by Patrick Kobler

We are a city united by a common vision but divided by a true knowledge of each other …

When I moved to San Antonio two years ago to join Teach For America, I decided to live in the Quarry.  While this choice caused my morning commute to be a little longer than if I had lived downtown, the comforts of the community, the lower-cost of living compared to that of the city limits and the youthful vibe of the area drew me in.

My decision to live in suburban San Antonio was also heavily influenced by the lack of a grocery store downtown. I shop sparingly and would not look forward to driving twenty minutes every time I needed milk or a six-pack.  Spending extra gas money whenever I needed sustenance would have been a financial burden compounded by having to pay more for rent, parking and other basic needs.  I know many other young San Antonio residents feel the same.

My morning commute from the Quarry to where I teach on San Antonio’s East Side is roughly thirty minutes.  But every morning I feel as though I am traveling between two different cities.  There is a point in my daily drive where one world ends and another begins.  Driving over a bridge with a Martin Luther King, Jr. billboard looking on above, I hit a pothole, a simple bump in the road changing the landscape from lush greenery to barren trees and broken streets.   A bridge and a bump separate so much; rich from poor, developed from undeveloped, beautiful from ugly, the educated from the underserved. I am not judging any community.  Rather, I am pondering why such vast differences exist mere minutes apart. How can we change the fact that a bridge separates a city?

Alienated also by simple barriers such as potholes and bridges is knowledge citizens have about those who live on other sides of San Antonio. My students have no idea what is happening on San Antonio’s West Side and what they know of the Quarry is that it hosts a movie theater.  I ran into a group of my students at the theater and for the first time realized why my high school teachers were always so awkward when I saw them outside of school.

Continuing the trend, if I asked any one of the Alamo Heights’ students who hang out at the local Starbucks where I sometimes create my lesson plans what is happening on San Antonio’s East Side, they would not have the slightest idea.  A non-scientific poll revealed their only knowledge of East Side schools was that they were “bad.”

A city and a people divided by intangible barriers and almost a blissful ignorance that the other communities exist. This division reminds me of the Berlin Wall.  San Antonio, how do we tear down this wall?  The urban renaissance will not happen if our students remain separated by such simple things.

The Same Divisions Hold True for our City’s Young Adults

In my free time, I enjoy activities similar to others in my age group: working out, exploring the city, eating out, seeing a movie and responsibly enjoying adult beverages.  If I am being completely honest, many of these activities seemed much more available and accessible when I lived in Dallas – my former city.

Additionally, wherever I went in Dallas, there seemed to be much more diversity amongst the crowd.  And when I speak of diversity, I am referring to characteristics that go beyond race and religion: beliefs, interests and occupations to name a few.

In Dallas, a diversity of personalities, ideologies and careers existed among the young adults inhabiting any given gym or restaurant.  Budding artists, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, community organizers and politicians all mingled.  Walking into a coffee shop or bar, there would be a young fashionista on my right, an inspiring musician to my left and a group of bankers in their early twenties behind me.  Young people on different paths met and mingled, allowing for a future cross career alliance of progress within the city limits.   My friends who remained in Dallas upon graduation now often join forces to further their careers, start-up businesses, artistic endeavors and community service.  Realizing the strength of these career cutting alliances, these were the first people I called when I launched my education reform website.

I have only been in San Antonio for two years, but I have not seen the same intermingling of our city’s youth.  If I decide to stay local on a Saturday night, I will most likely venture to either Hofbrau or Stonewerks.  The crowd of young people at these establishments can be described as San Antonio’s emerging entrepreneurial class.  They are mostly graduate students or in entry-level positions at firms, businesses and banks.  Their dress is trendy.  Their drinks are complex but typical: old-fashioneds, long islands, domestics and wine.

If I have money in my bank account for a cab ride – approximately fifty dollars for a group both ways – I venture downtown, specifically, Southtown for the evening.  Similar to my morning commute, a fifteen-minute cab ride seems to separate the city, only this division occurs among San Antonio’s young, educated adults.

While the Quarry houses San Antonio’s emerging entrepreneurial class, Southtown plays host to the city’s creative community. Restaurants, coffee shops and bars are filled with hipsters, artists, musicians and other creative types. The skinny ties, plaid skirts, high heels, trendy handbags and button downs adorned by the Quarry’s young adults are replaced by dreadlocks, environmentally friendly clothing, locally made bags and organically created sandals.  Put simply, a night at The Friendly Spot is an entirely different experience than a night at Hofbrau.  Think Betty and Veronica, only Betty dresses like a hippie and Veronica is pursuing her medical degree.

I am not saying one scene is better than the other.  Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle.  The main point of this article is to highlight that San Antonio’s students and its young adults are separated; divided by intangible walls.  There exists no mingling between classes: educated and underserved, creative and entrepreneurial.  Whereas in Dallas all walks of life combined, in San Antonio there is a clear division of interest and background.

As we progress, this lack of an alliance between the youthful, emerging classes could prove problematic to the goals of the city.  At the very least, it will not aid in its progress toward them. Bridging differences in the beliefs, occupations and education levels of San Antonio’s youth in the same way Dallas has done, would allow for a swifter movement toward the urban Renaissance we seek.

Proposed Solutions

This is the way I see the city.  You may agree or disagree.  Either way, I wanted to provide some proposed solutions – and hear yours as well – as I believe proposals for progress should trump simple observations.

  1. Introduce our students to those different from them and encourage them to befriend one another.
  2. Host Café College days that are intended to combine students from all sides of the city and strategically delegate the days.  For example, have schools from the North Side and East Side come together to fill out their FAFSAs on a given Saturday.
  3. Host a community service day each month for student scholarships throughout all of San Antonio.  Group students with diversity in mind.
  4.  Combine the city’s sports programs.
  5. Create an outside school-tutoring program that mixes different communities.
  6. Offer field trips to different parts of the city.  Let our students know alternative communities exist.
  7. Bring community leaders into the classrooms – not just our high performing schools but all of our schools.  Show every child that the leaders of the city care about their future – and not just during election years.
  8. Provide easier access to downtown San Antonio.  This could be a shuttle or lower cabs fares.  Bring young people into downtown San Antonio and the intermingling of classes will result.
  9. Encourage a diversity of experience in different parts of San Antonio.  Host an art show on the North Side and create a business-networking event to be held in South Town.

Most important, if San Antonio wants to attract more young people downtown considering having a conversation about the benefits of putting a grocery store there.

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Monika Maeckle

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...