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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:
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