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Researchers honored for grassroots plan for Texas community

Researchers honored for grassroots plan for Texas community

Comfort residents discuss the future of their community in a public forum.

OCTOBER 14, 2020 — UTSA’s Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research has been recognized for helping a small Texas community make big plans for its future. The Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association last week presented the plan—titled “Comfort Vision 2050”—with the Grassroots Initiative Award, one of just 15 Planning Achievement Awards for the year 2020.

Led by Ian Caine, an associate professor of architecture and the director of the center, the UTSA team of faculty and students worked with local organizers to develop the grassroots plan. The center is housed within UTSA’s College of Architecture, Construction and Planning.

The Grassroots Initiative Award specifically honors an effort “that illustrates how a neighborhood, community group or other local nongovernmental entity utilized the planning process to address a specific need or issue within the community.”

“A spirit of collaboration drove this project, from the interactions among local residents to the cooperation between UTSA faculty and students.”

“Comfort Vision 2050” was supported by the Comfort Area Foundation and National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, leveraging a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Comfort Vision 2050” offers the Hill Country community of Comfort a bottom-up, grassroots approach to urban planning that acknowledges the residents’ recent decision to resist incorporation. In 2015 a majority of Comfort residents (71%) voted against a proposition to incorporate their community, affirming a deeply held set of shared values that would come to provide a foundation for “Comfort Vision 2050.”

Since Comfort has no city officials or professional planners to carry out a traditional master plan, “Comfort Vision 2050” instead outlines 75 strategic initiatives that residents, business leaders, nonprofits and county officials can pursue immediately and independently, without help from city government.

“We hope this novel approach will prove useful throughout the Texas Hill Country, where 90% of the communities remain unincorporated,” Caine explained.

To create the vision plan, the UTSA team worked closely with various members of the Comfort community, including residents, the county commissioner and editors for the local newspaper.

“A spirit of collaboration drove this project, from the interactions among local residents to the cooperation between UTSA faculty and students,” Caine emphasized.

The UTSA team included William Dupont, professor of architecture; Corey Sparks, associate professor of demography; researcher Bill Barker; and Matthew Jackson and Thomas Tunstall of UTSA’s Institute for Economic Development. Additionally, student researchers Elizabeth Striedel, Ivan Ventura and Diego Sanchez made critical contributions to the drawings and field documentation.

“The success of this vision plan,” Caine added, “confirms the potential for applied, transdisciplinary research to simultaneously serve local communities, create new knowledge and advance best practices in our discipline.”

Ingrid Wright

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