Martinez Street Women’s Shelter, talks about the importance of the Eastside area in relation to San Antonio’s growth. Photo by Scott Ball.

“We’re glad to see that folks of the younger generation are reaching out to those of us that have existed in these spaces, and aren’t looking at this particular area that needs ‘life breathed back into it,’” Najera said. “We’ve been alive and living here for quite some time, but they are looking for relationship building opportunities, and that is the most meaningful thing about projects like this.”

For upcoming Dignowity Hill community events, follow the Dignowity Hill Historic District page on Facebook.

*Top Image: Dignowity Hill residents surround the newly built table as Cotton Estes jumps off after testing it’s structural stability. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.