Friday, October 25, 2013
San Antonio Growth is Smarter | Casey's Last Word
Many years ago I attended a conference at the Convention Center on ideas such as "Smart Growth" and the "New Urbanism."
I recall during a break telling my friend and neighbor Irby Hightower about the irony of our neighbors in King William, the historic and eclectic neighborhood just south of downtown.
They complain that we don't have a grocery store in the neighborhood, I said, but they do serious battle against any attempts to give us the density needed to support a grocery store.
Irby is a highly-regarded architect with the firm of Alamo Architects. He is also an insightful observer of urban design and urban life.
What you have to understand, he told me, is that King William is not an urban neighborhood. It is a small town on the edge of downtown.
It has the features of a small town, such as a deteriorating commercial corridor and residents who don't like change.
Then he hit me with a stunner.
The closest thing San Antonio has to an urban neighborhood, he continued, is Alamo Heights.
I had to think about that.
My image of Alamo Heights had been shaped by columnist Roddy Stinson's humorous treatises on "09," a close-in suburb of affluence and affect.
But Irby's description of it as the closest thing we have to an urban neighborhood rang true.
Alamo Heights offers a wide range of housing.
Within a half mile of the corner of Broadway and Patterson you have high rises, bungalows, mansions and modest apartment complexes.
You also have a vibrant array of establishments that people in that array of housing can walk to.
Small shops, Central Market, restaurants and bars.
It is a thriving commercial area that attracts customers from other parts of the city.
And it has a very nice bus stop.
These are essential elements of an urban neighborhood: Housing for diverse populations, the ability to walk to stores and restaurants and transit connections to other parts of the city.
I called Irby the other day to get fresher thoughts regarding that near ancient conversation.
He had good news. A great city offers choices to its residents.
San Antonio has fine old neighborhoods and some fine newer suburbs. We still have only close things to urban neighborhoods, but they are getting closer.
King William has evolved, Irby said.
The once deteriorating commercial corridor along South Alamo and St. Mary's and Presa streets is studded with a wide variety of thriving restaurants and a growing number of retail stores.
On the edges of the neighborhood, such as at and near Blue Star, art galleries and still more restaurants are blooming.
And lofts and apartment buildings - including the 250-unit Cevallos Lofts in the industrial Probandt area - are adding some density to the population.
North of downtown, halfway to Alamo Heights, the Pearl Brewery represents what Irby called "a huge commitment to quality that has a ripple effect."
This include such budding establishments as Bakery Lorraine in a small bungalow nearby on Grayson Street, and The Luxury, a sort of hipster ice house on the River Walk south of the Pearl.
The ripple effect also includes about 3,000 apartment units either already completed or under way up and down Broadway near the Pearl.
Other neighborhoods are coming along, too.
These developments are part of a national movement in urban development. As is often the case, Irby said, San Antonio is a step behind - but heading in the right direction.