“East Terrace.” “Windsor Park.” “Wheatley Courts.” The “Hill.” “Sutton Homes.”
Do any of these places sound any familiar? These places can be found or traced back in the recent memory of the San Antonio East side. Those who grew up and came of age in the early 1980’s to the mid 1990’s reflects on these terms with a sense of nostalgia and, to some extent, a sense of loss. While these places bear cultural significance for the San Antonio black community, why is it they either cease to exist and exist in ruins?
Photo: Spectrum News
There is a popular term used in geography called “topophilia.” Well-known geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, author of the 1974 book Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values, argues that the word has Greek roots. “Topos” meaning “place” and “philia” meaning “love of,” Tuan argues that we as human beings bare special meaning to the environment around us. Beyond streets, buildings, cars, and sidewalks, the places we inhabit in fact, preserve and sustain a little of our energy, forever.
Though Tuan might not have been the originator behind the term, his theory proves true when examining the East side of San Antonio through the lens of memory. In recent past, much of San Antonio’s East side, such as the places previously mentioned, has undergone explicit reconstruction, begging the question of what remains of the energy preserved there decades before.
Among recent discussion surrounding the impact gentrification has had on the East side, it is important to revisit the battleground on which the war is being fought on. Recent initiatives, such as the Eastside Promise Neighborhood grant, Choice Neighborhood grant, and many others, have brought about changes such as the 2016 revitalization of the Wheatley Court neighborhood- now known as “East Meadows.” But nearly forty years ago, these neighborhoods bared the blood, sweat, and tears of the East side, figuratively as well as literally.
In the early 1980s, San Antonio, as well as the United States, underwent severe urban development that would forever change the pulse of the city. The “crack epidemic”, coinciding with the “War on Drugs,” ignited massive recreational drug and crime activity, leaving urban cities booming and blazing. Multiple scholars have argued that with crack cocaine rapidly growing popular, it left a devastating imprint on communities of people of color. Casualties of bloodshed, neighborhood division, and communities in crises, began to move the needle politically and housing and urban development entities felt it was necessary to revamp and regroup areas hit by this epidemic.
Where does that leave the East side of San Antonio? With District 2 City Council seat up for election, this context lays merely a foundation for why electing the right candidate is important. Further housing, community, and city development is impossible without taking inventory of the very places and people who inhabit these streets, past and present.
Though the days of the “crack epidemic” may be long gone, the energy and impact remain. Preservation of this energy is essential to reaching a state of revitalization for the San Antonio East side.