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City of San Antonio: Save Our Strip.

This petition had 542 supporters


To the San Antonio City Council, Economic Development Board, and Department of Cultural and Creative Department:

Save our culture. Save our identity. Save our Strip.

What We Stand to Lose

The "total loss" of The Phantom Room marks a critical moment for the scales balancing our city's past and future. Investment, speculation, and ventures are playing Supermarket Sweep with our city's creative and cultural heritage, and, as of yesterday, nowhere is the vulnerability greater than the St. Mary's strip. The area is more than just a playground for our people; it is an incubator for our creative soul and a badge of identity worn upon our hearts.

Regardless of the who, the why, and the how it got into its current state, the fate of the charred lot on Grayson and St. Mary's is inextricable from the fate of what manner of city we may call ourselves twenty years from now. While incompatible development has steadily encroached upon our centers of culture, it has fallen upon the strip in a blitzkrieg in the recent months, and we let it creep within inches of The Phantom Room unchallenged. 

If you're hesitant to believe this is anything more than fear-inspired fringe-lunacy, I don't blame you; I would actually commend your critical rarity.

Unfortunately, I'll direct your attention to Exhibit A, which I'll leave right here.

If we further allow the blind avarice of market forces to claim the Phantom's bones, the aforementioned scales may tip, sending St. Mary's street irreversibly sliding down the path to becoming a fond memory.

Leadership elements of San Antonio, time is of the essence to enact a policy-based solution that safeguards the treasures that make us 'us.' Without immediate action, the word 'puro,' will no longer stand next to 'San Antonio,' and without the 'puro,' the words 'San Antonio' will be as meaningless as 'taco sans-tortilla.'

Who We Are, and Who Shall We Be

For decades we dreamed of our potential; erstwhile, we were working hard, tilling the rich soils of our city. We built a music scene that, if not the most visible, has some of the strongest local support in the nation. We kept the seeds of heritage close to our hearts, and built upon it, reflecting it in our arts. And we forgot not our family and neighbors, cultivating a community that prizes its people. We grew a city of history, a city of tradition, and a city of unique identity.

While the fruits of our labor have ripened with opportunity, they have not gone unnoticed by others, and many have arrived late in the season to offer help with the harvest. Investiture has been growing at an unprecedented pace, and we would be fools to assume we are equipped with the experience or expedience to monitor or control it.

Long has San Antonio been a "sleepy town," but it can afford to no longer. The floodgates have opened, and its blazing waters are at our doorstep. Make no mistake, we are living in the time of our own event horizon; if we do not shed our sedentary habits and take action to nurture what was already ours - what others assuredly are already working to acquire in our stead if we don't - we will never get the chance to get it back.

The Facts of the Matter

As we can no longer afford to waste time, I will no longer mince words: the caca we stand every chance of stepping in, and visibly embodied in Phantom's conflagration, is our own displacement by forces of urban redevelopment for which we have little reference. Not only is there no shortage of data going back years on the subject, research in the last two decades has shown that hometown art, music, and cultural elements are placed invariably within those statistics, and communities with significant Mesoamerican identity are all the more susceptible.

Music Canada's report on creating sustainable, local creative industries, aside from defining it as a barrier that necessitates policy-based solutions, identifies fives stages of gentrification's direct impact upon the cultural core:

  1. An affordable, low-rent area becomes attractive for creative and cultural elements.
  2. Creative and cultural elements transform the area into a popular place to visit, and eventually live.
  3. Property values rise and the area becomes more desirable to even more people and businesses.
  4. Landowners see the opportunity to sell their properties to developers who build residential units or condominiums.
  5. Rising costs-of-living and higher rents cannot be met by creative and cultural elements, forcing them to go elsewhere.
  6. In addition to the above, it isn't uncommon at all for the new, upscale tenants of these hip and desirable neighborhoods to eventually turn against the qualities that initially brought them there, tiring of the cultural core's nuances and bringing ordinances to bear against it, often resulting in the physical destruction of cultural landmarks and creative venues that created the area’s value in the first place.

Which brings us back to The Phantom Room.

It's not hard to see this phenomenon as a revolving system of migration, habitation, and consumption that chews up communities and spits out abandoned strip malls after having its fill; my personal experiences living here haven't attested otherwise.

I've watched developers bulldoze the scenic hill country north of 1604 to make room for billboards that merely read "Scenic Hill Country," its pastoral spreads paved over, its groves of live oak replaced by fields of cookie-cutter houses.

I've watched from my third-floor balcony at the Villa Fontana while the low-income housing burned down next door, another "total loss," and the morning after, the signs announcing "luxury apartments coming soon," and construction of The Brackenridge at Midtown breaking ground before the ashes upon it were even cold.

Where Pedicab once hosted cheap beer, twenty-five-cent wings, and public art, the Southtown Flats stands today as an aquarium for wide-eyed upper-middle class guppies who are clearly out of their water.

Now, St. Mary is taking the stand before her ecclesiastical court under pain of burning at the stake.

The Action We Must Take Today

In order to prevent as much irreversible damage to the cultural future and identity of San Antonio, we must take the following steps without delay.

  1. Suspend immediately all new, pending, and proposed purchase, development and, re-zoning of properties valued in excess of $200,000 within a three blocks of St. Mary's street between Myrtle and Park Avenues until an economic impact study of that area has been completed.
  2. Using the results of the study, identify any other areas of cultural and creative value to the city similarly vulnerable.
  3. Establish a standard of Cultural District Designation, develop policies to guide their development and management, and apply them to the identified areas.
  4. Create a commission under the Department of Cultural and Creative Development that continues to study and improve these districts and policies on an annual basis.

Please consider, input, and if you agree, share with the hashtag #saveourstrip. It's far past time we held ourselves to the standard of protecting our investment - the time, love, energy, culture, and beauty of our San Antonio community - and every minute that passes before it happens is another minute too long.



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