Photo Credit and Photo Copyright

The photographs of San Antonio and Dignowity Hill used within this blog are the property of Juan A Garcia East Light Images. All rights are reserved to the owner. Copy and use of these pictures is forbidden without written permission. Contact Juan at for permission.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pushcart Derby Rolls Again!

The 8th Annual Pushcart Derby was held this past weekend. What a blast! The derby which was founded by local artist Cruz Ortiz as a performance art event has morphed into a community based event that brings the Dignowity Hill community together for a day of rogue silliness and competitive pushcart racing! This year's derby was a great success thanks to the efforts of Rina Moreno, derby manager and queen and her co conspirator Mike Belardi who together put on one of the best derby's yet!
Team Calypso


This is serious!

Janet Grojean from Tx Public Radio
The winning team: The Highland Park Fliers

The Little Luchaderos

Safety Check

What the ....

Rina and Mike deserve all the credit for making this happen.  Over the last 8 years the derby has evolved into a great community event that typifies what Dignowity Hill is all about! We hope that this will continue for many years to come!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lockwood Park Is Moving on Up!

The rock seating installation in Lockwood Park is moving along nicely. Workers have been working feverishly for the last couple weeks and we're starting see visible progress! Once completed the are will be transformed into a nice gathering space with a great view of downtown!
The project was the award winning submission of the Lighter Quicker Cheaper neighborhood revitalization contest sponsored by Texas Public Radio (TPR). The idea for the concept came from a Dignowity Hill resident who thought it would be cool to improve the seating in one of the parks to view the downtown fireworks displays. Working with neighborhood residents, the city's Parks and Recreation department and TPR the final concept for the seating was decided upon in September.  The project will be completed by the time the annual Pushcart Derby rolls around on Oct 27, 2012 when the seating will be dedicated and celebrated!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The G-Word

My neighbor and friend Bekah McNeel recently published a couple of articles about Dignowity Hill and the g-word....gentrification.  Bekah writes for the Rivard Report, an on line blog dedicated to urban renaissance, neighborhoods and politics in and around San Antonio.  Bekah and her husband Lewis are recent newcomers to the neighborhood. They bring a fresh set of eyes and energy to our old neighborhood. In many ways they represent the young professionals that are attracted to an urban core neighborhood like Dignowity. Their enthusiasm is helping drive the current renewal of Dignowity.

View of downtown from Lockwood Park
Three years ago I was asked by a local media reporter if I thought gentrification would eventually take hold in Dignowity. At the time the neighborhood was just starting to get noticed by the city, the  real estate community and urban pioneers looking for the next cool neighborhood. I remember responding that Dignowity was far from any gentrification trendiness as I thought of the infrastructure improvements that were and still are badly needed. Three years later the g- word has surfaced again, most recently with the approval of the micro brewery project that will be built next to the Hays Street Bridge.

As Bekah points out in her articles, gentrification is typically defined by the movement of higher socio-economic group into a less affluent neighborhood resulting in significant changes in the local culture. While it's hard to measure the actual effects of gentrification there is some evidence that property values tend to increase, rents also tend to increase and some displacement of people takes place as rents go up as a result of gentrification. In the five years that we have lived in Dignowity we have certainly seen a small but key movement of professionals, creative types and city government workers into the neighborhood who want to live closer to the downtown action but do not want to live or can afford downtown condos.
Historic District

Bekah interviewed several long time residents for her articles and what I found enlightening was the notion that these folks had about gentrification of the neighborhood.  They called the current renewal of Dignowity "re-gentrification".  All neighborhoods have memories and for current long time residents there was a time in the recent past, perhaps 40 or 50 years ago, when the neighborhood was vibrant, thriving and perhaps even middle class.  Go back to the 1870's through the early 1900's and Dignowity was considered an "exclusive" neighborhood of upper incomes with it's own water system and home to well known names in business and professions. Over time the neighborhood changed as a result of being boxed in by the coming of the railroad and industry. Sometime in the 1960's the neighborhood began a slow decline as folks started to flee the inner city, benign neglect from the city in keeping infrastructure maintained and the construction of Highway 281which literally cut off the Eastside and Dignowity Hill from downtown.

