Some time ago, my wife and I restored a 1890s historic farmhouse in Monte Vista. We loved living in that house and in our inner-city, urban neighborhood. It was walkable, you would often see young professionals jogging, families restoring large mansions, and taxis, police and fire trucks zooming by. Shops and restaurants were just a five-minute walk away.
But when our kids were about to enroll in kindergarten, we decided to move to the “suburbs.” We did this because many parents in Monte Vista were sending their kids to different schools and my wife and I, both having attended public schools, wanted to send our kids to a public school system where the majority of the neighborhood families sent their kids to the same school to create a greater sense of community.
By chance, through a friend, we got lucky and bought a house that, at the time, was way “out” in the suburbs, in a northeast neighborhood called Oak Park-Northwood, an inside-the-loop San Antonio neighborhood. We have learned that our neighborhood is actually in the middle of our city and we still feel part of the central city. Oak Park-Northwood is both a Tier One inner city neighborhood and part of the Northeast Alliance neighborhood organization. Downtown is a short drive along Broadway Street.
The heart of the neighborhood is the Oak Park H-E-B, where most of us do our grocery shopping. There are some good shops at that shopping center, but my favorite shops are at the Sunset Ridge Shopping Center, a beautiful midcentury modern design. There you can get great Italian food at Julian’s, good burgers at EZ’s, and there’s the Sunset Ridge Hardware Store. The McNay Art Museum is next door, too.
Surrounding our neighborhood are the businesses along Austin Highway, downtown Alamo Heights, and places along upper Broadway, including the Quarry and Lincoln Heights. There must be at least five grocery stores within a 10-minute drive. At all these locations we run into people we know.
We know a variety of people through our childrens’ school, the PTO (my wife was treasurer), my time serving on the neighborhood association, and involvement with our childrens’ sports teams (I coached baseball for a while). Many of the neighbors we know are hardworking, some in the trades, some professionals, some business owners, some artists, many retired, and some are here due to Fort Sam Houston.
I love the fact that many kids walk to school, and parents keep a watch or walk along, too. Interestingly, there are few sidewalks but many walk along the wide streets. As an urban planner, I love how our two elementary schools are so street-friendly and easy to walk or bike to. Lots of moms and dads walk with their baby strollers, too.
A couple of years ago, there was a beautiful sunset. Amazing sight. As I was driving with my son we found ourselves on a hilltop. All along that block, people came out of their houses. Other neighbors pulled over their cars and got out to take in the magnificent view. My son and I got out of our truck, too. Everyone was in silence and, when the sun set, people just started talking with each other and everyone was happy to introduce themselves. My young son said it’s as if it was snowing and people came out to be in it.
That was a spontaneous neighborhood gathering, but we also have a great Fourth of July parade and celebration that 400-500 people attend, and a Christmas lights contest.
Our neighborhood is huge (almost 13,000 residents) and has one of the best collections of midcentury modern homes. Since 2008, this neighborhood has gone through a significant change of home ownership. Many of the older families have sold due to taxes and the chance to sell at a high price. Many houses have had additions but have maintained a contemporary modern design.
Like most neighborhoods, we do sometimes have problems with crime, mostly involving theft and car break-ins. But everyone is on the lookout, and there’s a good, strong sense of community.
We really saw this sense of community when a tornado hit our neighborhood. We were among the worst hit, and many of our neighbors came out to help cut, clear trees, and remove debris. I am also proud of our community leaders and fellow board members who fought for the removal of the Google “fiber hut” that in 2017 was placed in Haskin Park, a small neighborhood park where my son practiced baseball. The structure made the park space virtually useless. Our elected officials recognized that the hut should not have been located in a park, and it was removed. In fact, the City removed all “fiber huts” from our city parks.
This neighborhood is full of friendly, caring people who take pride in their community. We stay safe distances walking or jogging along our streets during these COVID-19 times. A neighbor’s yard flamingos remind us to stay safe.
We have made new friends and realize that we do not live out in the suburbs but actually in a quieter neighborhood inside the Loop that is very much part of San Antonio.