DIY: Broadway St.
How will San Antonio turn vacant lots into a walkable oasis and who gets to be a part of it?
Most major cities saw this new change in development earlier on than San Antonio and the city is now playing catch up to compete with other major cities, while at the same time, retrofitting these popular beliefs into the context of San Antonio. The main focus of this article will be how to go about bringing this new urbanism to the major corridor of Broadway Street, while also bringing in the voice of current residents, young and old, and how they view this unique area.
The current built environment of this underutilized yet significant section of Broadway is not very conducive to a walkable type of lifestyle due to the many vacant lots, wide streets, and physical barriers, such as the highways that disconnect it from the rest, only making it attractive to get to by car and not by foot. What makes this area so special though is the historic architecture, although few and far between, and its connectivity to so many popular destinations and neighborhoods.
In the areas north and south of the section of Broadway being focused on, they are seeing mixed use development already being implemented, creating walkable neighborhoods that are becoming well received urban neighborhoods.
Seeing how successful these areas are doing, the eyes have been turned to Broadway to gets its makeover, utilizing the space that has, thus far, been over looked and underutilized. A local urbanist in San Antonio, Robert Rivard, paints a clear picture of how the people of San Antonio should start imagining Broadway.
“Imagine Broadway, from Hildebrand Avenue to East Houston Street, transformed from a busy commuter street to a boulevard with less vehicle traffic, teeming with cyclists riding in protected bike lanes and pedestrians strolling wide sidewalks shaded by tree canopy…Imagine people coming in and out of a growing number of shops, cafes, restaurants and small businesses found along the way…The district’s signage signals to the local and visitor alike that Broadway, wherever you find yourself on it, is a place with its own distinct identity.” -Robert Rivard
In order for Broadway to be a successful urban neighborhood though, it needs to be a place built for everyone. It needs to be a diverse, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood that Jane Jacobs would be proud of, where you can run into any walk of life. The development needs to be led by a community voice and desire, giving it more meaning. I decided to meet with a couple people that live in the area to have them draw up a map of Broadway and what they would like to see come to the area that is vacant.
Without giving them much detail, I had them draw maps to see what streets they would put down, what details they would add and what type of businesses they would like to see come to the area. I also gave them a short survey to fill out to see how deeply rooted they were in the neighborhood. When asked, they all seemed to be happy about the changes that were happening in the neighborhood. One college student said:
“I guess this areas starting to see a drastic change in the average age of the resident. I see more and more people my age than I did two years ago here. I think it’s good. I mean I don’t mind the older generation, it’s just nice to see more people your age. More things you can relate to.”
I didn’t want to just interview young millennials so I attempted to get the opinion of more deeply rooted residents that I came across at a popular Mexican restaurant in the area and an older man also had some positive things to say about the recent changes.
“I view these changes of late as a good thing. Change is always good, especially when I am seeing more local businesses coming into the area. It is really good for the neighborhood.”
Local organizations such as Centro SA, Overland Properties, and Pearl, came together to throw a design competition that anyone of any design level could participate in to design their own Broadway and the feedback and involvement from the community was tremendous. Interventions on Broadway started popping up, people started getting excited about the possibilities and it got people thinking outside the box.
The most important step to take in having this area become a neighborhood for everyone is breaking down the barrier between the people and the city planners. Speaking with a reporter from The Rivard Report, Iris Dimmick and she had this to say,
“If we want San Antonio to be a truly great city, not just an okay town, we must engage in positive, aspirational conversation across the city. BYOBroadway is meant to be that kind of civic conversation. If enough of us get engaged, extraordinary things will start to happen”
The community from the area and surrounding neighborhoods has really embraced this new-found lifestyle that the city of San Antonio is trying to develop. The picture to the left is from an event held on Broadway called Siclovia, where the street is shut down to cars and only bikers, pedestrians and anything besides vehicles are allowed to use for an afternoon, providing a unique experience for residents to go out and be active.
As all of these steps are being taken, as community continues to be involved and as the city continues to push forward with creating these new, rich, walkable neighborhoods, Broadway has the great potential to be the corridor that the residents of San Antonio desire.