Urban Future Lab and Witte Museum discuss future of water in Tricentennial series

(March 27, 2018) -- In a recent Tricentennial speaking engagement for the Masters Leadership Program Alumni Association (MLPAA) of Greater San Antonio, UTSA assistant professor Antonio Petrov was asked to look 300 years into the future — a challenging task by any estimation. As founder of the Urban Future Lab, an interdisciplinary think-and-do-tank and teaching lab housed in the UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning, Petrov employs an outside-the-box approach in addressing imminent issues affecting San Antonio, such as infrastructure, housing, water, transportation, data analysis, education, and equality. The lab takes a project-oriented and pragmatic approach in imagining and implementing initiatives for the future,

The MLPAA invited Petrov to be a featured speaker for its members-only Tricentennial talk, San Antonio at 300: How We Got Here and Where We’re Going, which was moderated by Texas A&M University-San Antonio President Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Among a distinguished lineup of speakers addressing key economic and cultural developments that have shaped the city we know today, Petrov closed the program with a discussion on future pragmatism.

“The difference between a ‘problem’ and a ‘mystery’ is that we may be able to solve a problem, but the mystery is something we have to live with,” Petrov said, quoting Harvey Cox of Harvard University to open his portion of the talk.

To engage with our “slow future” 300 years from now, Petrov explored the relationship between the environment, natural resources, and the individual as the “future citizen,” discussing an Urban Future Lab manuscript based on research about water culture which posits water as a cultural commons rather than a commodity. Regarding our “medium future” 100 years from now, Petrov’s approach opposes big data and proposes personalization data, employing innovative marketing and communication tactics. To illustrate this, he discussed the Urban Future Lab’s ongoing research on the city’s southside, which engages with issues of inequality and strives to activate inactive assets. Petrov has extensively researched San Antonio’s urban corridors as well as infrastructure and transportation systems, such as self-driving buses and a regional airport. As examples of potential urban transformations we could see in 10-20 years, our “fast future,” Petrov discussed “1000 Parks and a Line in the Sky,” his proposed linear park system and skyride along Broadway, as well as showing an illustration of Broadway as a car-free cultural corridor.

The Urban Future Lab identifies key city issues and takes a leadership role in shaping urban transformations, rather than simply managing growth. The lab has been researching areas of San Antonio and the region that are in most need of socioeconomic revitalization to address questions of inequality while leading community development initiatives. Rather than simply being interested in visions, Petrov focuses on the way visions translate into values, duties, and responsibilities, and the necessary metrics to implement them. Collaboration with various entities in the city is integral to his mission.

“Our ambition is to activate new alliances and constituencies through dialogue with citizens, stakeholders and policymakers, developing inclusive environments in which we discuss and ask pressing questions about identity, sprawl, cultural sustainability, ecology and mobility,” said Petrov.

In another Tricentennial collaboration, the Urban Future Lab and the Witte Museum are jointly presenting a speaker series, titled On the Edge of Future: Narratives of the Making of a City, that explores urban transformation processes and asks how public interest design can have agency in the metamorphosis of a city in transition. In a sequence of free, public events running parallel to the museum’s current Tricentennial exhibitions, the UTSA Urban Future Lab and Witte partnership emphasized dialogue to walk new territory as citizens and designers together in expanding the intellectual terrain. How are we, and other cities, implementing transformations? What are the challenges? And how can we preserve San Antonio’s core ethos while embracing change and progress?

On the Edge of Future: Narratives of the Making of a City, a three-part series, concludes with the third event, “Water,” on Monday, April 9, 2018 at 6 p.m., building on previous events exploring infrastructure and urban transformations. The event is free and open to the public and will be held in the Witte Museum’s Prassel Auditorium.

Whether as commodified resource or the sustenance of creation, water plays a major role in the human imagination. San Antonio’s cultural history, not unlike that of many other cities, is based on how water and its operationalized forms have nourished the city’s (architectural) imaginary and shaped its identity. What frameworks can we create for water to unfold as commons in the future? How can we draw from its operationalized qualities but also mystical elements as we think about the spaces it can produce and how it may help us recover new narratives in the making of a future city? As the commodification of water has led to inequality, how do we foster a culture that recognizes the benefits of water as commons and the potential it has to shape social, cultural, political, and economic relations?

Speakers are Charles Porter, Ph.D., a water rights and real estate expert who is a Visiting Assistant Professor at St. Edward’s University; Frates Seeligson, the Director of Confluence Park who has managed the fundraising, construction, and programming of the park for the San Antonio River Foundation; Marise McDermott, President and CEO of the Witte Museum who will discuss the future of water in Texas and the museum’s Center for Rivers & Aquifers; and Antonio Petrov, DDes, who will introduce frameworks to recast water as a cultural commons rather than a commodity. Petrov will double as moderator, bringing the presented perspectives into local contexts to facilitate a discussion between the speakers and audience.

Photo courtesy of Coldplay’s Up & Up video.