Community Involvement
So here we are in 2012 and another cycle of renewal is taking place in Dignowity. What I'm most impressed with my long time residents neighbors is that they see change as inevitable and a natural progression towards a positive outcome. They are not threaten by the recent newcomers who perhaps have a different view of the world. The message from these folks is to get involved in community issues and activities.  I like the fact that people like Bekah and others are being thoughtful about the changes that we're wanting to see while being respectful of the culture and history of the neighborhood. So I'm encouraged that the blending of newcomer ideas and long time resident sensibilities will result in a much improved neighborhood but where the notion of community will continue to be the reason why we live here.

You can find Bekah's postings on the Rivard Report at:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Derby is On!! Good News for Lockwood Park!

The 8th Annual Pushcart Derby is on for Sat October 27, 2012 from noon till 7pm! The brain child of artist Cruz Ortiz, the derby has evolved from his idea of bringing together a group of artist friends for a day of artistic, fun, and somewhat competitive racing of hand made pushcarts to an event that has grown to be the signature event of the year for the neighborhood.  One thing remains the same and that is the spirit of the derby: which is to bring families, kids and neighbors together to enjoy a day of fellowship and community building.  And the pushcarts still need to be hand made with available materials!
For more info on the derby  go to:

On the same day as the derby we will have an "unveiling" celebration of the Texas Public Radio (TPR) Lighter Quicker Cheaper award for Lockwood Park. Back in August TPR in partnership with the City, the Project for Public Spaces, and the AIA San Antonio asked the city residents to re-imagine a public space in their own respective neighborhoods across the city. A concept submitted by one of our neighbors became one of 5 finalists and eventually came in as the top idea.  The concept was refined to constructing designated seating using rock ledges and terracing to take advantage of the view of downtown.  Construction is scheduled to beging soon and will be completed by pushcart derby day. For more info regarding this exciting improvement to Lockwood go to:

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Ok, maybe it's not that big of deal for neighborhoods that have good, basic infrastructure already in place but for older urban core neighborhoods like ours, getting new sidewalks installed IS a big deal! Some things just take awhile to get done but after almost 3 years years of pushing for sidewalk repairs the city finally came through for us. There are still areas of the neighborhood that don't have sidewalks, curbs or good drainage but this is a step in the right direction.  It's amazing what new concrete can do for appearances!

How about this, a new outdoor restroom was installed in Lockwood Park!  This is a small victory! Our parks have not had restroom facilities for a number of years because of budget cuts but I could never figure out why other parks in more affluent areas of the city seem to have these amenities while parks in neighborhoods in the urban core are neglected. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

New DHNA Website

When you get a chance visit the new Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association website at

There's a new logo that was designed by neighbor Sonya Castro along with lots of other great info and pics about Dignowity Hill.

The old association web site will be shutting down shortly.

Remember the Bobcats-Emerson Jr HS

You never know what serendipity can bring to your feet. I was working in the community garden on Sunday morning when these two gentlemen showed up. Apparently, they were former students of the old Emerson Junior High School and they were there to take a group picture with other former classmates.
Waldo Emerson Junior High School was located in the buildings of what is now the Ella Austin Community Center.  The school was in operation from the early 1950's through late the 1960's when classes were moved to another middle school and Emerson Junior High was shut down.  It was the neighborhood junior high school back before someone got the bright idea of calling them middle schools.

The gathering of former students that morning had all graduated from Emerson in the late 1950's to mid 1960's. The group graciously allowed me to intrude in their gathering.  It was fun listening to their stories of how the neighborhood was back in the day.  Most of them had moved away to other parts of the city but their affection for Emerson, each other and the old neighborhood was readily apparent. You just never know what stories you may stumble upon on a Sunday morning in Dignowity Hill.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

We Come in Peace!

After over a year of intense community debate, dissection by the media and misplaced johnny come lately organized opposition, the city council gave a unanimous vote in approving the microbrewry plan next to the Hays Street Bridge to go forth and multiply many more Alamo Beer fans.  While some lingering concerns remain regarding the use of the space on the bridge overall this is a a good thing for the neighborhood and the city.

One of the many smoke screen issues that surfaced during the vetting process was around how the newcomers to the neighborhood are the ones that have been pushing the economic development notion over having another park next to the old bridge....and in the process are the ones that are pushing out long time residents in their quest to invest in the neighborhood. Well, the bucket that tried holding that argument was full of holes. The brewery project is about private investment in a long neglected waste land with a serious touch of blight. No one is being displaced because of this project or to put it another way, the brewery is not the root cause of some major gentrification trend!

