Best parks: Less green, more uses & easier access
By Chris Warren
(May 1, 2016) -- Talk to enough people who spend time thinking about San Antonio’s parks and two things become abundantly clear: Parks are more important than they’ve ever been, and how we define a park in the future is guaranteed to change. Mayor Ivy Taylor, an urban planner by training, recently attended a landscape design conference in Houston and returned with a heightened concern about what’s known as “nature deficit disorder,” a term popularized by Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, which highlights the many problems (attention deficit disorder, in particular) that can arise when kids don’t spend enough time playing outdoors.
Taylor says the conference reinforced her determination to enhance, expand and promote the city’s parks (visit sanantoniomag.com for a parks Q&A with Taylor). But the very idea of what constitutes a city park now is less Central Park’s expansive greenery and more the mishmash of uses in New York’s wildly popular High Line. “The model of a park is changing,” says Robert Hammond, a San Antonio native and co-founder of the High Line. “I think in the future, people, especially millennials, don’t want to go to a museum or a theater, they want these hybrid spaces. I think that is why the High Line is so popular. It’s not just a park or a botanical garden or a museum or a public square. It’s all of those things.”
For Hammond, who grew up spending lots of time in San Pedro Springs Park and returns to the city often, there’s ample opportunity to turn industrial space into public space. “You can make do with very little,” he says. “San Antonio’s downtown has a surplus of space. It has more parking lots in downtown than probably most other cities and those are all opportunities.” While Hammond believes it’s important to consider the park potential of small urban spaces, he is also a fan of the connective tissue that can be created by expanding and enhancing the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System—something he calls a big idea. “You need big ideas,” Hammond says.
Antonio Petrov has a big idea, too. An assistant professor of architecture at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Petrov and his students have spent months conjuring the idea of a linear park of 1,000 parks that would stretch along the Broadway corridor from the airport to Travis Park downtown, and eventually to the missions. The proposal—much of which is imagined in a 50-foot-long model—was the result of an in-depth examination of current land use, particularly in Alamo Heights. “In Alamo Heights, 48 percent of Broadway was parking space and the rest was owned by business,” says Petrov. He and his students don’t propose eliminating cars from Broadway or radically changing the area’s infrastructure; instead, it’s about a so-called third condition in which thin slivers of leftover space on Broadway are repurposed.
“We want to reimagine the corridor,” he says. “What we did was to try to intervene and take over alleys and parking spaces and leftover spaces that belong to nobody and reimagine them as a linear park with space to sit and hang out and gather.” In addition, Petrov would like to incorporate a sky ride (a cable car) that would travel from the airport to downtown at various heights to allow visitors and residents a chance to interact with sections of the city in different ways (for instance, from high up in order to provide vistas, or lower in and among the bridges of the River Walk like is pictured above). Cities like Paris, New York and Chicago are all known for their parks and grand avenues, and Petrov sees a park along Broadway providing both for San Antonio. “We wanted to hit two birds with one stone,” he says.
This article was part of San Antonio Magazine’s May 2016 multi-article cover story on parks in the San Antonio area. A link to the entire feature is found here.