There have been many conversations about Alamo Heights’ Broadway corridor in recent years, intensified by community debate over multi-family housing projects, building codes, and how to revitalize while maintaining its small-town, “city of beauty and charm,” atmosphere.
A story published Monday in the Rivard Report, “Alamo Heights Moving Toward Change and Growth,” drew largely positive responses from business owners and residents inside and outside the municipality. Visit an area business like Local Coffee or Sunset Ridge Hardware and it’s easy to find a conversation on the topic of infusing new development energy into the small, affluent town of nearly 8,000 residents on the near-Northside. Most residents and business owners want to see Alamo Heights derive some of the benefits of growth and change visible on the town’s flanks, while a small but vocal minority clings to a no-change agenda.
Students at UTSA’s School of Architecture at the Downtown Campus have designed their own forward-thinking plan for revitalizing and activating Broadway, returning it to its Main Street roots and making it an avenue where people on foot, riding bicycles and shopping at local businesses all feel welcome.
A 50-foot model of the 2.5-mile commercial stretch of Broadway Street in Alamo Heights will be on display starting Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Alamo Heights Fire Station, 6116 Broadway Street, and again at a second event Thursday at 6 p.m. at Brick in the Blue Star Arts Complex, 1414 South Alamo St.
The model includes existing structures, and also incorporates re-imagined connections between new features like a parking garage, outdoor amphitheater, community garden and office space, said Antonio Petrov, assistant professor of architecture at the UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning who led the 10-student project.
“Two nights of the same event, but in completely different venues that will attract very different people,” said UTSA spokesperson Nicole Chavez.
The most important ingredient added into the corridor’s proposed mix, Petrov said, is public space.
“In Alamo Heights, there is (almost) no public space,” he said. “There is consumer space that looks like public space, but you have to buy something or be in a club to be there.”
Since the semester began in August, Petrov and his students have been poring over the social, economic, and physical details of the corridor, from mapping GIS data, adding up square footage of walkable sidewalk, even counting trees. They also interviewed residents and business owners to gain an understanding of the relationships between residents and the built environment. Their findings were presented during a free, public event at UTSA in September, titled, “Alamo Heights Broadway: Colloquium on Urban Matter, Public, Private and Consumer Space.”
About 48% of space in this stretch of Broadway is reserved for parking, Petrov said, justifying construction of a new town parking garage found on the UTSA model. Parking structures should be designed with several future optional uses in the event the community becomes so walkable that vehicle use declines and demand for parking space falls, Petrov said.
“Another thing Alamo Heights is lacking is a strong tax base,” he said. The model features a “startup house,” a collaborative live/work space located across Broadway from the Alamo Heights High School. The concept introduces smaller, more affordable housing elements that would fit the needs and budgets of young professionals, not unlike the once affordable 1940s and ’50s cottages and bungalows found in Alamo Heights that now are priced beyond their reach.
“The population is rather old … once they move on, their huge houses become empty and then who is going to live in them?” Petrov asked.
Petrov and his students will briefly present their research again during this week’s “Think/Do-Tank” events, but the main goal is to explain the model’s features and collect public feedback, which could lead to another iteration of the project, Petrov said.
“I intend to continue working on this, (but) the question is to what extent? We’ll see what the response is,” Petrov said. “I would like to put this out there for the community of architects, activists and citizens to see if we can do a ground-up project. … Let’s put ourselves out there and begin something.”
Rather than devise yet another master plan for Alamo Heights to follow the last one completed in 2009, Petrov said he worked with students on developing an “intervention” for the corridor, to allow for more specific, dynamic projects. He’s calling the linear park installation “The Third Condition,” which models how the existing patchwork of greenspace could connect to housing, shops, restaurants, and places of employment along Broadway Street.
“The Third Condition” exhibit borrows elements from The High Line park in New York to create the same continuous feel for a kind of “Low Line Park” in a more urban setting, he said.
For Petrov, the term “third condition” refers to a concept of finding an answer between or outside of the typical, presented options. Petrov received his doctoral degree from Harvard University. His dissertation focused on the study of evangelical architecture. The third condition derives from Parables of Jesus; when asked questions of faith and morals with seemingly binary answers, Petrov said, Jesus always came up with a “third condition” answer. In a way, it means compromise, but it’s also about looking outside the box.
Alamo Heights needs a third answer, he said.
“Is this place urban or not urban? Is it yes or no? Instead of (pitting sides against each other), why don’t we investigate the condition that moves us forward … something that engages with all the issues?”
*Top image: UTSA hosts a colloquium on the Alamo Heights Broadway project on Sept. 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of UTSA.