My good friend and neighbor, Tony C, spoke eloquently before our esteemed city council about being a newcomer to the neighborhood. One comment that he made was classic: "we newcomers come in peace".  Well said! Tony and his wife Sonya moved into the neighborhood 2 years ago and quickly became involved in neighborhood/community building activities. They joined the neighborhood association, they participate in the tutoring and mentoring program for the neighborhood elementary school, they also started a garden club for the after school program at the Ella Austin Community Center called the Germinators, and they are core members of the community garden group. Tony is a member of the board of directors for the neighborhood association so he's learning the ropes of community leadership.  These folks are compassionate doers that believe in building community.

Newcomer Tony and all around good guy!
The reality is that the old neighborhood is changing and it's changing in a positive direction because of newcomers like Tony and Sonya and others who bring much needed new energy and vibrancy to a neighborhood in the mist of transition. Together these newcomers along with long time residents are creating a a wonderful synergy of ideas that is leading to improved quality of life for all neighborhood residents.  Will full blown gentrification happen in our neighborhood? Maybe, maybe not. What we're experiencing in Dignowity at the moment is a spurt of urban renaissance.  We have a long ways to go before any one can start claiming that Dignowity Hill has become gentrified. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bridge, Brews and Public Spaces

Following the approval by the city's planning commission a couple of weeks ago, the micro brewery proposal next to the Hays Street Bridge will be on the city council meeting agenda sometime in early August.  The brewery project has support from the neighborhood association as well as broad community support. The project was recently endorsed by the editorial board of our local newspaper as a great example of bringing private investment to an area that has been longing for investment, either private or public.  Council approval is the last step for this project to get going in what has been a year long process of meetings, discussion and debate.

The restoration of the Hays Street Bridge was a wonderful achievement by a committed group of individuals. Those folks should be rightly recognized and honored for their accomplishment but they don't own the bridge and neither will the brewery operator. The bridge has always been public space and will remain public space. And because the bridge is a public space and city owned property is involved, there has been over the course of a year an open and fair public process that ensured that the community had a say one way or another.  From neighborhood association meetings to community meetings organized by the city to hearings before the city's planning commission, citizens have had several opportunities to voice their support or opposition.

Those folks that are in opposition of the brewery certainly have a right to voice their concerns and ask questions.  However, in this case the the notion of private investment around a historic structure that could potentially spur other investment on the Eastside was more compelling an argument for the community than putting another park in the neighborhood.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dignowity Hill on the Move

A couple of weeks ago the first annual Bowden Elementary School 2 Mile Fun Run/Walk took place along a route that took us through the streets of the neighborhood and over the Hays Street Bridge.  The brainchild of Gregorio Velasquez, assistant principal at Bowden, the run/walk is one great example of the kind of vibe that is unique to Dignowity Hill. The event pulled in over 340 participants!  Dignowity Hill in motion, bringing students, teachers, parents and neighbors together!!

Speaking of uniqueness, check out the recent posting on the Rivard Report on the craziness called the Dignowity Hill Pushcart Derby. Go to the link below to see a short film by local film maker Jim Mendiola. The derby, which was conjured up Dignowity Hill artist Cruz Ortiz, has become synonymous with the neighborhood, brings families, friends and residents together for a day of celebration.
 Rivard Report-Pushcart Derby 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

View from the Hill at Night

Downtown SA from the Hays Street Bridge

Downtown SA and the Hays Street Bridge

View of Downtown SA from Lockwood Park
Dignowity Hill has some of the best night time views of downtown San Antonio.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Brewery vs Reality

Alamo Brewery is getting closer to becoming a reality next to the historic Hays Street Bridge.  The owners of the Alamo Brewery recently submitted their final proposal for the brewery to the city.  Whether you're against the brewery or support it there is no question that this is huge for the Eastside, the city and especially for Dignowity Hill.  In 2010 when the Eastside Economic Summits were initiated, a list of "catalytic" projects was developed from input from Eastside stakeholders. The brewery was not on that list. Yet this project if it comes to fruition has enormous potential to actually change the landscape on the near Eastside and be a real catalyst for further economic development. So how can you not be in support of this project?
Hays Street Bridge

At the same time for those of us that live on the Eastside, we need to also be realistic that the brewery by itself is not going to be our saving grace for the many challenges that Eastside neighborhoods face. Many of our neighborhoods still need sidewalks, street repairs, improved drainage, better street lighting. Over the last 10 years the Eastside has seen a decline in population density as folks have move away to other neighborhoods in the city. Housing and education are big issues for the Eastside. If further investment is to occur on the Eastside then the neighborhoods along with basic infrastructure need to be improved for folks to want to either stay or move back to the Eastside and more importantly to bring further investment into the Eastside.

