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When I was growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, I always looked forward to summer vacations because that meant a family trip to San Antonio. While my father attended law school at St. Mary’s University, he developed a love for San Antonio that he wanted to share with us. Being from the valley, we saw San Antonio as the big city. Every trip here was an adventure. All those summers exploring the Witte Museum, learning about the Alamo, visiting the animals at the zoo, and lining up for the rides at Fiesta Texas made me understand why my father was so attached to this city.

After graduating from Texas State University in 2013, I moved to San Antonio for my first job. While I was in college I worked on a number of internships in San Antonio media that helped me build even stronger connections to the city, so when it came to time to take that big step into post-college adult life, there was no question that San Antonio was the place for me.

In my first four years in San Antonio, I lived in the Stone Oak area, which is where I worked. Though I loved my job at a media startup, I felt disconnected from the rest of the city. The area didn’t have a lot of nightlife or things for young professionals to do, so I had to drive to get to places where I could socialize. When my husband, Pedro, and I got engaged, I had launched my business, The Social Butterfly Gal. Because a lot of the work that I was doing was in the downtown area, we decided to move here. 

The city felt very different living downtown. It was exciting and electrifying. Just in the four years that we’ve lived here, we’ve seen remarkable growth and flourishing communities. It’s also given me more access to resources for my business, like Launch SA at the downtown Central Library. That’s where I went to create my business plan and attend free workshops, and it continues to be such a valuable resource to me and so many small business owners. It’s one of San Antonio’s hidden gems and an initiative I hope to see more local businesses take advantage of. Being downtown in these spaces where I can connect with people who are working to make San Antonio better has been such an improvement to my quality of life.

And living near the Pearl, one of my favorite places in the city, is a definite plus. When we first moved downtown, it was shortly after it first opened up, but I remember walking around the space and marveling at how beautiful it was. Now it’s a bustling place with wonderful local businesses and my top recommendation to friends visiting from out of town. My husband and I are huge fans of La Gloria, our go-to spot for tacos and margaritas. I enjoy having wine and cheese at High Street Wine Co., and my parents love Down on Grayson

Now that the pandemic has put a pause on gatherings, I’ve come to better appreciate events like the Pearl’s weekly cumbia dance party Sound Cream Summer Sessions that gave our community occasion to come together and let loose.

Amid all the isolation and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, I’m able to find bright spots because of where I live. I’m used to being out and about downtown and working from coffee shops, so when I’m feeling cooped up from working at home all day, I can just take a walk around the neighborhood as a reminder that, while things might be quieter than usual, my community is resilient. It’s a small source of joy that I’m thankful for.

Christina Jovanna Olivarez and her husband Pedro Olivarez work from home in their downtown apartment. Credit: Courtesy / Bonnie Arbittier

I’m also thankful for my immediate community in the apartment complex where I live. The people who live here are friendly and (pre-pandemic) the community managers organized events where we could mingle and get to know each other. A lot of the residents here work in the downtown area in various fields, and it feels like we share that sense of wanting to be in the middle of all the action and wanting to be a part of what’s next for San Antonio. It’s definitely energizing to be around people with similar pursuits.

In addition to a vibrant community, our apartment complex has some nice amenities that make it easier to stay home. My husband likes working out at the gym, and I enjoy the rooftop lounge and pool. We’re also in a prime spot for Fiesta. All we have to do is walk downstairs to watch the Battle of Flowers and Fiesta Flambeau parades.

While downtown has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, there’s still so much opportunity for activation. I’d like to see more outdoor spaces highlighting local artists and local businesses, spaces where people can gather and feel like they’re part of something exciting. And a big part of activation is accessibility. Even for two working professionals like myself and my husband, it’s expensive to live downtown. What we need is more affordable housing to allow more people to enjoy urban living. Everything that I love about living downtown should be accessible to every San Antonian.

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Christina Jovanna Olivarez

Christina Jovanna Olivarez is an award-winning social media strategist, TEDx speaker, and founder and CEO of The Social Butterfly Gal.