The Broadway corridor remains an issue of contention in San Antonio. The pervasive disconnect between residents of the inner and outer rings of the city has become a seemingly impenetrable barrier to downtown development and its perceived value. However, there is growing awareness among "looplanders" and "downtowners" alike that a revitalized Broadway is vital for this city. The heavily traveled street stretches from the airport to downtown, cutting through a diverse cross-section of the city on its path, and therein lies its inherent potential.
It is not a question of whether or not Broadway will be redeveloped. What remains to be seen is the approach that will be taken and who will be involved. At stake is whether or not this city will gain an urban, mixed-use, pedestrian-scaled space — developed with citizen input to truly reflect San Antonio's cultural diversity — that could become one of America's great avenues. Presently, the 8.6-mile stretch of Broadway is centerless, fragmented, and used simply as a thoroughfare. It is bordered by micro-communities that do not strongly identify with it and the pedestrian experience is virtually nonexistent. In a January 3, 2016 letter to the editor for the San Antonio Express-News, UTSA's assistant professor of architecture Antonio Petrov explored the paradox of Alamo Heights and discussed the complex relationship between the community, its main urban artery (Broadway), and San Antonio.
"At this point, the experience of Broadway only feels urban through the windshields of our cars," he wrote. "Nearly 50 percent of its urban landscape is flanked by parking space. In fact, nearly all spaces along Broadway are tied to businesses and almost no public spaces exist for people to mingle or gather as citizens without being consumers."
Petrov is investigating urban transformations and the evolution of sustainable cities through a "think/do-tank" he developed in the UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning. In the Expander Lab, he and a group of students are rethinking urban and suburban conditions and devising new strategies to shape future urban growth in San Antonio. They have conducted extensive research on the Broadway corridor since August of 2015 and proposed 1000 Parks and a Line in the Sky: Broadway, Avenue of the Future — a linear park system paired with a skyride that connects the San Antonio International Airport to Travis Park, and could extend to the San Antonio Missions. Those who lived in San Antonio between 1964 and 1999 will recall the Brackenridge Skyride (1964) and the Hemisfair Monorail (1968), which allowed them to experience the city from new vantage points, albeit limited to Hemisfair and Brackenridge Park. The UTSA project builds on our nostalgic past by offering a transportation alternative — one designed for experience — that could carry residents and visitors through a system of 1,000 urban parks along Broadway. The spaces for the parks are unused and underutilized interstitial spaces Petrov and the students identified; they now call on the community to activate these spaces with ideas and desires for neighborhood parks. This could provide unique hyper-local experiences while creating needed public space and connecting Broadway's cultural entities.
An exhibition of the Expander Lab's 50-foot-long model of Broadway was held at Brick in the Blue Star Arts Complex in April 2016. The event featured a roundtable discussion with Ashley Heeren of Lake Flato Architects, Luis Muñoz of Bauhaus Media Group, Julia Murphy of the Cibolo Nature Center & Farm, O. Ricardo Pimentel of the San Antonio Express-News, Mark Reagan of the San Antonio Current and Petrov.
Together, the panel, students, and audience explored the term "urban," cited cities that effectively utilize green spaces, discussed connectivity and accessibility in relation to San Antonio's World Heritage designation, admitted to our love-hate relationship with tourism, contemplated alternative modes of transportation, and challenged preconceived notions of parks to imagine what public space can look and feel like in a city of the future.
"The two biggest things about this project for me are the value of thinking huge without repercussions and bringing in public input from a variety of different sources," said Reagan. "That should be the future of city planning in San Antonio. Take it out of those boardrooms or commissions and bring it to [places like] Brick to just have a talk."
The April event was the fourth time the UTSA model and design vision has been presented publicly. The project originated with a micro-scale exploration of how small architectural interventions and a linear park parallel to Broadway could invigorate the vibrant and diverse Alamo Heights community. The 13 students in Petrov's fall 2015 studio presented two iterations of their model and sought commentary through events held at UTSA, the Alamo Heights Fire Station, and Brick.
A spring 2016 studio of five students expanded the concept with a macro-level approach for the entirety of Broadway, pairing 1,000 potential park frameworks with the skyride component and con-structing the current version of the model. Through the skyride, relevant interest points that reflect the city's identity form a sequence of events, said Petrov's student Michelle Montiel, who graduated in May 2016. She studied the Pearl district, developing a path that began with a panoramic view and diverted from Broadway to embrace the river, area buildings, and underpass.
Montiel's personal role in the process was to critically evaluate the group's work to keep herself and her classmates from "falling into the trap," their description of designing something that seems appealing but contributes little to its users.
"Tonight showed the future thinkers of our city," said Muñoz after the April 2016 Brick event. "I love visionaries. It makes me feel good that the students and other people in this city are thinking beyond the status quo. These type of ideas, grandiose as they may seem, inspire."
Perhaps vision is the only thing that can solve systemic problems, but vision without action accomplishes nothing. Petrov is interested in the benefits of increasing the degree of public interaction in shaping the city and he believes Broadway could be the first urban infrastructure of its kind completely designed by its citizens. His Expander Lab has engaged in open dialogue with the community throughout the process and now seeks unique ideas to activate 1,000 unused spaces in the city's collective neighborhoods.VISIT WEBSITE
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Community Connect magazine is an annual publication produced by the Office of the Vice President for Community Services (VPCS). The mission of Community Services is to extend UTSA beyond its campuses into San Antonio and South Texas through public service, extension, outreach and community education. This mission is accomplished through a variety of programs and initiatives, some of which are showcased on this website.