1000 Parks and a Line in The Sky: Broadway, Avenue of the Future

“Some company recently was interested in buying my aura. They didn’t want my product. They kept saying, ‘We want your aura.’ I never figured out what they wanted. But they were willing to pay a lot for it. So I thought if somebody was willing to pay that much for it, I should try to figure out what it is.”

Andy Warhol, 1975

Op-ed by Dr. Antonio Petrov for the San Antonio Express News

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(May 15, 2016) -- The distinctiveness of Broadway within the urban fabric of San Antonio is an issue of dispute. Some regard the avenue as “the next big thing” in the city. Others argue Broadway is nothing more than a thoroughfare.

What is Broadway? Does it have the potential to reflect San Antonio’s rich cultural landscape, lifestyle, and moral and physical geography?

What is its aura?

The Expander Laboratory, a design and research “think/do-tank” in the University of Texas at San Antonio College of Architecture, Construction and Planning, set out to search for Broadway’s potential, with the hope that it could become one of America’s great avenues.

The result is “1000 Parks and A Line in The Sky: Broadway, Avenue of the Future.”

First, the background: We were interested in exploring different strategies and tactics for urban living. We wanted to discuss not only challenges for urban and suburban spaces, but also consider lifestyles too focused on the city and ecologism too concerned with nature. Ecologism is the notion that the nonhuman world is worthy of moral consideration and that social, economic and political systems should take that into account.

By 2040, San Antonio’s population will have increased by more than 1 million people. Existing infrastructure, public transit and ecological systems will be challenged.

Dialogues about efficiency and sustainability on a larger scale have already begun. But how do we also engage the public to help reimagine, rebuild and replan public transit, public space and more sustainable growth?

It is no secret that San Antonio’s roads need repair and our mass transit system needs capital improvement. But larger systemic issues also exist.

Alexander D’Hooghe, an MIT professor and director of the institute’s Center for Advanced Urbanism, argues that culture is not only a collective reflection of shared values but that it also “requires, at its most basic level, a common space for these expressions to be articulated and received.”

Cities across the nation — New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Boston and elsewhere — have recognized the need for movement from the periphery back into the center. Under the umbrella of landscape urbanism, many of their newly designed parks and public spaces incorporate artifacts of the American industrial landscape — or unused and underutilized interstitial spaces.

We live in an age of growing awareness of how human activity impacts the climate and environment. But addressing these is not simply about creating a more environmentally friendly way of living.

What is the role of design in enabling social imagination, debate and democratic space? What are the costs and benefits of increasing or decreasing the degree of citizen control in building the city? How do we imagine design as an agency of social and cultural sustainability? Can we reasonably posit alternatives and, if so, what would they look like?

We came up with “1000 Parks and A Line in The Sky: Broadway, Avenue of the Future.” We propose a system of 1,000 parks below a Skyride transportation system that connects San Antonio International Airport to Travis Park.

If you were born between 1964 and 1999, you certainly remember the Brackenridge Park sky ride (1964) and the HemisFair Monorail (1968). It seems like everybody remembers gliding through the sky, feeling the wind in their hair, or seeing the horizon and experiencing the city from a completely new vantage point with a smile on their face.

Both rides were limited to Brackenridge Park and HemisFair. But what if this Skyride could connect the airport to downtown, and possibly to the missions? What if there was a sky bus that could comfortably transport visitors and residents alike through a system of 1,000 urban parks along Broadway?

This project’s ambition is to improve existing space and expand our understanding of public parks and alternative public transportation. It aims to hybridize infrastructure, transportation and green space into “1000 Parks and a Line in the Sky,” our vision for Broadway. It’s a 8.6-mile-long public space for the future.

From the airport — from moment of arrival to departure — all the way to our downtown core, parks of varying sizes would line the route below the Skyride. They would invite residents and visitors to fully engage with the city and with one another.

New York City has Central Park and the High Line. Chicago has the Burnham Park and boulevard system, and Millennium Park. Could Broadway be San Antonio’s avenue, the first urban infrastructure of its kind completely reimagined, rebuilt and replanned by its residents?

We want to activate 1,000 spaces — filled with unique ideas, demands and desires of how a park in a neighborhood should be, culled from the public. Should this space be a dog park or an art park? What would residents love to see in these spaces that reflect San Antonio’s culture and creativity?

We want our residents and visitors alike to take full ownership of public space in the city. The spaces for parks below the Skyride are unused and underutilized interstitial spaces we’ve identified along Broadway.

How does this work?

Stay tuned. Join us at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures this fall for an exhibition of our work and the beginning of the public input phase.

Dr. Antonio Petrov is an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

 

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