What’s it like to live in the Exchange Building in downtown San Antonio?
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On February 22, 2013, an algorithm determined that I would be moving to San Antonio. This algorithm was part of a matchmaking process aimed at effectively connecting students to training sites that serve as the cornerstone of their professional training. Along with its perks come some stresses as well: sunk money, unceremonious wrenching from loved ones, competing with friends, and navigating unparalleled eggshells.
A dear friend, who also introduced me to the world of hiking, decided to get away from this stressful environment. On game day, we took a multi-hour trip punctuated by a meandering descent into the floor of Palo Duro Canyon and a lighted walk to our campsite. Once our tents were set up, my mind gave way to the dark stillness at the bottom of the canyon. Hours passed in an instant when the stillness was interrupted by soft, irregular thuds against the silhouettes of the tent and the lava lamp before dusk. Snow? The long zipper on our tent door revealed a calm, overcast landscape; a moment suspended in time before quickly merging to reveal new paths.
The road to San Antonio, unlike that to Palo Duro, was not unknown. Having been raised primarily on the southern Texas border, San Antonio was the closest American city. As a child, that meant it was a field travel destination and a source of fascination (Shamu! The Alamo! River malls!), Though that prospect deteriorated with the prism of adolescence.
Although growing up on the border, my parents imbued me with an idealized perspective of cities. One had been raised in Chicago’s migrant enclaves and the other lived in Guadalajara where, according to the divorce agreements, I spent a few months a year. The cities were hotbeds of crossed intellectual currents, of cultural enrichment, of diverse cuisine, of new technologies, of professional challenges, of mansions set in imposing masonry and of concrete that passively testified to history. For all the charms of South Texas as a quiet, central place, it was ultimately this kind of spirit-sharpened metropolis.
After moving outside of Texas, I never really had a reason to update my teenage take on San Antonio, a city that bears only the name, until years later, when ‘a friend – a budding architect – deceived me from my ignorance. His appreciation of San Antonio’s rich history, built environment, and latent potential was infectious; a condition which became more and more insoluble with each passing visit on the way to the family.
I searched and came across an open plan apartment in a converted Builders Exchange: central location, substantial construction and – most importantly – achievable with the meager salary of an intern. From this new base, I began to experience the pillars of the city with a renewed childish seriousness, lively and free from blunt cynicism and routine.
Powered by a variety of wheels (B-cycle, VIA, Amtrak), my rehabilitated prospect was allowed to take the world en route to bonds. In the narrow streets of the city center, you could navigate to the historical and cultural sites that loomed in front of you. Winding roads outside the city center made it possible to enjoy different neighborhoods in the diamond points of Cattleman Square / Near West, Olmos Park, Eastside Promise and San Jose / Missions. My soles were not without experience either, with restorative paseos evenings ennobled by history, architecture and culture. Small historical snippets provided lightness and the opportunity for vivid imagery, like reading a passage by Cormac McCarthy in the very bar where it took place.
What was previously an indistinguishable parade of buildings has slowed down into differentiated styles that become the time-stamped layers of an urban canyon: Aztec revival, Spanish baroque, American revival, Chicago school. And the churches! They embodied the cultures, nations and denominations that have come together here and reminded us that we are more than ourselves; part of something bigger.
These experiences: underlined by a personalized soundtrack. I remember a ruminating walk where an underground passage with a reverberating cacophony of birds gave way to the cascading noise and punitive rhythm of the open doors of the Ten Eleven bar, before being punctuated by a tight groove and a meandering accordion on stage VFW # 76. There are few cities where going from concrete music to post-hardcore / sludge in Tejano would be so natural.
While lonely experiences recharge me, the charms of San Antonio have not been exclusive to people. The warmth and sincerity of people of all stripes recalled Alexis de Tocqueville’s portrait of the crossed strata of America. In my building, I interacted with cooks, nurses, hospitality workers, architects, service industry veterans, city managers, retirees, students, entrepreneurs, artist-teachers, advisers, real estate brokers, neurobiologists and engineers. The diversity of thought and experience that guided people towards these professions enriched our happy hours before the pandemic.
Walking into my nearest post office, I met the bassist from Mickey and the Soul Generation. On the streets of San Antonio, strangers in cars shouted claims. Below the streets, next to the river, a man gazing at the koan directed me towards a gigantic bald cypress, urging me to slow down and appreciate it fully. These fortuitous and kind acts have a strange way of lingering and making you love a place.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a city without friction. Nearby pre-vaccine non-masks, crisscrossed faces of migrants along sidewalks outside of town and charity centers, red tape laid around a body, and ill-behaved tourists are also part of the story. experience. Although unpleasant, I see these experiences as necessary controls over the pride that can develop when one is compartmentalized with similar echoes. It reminds me that I am part of a messy whole, that well-formed politicians can still have winners and losers, and not all suffering is instantly alleviated.
Some trends are long standing, such as rising rents and real estate costs outstripping income growth. I would no longer have the means to pay for my building with an intern’s salary. The city is expanding further despite an underutilized property in the heart of the city, and the growth observed has not been evenly distributed.
For example, although the Pearl redevelopment received over $ 13 million from the city to support it, the cost of living is beyond the reach of most San Antonians. Pearl’s once-welcoming Farmer’s Market has given way to luxury goods. Previous proposals for food stamps to have more purchasing power when used on farmers’ produce were rejected, to the detriment of the nutritional health of low-income people in the communities surrounding the Pearl. Proposals for cycling infrastructure have also been closed, to the detriment of physical and environmental health. These are just a few anecdotes on current trends that disadvantage large segments of society and which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The City has made efforts to combat this, including by allocating budgetary resources and establishing bond proposals. San Antonio has also gained traction in its vaccination efforts, overtaking both the state and the country. Beyond its boon to health, widespread vaccination also promises to encourage in vivo economic activity, which may dovetail with the forecast of accumulated resources of 2020 manifesting itself in a roaring new year 20.
In the midst of that, eight years later, the snow was once again stuck to the ground beneath me. As in Palo Duro, this cold blanket held an uncertain crossroads. As the golden rays of South Texas melted the city, I once again discovered the enveloping fear of opaque challenges giving way to the hope that we would overcome them.