Despite the many challenges we face, I would not want to live anywhere else in San Antonio.  We all have a great opportunity before us to build our community and all us who have a stake in the Eastside need to do our part.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Life for an Old Building

A couple of years ago I posted a rambling about the number of ex-corner store buildings that dot the neighborhood ( Back in the day, the neighborhood corner store was a common feature of not only our neighborhood but other older neighborhoods in the city. With the emergence of big grocery chains and declining population as folks moved to the suburbs, many of these old corner stores shut down.
Well, recently one of those old corner store buildings in the neighborhood was bought by a couple of successful artists who have plans to re-purpose the building. In the past few weeks the old place has been spruced up and looking good. Can't wait till the grand old lady is given a fresh coat of paint!
Go to for more info on this project!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Communities

Our neighborhood community garden....the Eastside Sprout....hosted a garden workshop on Saturday.  It was a little wet and chilly but gardeners are a tough breed and we survived the morning. The topics of the workshop were around creating and maintaining sustainable gardens.  The notion behind this is to create a garden using plants or trees that produce year over year, such as fruit trees or perennial plants that come back every year.  In other words, with good care, good soil, proper plant selection your garden can survive, thrive and sustain itself even with the extreme weather we sometimes experience in South Texas. In practical terms, sustainable gardening requires that you learn to understand the environment you're planting your garden in, learn what plants work best, have a good understanding of soil and nutrient requirements and understand how all these things come together to create a healthy garden. There a little bit of science and art involved when gardening so gardeners need to have a good integrative approach when working a garden.

Garden Workshop
Planting a Bare Root Pear Tree
Learning in the Drizzle!
The idea of creating a sustainable garden made me think of how similar the notion of creating sustainable communities are to each other. At a very basic level, sustainability of a community is built on creating and maintaining its economic and environmental health and most importantly, encouraging citizen participation to create a collective vision for the future. Communities or neighborhoods need to learn how partner with institutions that can bring valuable resources into a community to further enhance that sense of sustainability. In other words, you need an integrative approach to building sustainable communities.

In our little corner of the world, we're at the threshold of a wonderful opportunity of reaping what we have sown (pun intended!). For the last 3 years neighborhood residents and newcomers have worked hard to bring new life back to the 'hood and we are starting to see results. The mayor and city government have made a commitment to bring much needed investment to the Eastside. With the coming implementation of the Promise Neighborhood grant and other initiatives that includes housing and safety enhancements, I can see where we are reaching a tipping point. Critical to all these trends coming together is sustainability. While we all must work carefully to change and improve our communities we  need to always keep in mind that the changes we seek are pointless if can't find a way to sustain them.

There's a lot you can learn from gardening if you're trying to change the world!

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."— Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hollywood Comes to Dignowity!

Ok, maybe it's not really Hollywood but our house became part of independent filmmaker Patsy Whitfield's project.  Patsy and her crew of actors and film technicians spent an afternoon in our house shooting indoor scenes for their short movie "Symphony of Silence".   The movie which is about teenage bullying and its consequences is being shot around different locations in San Antonio.  Our house became part of the movie by pure serendipity. A couple of months ago Patsy made contact with me through email and at one point told me that she was looking for a house to shoot scenes for Symphony of Silence. Well, before long we agreed to offer our house for the movie.
Getting Ready to Shoot a Scene

Actors Studying Their Parts
Discussing Lighting

Setting up
Going Over a Scene
Quiet on the Set!

Getting Ready!

It's a Wrap!

Making movies is hard work, lots of setting up and re-doing scenes but it was a fun watching the the actors and crew doing what they love to do. The film crew will be back next weekend to finish shooting additional scenes. Can't wait to see the finished product. Next stop: Cannes Film Festival!!!