When I was assigned to Lackland Air Force Base in the summer of 2016, I asked my military friends where I should live. The unanimous response: the far Westside near SeaWorld. New homes! Good schools! I spent one day looking and quickly decided the area wasn’t for me. Those communities all required cars to get around, the traffic was bad, and what you were able to finally drive to were a bunch of strip malls.

That’s fine for some people, but as a young, single military officer, I wanted to be closer to the city’s action. I wanted to live in an area where I could leave my house and walk somewhere cool, a neighborhood that features local businesses, not chains. As a handyman, I also wanted an old home that I could fix up.

Almost immediately, I found Denver Heights on the near Eastside of San Antonio. It’s just a one-mile walk to Southtown, and a little more than that to get to downtown – perfect. The area has affordable homes and an active neighborhood association, and I read about a new development, Essex Modern City, coming soon. In an amazing bonus, Denver Heights is home to the one of the largest MLK Day celebrations in the United States. I bought a 1930s Craftsman home and broke out my power tools.

Some of the adults on my block don’t speak English, but that doesn’t bother me – I’m fluent in Spanish because of my job. My neighbors here are the best ones I’ve ever had – anywhere. I’m within a few blocks of a bakery, a Thai restaurant, and many taquerias. Pittman-Sullivan Park is a five-minute walk. In short, I love it here.

That’s not to say the neighborhood doesn’t have its problems. City Council District 2 has some of the worst-quality streets in San Antonio, and Denver Heights is no exception. The City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department rates streets on a scale from 1-100, and parts of my street received a 7. Large metal supports for transmission lines are set in people’s front yards; in more affluent parts of the city that would never happen.

Almost all bus stops around here are uncovered, the few bike lanes are in sore need of repainting, and there are no B-Cycle stations. (Perhaps students at St. Philip’s College would like to use bikes, the same way students at San Antonio College and UTSA downtown can?) The recently passed City bond is supposed to address some of these issues for District 2, and I hope it does. My street lacks curbs or sidewalks, but a cost estimate for installing sidewalks is being formulated.

The newly elected councilman, Cruz Shaw, is engaged and responsive, and he genuinely cares about his constituents.

In terms of amenities, the local H-E-B lacks many of the healthy food options found in other locations. Many of my friends don’t shop at the store on Houston Street and New Braunfels Avenue, because it simply doesn’t have the food they’re looking for. Yet for those without cars, this is the only option.

Some claim crime is an issue in the area, and my shed was burglarized when I left it unlocked. However, I have never felt unsafe going for a walk at night, which is something I do frequently.

Homes are being rapidly improved in the area, something that would be a positive development if the sales were to new homeowners looking to join the community. Some – myself included – are, but a quick search on Airbnb for “entire homes” in Denver Heights reveals close to 50 houses that have been bought, flipped, and turned into short-term rentals. The City is attempting to address the issue of Type 2 short-term rentals (homes that are not owner-occupied), but is only taking serious action in historic neighborhoods for now.

Giles Gonnsen walks across his self-constructed back porch at his Denver Heights home.
Giles Gonnsen walks across the back porch he built at his Denver Heights home. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Denver Heights is close to a lot of amenities. Want to take a yoga class? Walk to Southtown. Local brewery? Freetail is just under the highway. Library? In the heart of downtown. Coffee shop? Merit Roasters or White Elephant are a quick bike ride away. Movie theatre and shopping? The Shops at Rivercenter are close by. Farmer’s market? The Urban Farm Stand on Presa Street has a lot of great options, and is set to expand soon.

Many great local businesses are close, but few are within Denver Heights’ boundaries. For a neighborhood so full of history and so close to downtown, it is amazing how it gets overlooked time and time again.

I’m not saying all of these things should be in Denver Heights; I’m saying we need more amenities in Denver Heights.  And if they’re going to be just outside its borders, then the bike lanes, sidewalks, and bus stops need to be improved so residents can easily and safely get to them. If the City took care of these things, I’d venture to say even more businesses would come here on their own.

Ultimately, I love living in Denver Heights. I have seen a lot of improvements in the short time that I have been here. My hope for the future here is genuine, as is my concern for the longtime residents and the best neighbors I have ever had. Being in the military, I will eventually get stationed in some other part of the world, but this little community and the people in it will always be home for me. I am proud to be a part of this wonderful community called Denver Heights, and I am committed to doing my part to make it better.

Giles Gonnsen sits at the dining table in his Denver Heights home.
Giles Gonnsen sits at the dining table in his Denver Heights home. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Giles Gonnsen hails from Savannah, Georgia, so he is no stranger to beautiful communities. As an officer in the U.S. Air Force, he currently serves as a Flight Commander with the Inter-American Air Forces...