Saturday, January 24, 2015

Word on the Street

On the block: Houston and Navarro. A conversation between two tourists, one giving his take on the streets of San Antonio. “Tell me,” said the surly man in a thick New Jersey accent, “what kind of a city builds its sidewalks where two people can’t walk together side-by-side?” I stopped in my tracks. Looked down. Looked around. His perception all too keen. Street smarts.

Bounded by St. Mary’s to the north, IH-10 to the west, IH-37 to the east, and Cesar Chavez to the south, the downtown area streets appear to be fairly hospitable for those traveling on foot, but this soon begins to change as we leave the inner city. Even in some parts of the affluent neighborhoods of King William and Monte Vista do we find sidewalks leading to nowhere or nearly non-existent. Historical districts near to the city center no longer weave a social fabric that once housed a vibrant working-class community.

With the advent of the mass-produced automobile, car culture soon began to take precedence in the engineering of San Antonio city streets. Roads were widened to accommodate vehicular traffic thereby removing frontage space, curtailing a thriving street life. The organic cultural exchange of goods and services once rivaling New Orleans in its cosmopolitan diversity, gone. Open-air markets and plazas designed by the original Spanish missionaries, paved over and repurposed.

It was more than just sidewalks this city lost. Streets have the potential to perpetuate a healthy balance of harmony and disorder. The public realm in Ol’ San Antone used to be a wondrous place, connected by pedestrian pathways, where all walks of life would venture to congregate and interact. In essence, the street can become the destination itself.

Though it touts its national ranking of seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people, San Antonio is still missing key elements of intra-neighborhood connectivity and an around-the-clock system of public transportation. Instead, we operate as a network of small towns with Olmos Park, Balcones Heights, and other municipalities incorporated by annexation policy over the years.

And so I pose these questions: How can we overcome decades of social isolation and environmental deterioration promulgated by single-use zoning and suburban sprawl to forge a new community for the 21st Century? Will it be the voice of the community to shape public policy for better streets and better neighborhoods?

Perhaps we could take note from UTSA professor and author Heywood Sanders given during a town hall event focusing on the topic of gentrification, defining the term’s usage and its apparent symptoms. He proposes a fundamental shift in policy in which investment is directed towards resident and neighborhood needs, taking priority over public incentives in place for developers capitalizing on vacant and neglected property.

Designing sufficient sidewalks where we can walk together side-by-side would be a good place to start.

I’ll see you on the street.

- Commissioned article for "The City Journal" (coming soon)

Monday, January 12, 2015

LARGECOMM in 2015: A New Day

Welcome back,

to a new year. San Antonio rode through its fair share of ups and downs in the second half of 2014:

  • Our former Mayor and former District 1 City Councilman showed their true colors as self-interested political opportunists - one appointed as a federal secretary in Washington D.C., the other landing a seat in the Texas House of Representatives - taking the wind out of the sails of those supportive of urban policy development.
  • In partisan politics, Battleground Texas and the Democratic party failed to galvanize support to take the November elections, the Republican party ultimately making a clean sweep in Texas. Citizens continue to express their disdain for both parties and remain disillusioned with the entire political apparatus.
  • VIA's Streetcar was shot down. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts got off to a running start. Uber and Lyft received a cease-and-desist letter from the San Antonio Police Department. Alamo Beer got their brewery. Henry Cisneros still chases the lost cause of landing a professional footbal team.
  • And all the while the Center City Development Office continued to cut breaks (water/energy waivers and property tax reimbursements) and give incentives (in the millions) to developers rolling out housing in the inner city at market rate of around $2 per sq ft for rent and lofts/condos for purchase starting at $250,000+, still only one out of the twenty-two developments (past and present) has accomodated Section 8 residents.
With these murky events of the past year behind us, we've arrived at a clean slate. Along with the school semester you can find me pursuing writing for various community outlets. Already in the works is an article for "The City Journal" - a print publication organized by Michael Cirlos of Humans of San Antonio. Spread the word and stay tuned.

It's a new day. And a better day is coming. The semester begins January 20th. We'll see you then.


"There are only two ways in which a writer can become important - to write a great deal, and have [their] writings appear everywhere, or to write very little...The only thing that matters is that these should be perfect in their kind, so that each should be an event."

- T. S. Eliot