City’s 10-Year Plan Calls for ‘Responsive, Resilient’ Parks

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Pearsall Park

The City’s Parks and Recreation Department has released a draft of a system plan that aims to guide development of and programming for San Antonio’s public parks over the next 10 years.

The plan lays out four overarching goals, which Parks Director Xavier Urrutia called the four “Rs”: the parks department would be responsive to the community’s needs; make the most effective use of its resources; make parks restorative to benefit the community’s health; and ensure parks provide resilience and sustainability for the city.

The proposed parks system plan was written after 18 months of research and public outreach, said Larry Clark, designer and vice president of Bender Wells Clark Design, the landscape architecture company behind Pearsall Park and Nessie at Tom Slick Park.

“It’s a very broad look” at the next 10 years, Clark said. Read the plan in full here.

The City asked BWCDesign to formulate the new plan after the last parks system plan expired in 2016. The delay allowed for the completion of SA Tomorrow, the comprehensive plan that aims to guide San Antonio to sustainable growth through 2040, off of which several elements of the parks plan are based.

“We really want to benefit from SA Tomorrow’s work,” Clark said. “They have a larger budget than we do, and they have [to consider] more issues than parks. All of the questions and issues brought into the SA Tomorrow plan have some bearings on parks – transportation, growth, sustainability, energy use.”

In addition to its annual operating budget ($53 million in fiscal year 2019), the parks department can glean additional funding for designated projects through five-year, voter-approved bond packages (more than $187 million in the 2017 bond). The department may also apply for various grants to fund projects.

The more system plan goals a proposed project meets, the stronger the argument is to fund it, BWCDesign President Beth Wells said.

The previous parks system plan listed specific goals that lent little flexibility when applying for funding later on, Wells said. For example: if a bond package was written to fund a basketball court because the system plan called for building one in a certain neighborhood, but community members no longer needed or wanted that basketball court, that money could not be used for a different purpose.

Designers tried to keep the new plan much broader than the previous one to open up more funding opportunities, Wells said.

“If we say we need more things that will help with people being outdoors, or children being exposed to nature, or educational opportunities with nature, that opens up all kinds of possibilities, [such as] building trails to little centers where they can learn about plants,” she said. “It gives a much broader range of projects we may be able to fund.”

The previous plan quickly outlived its usefulness, Wells said.

“The last system plan had really specific points,” she said. “By 2014, it wasn’t really relevant anymore.”

Objectives listed in the new parks plan proposal include ensuring that parks become an equitable and accessible part of City infrastructure; guiding the parks department in the development of indoor and outdoor spaces while keeping rising temperatures in mind; and pushing the department to partner with other entities on projects and programming to maximize funding.

One of the plan’s more immediate goals would make all parks tobacco-free zones. That proposal came from a few council members and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, its Director Colleen Bridger said. Not only does keeping tobacco out of parks limit children’s exposure to unhealthy habits, but people surveyed about the proposed policy also largely agreed it would improve overall public health, Bridger added.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A sign indicates that smoking is not allowed in Travis Park.

“There is a lot of research that shows even in an outdoor environment, inhaling cigarette smoke is bad – for especially kids with asthma,” Bridger said.

At a public input meeting on the draft system plan last Thursday, more than 40 people asked questions and provided feedback, though many of the comments focused on specific parks and programs where residents wanted to see change. The system plan is very broad, Wells explained, so she understands why people’s feedback was more granular.

“It’s really hard to get people to think globally, about the whole city,” Wells said. “We always have people at these meetings [who say], ‘Well, I have this issue in my park’s bathroom.’

“We’re looking at all the parks’ bathrooms, not just yours.”

Asking people to not only think of the parks system as a whole but also project needs 10 years into the future is challenging, Wells said.

Clark said it’s difficult for planners to think far ahead as well. It’s hard to predict how technology will continue to shape residents’ lives in the future, for instance.

“In 10 years, what are we going to do to get people into a park? How will they interact with the park?” he asked. “Instead of having a map panel every quarter of a mile, would it better to have a QR code that you can open up and look at a map of the park [on your smartphone]? What’s going to happen in parks in the next 10 years?”

The parks department wants this system plan to be a guiding document, not a prescriptive one, Urrutia said.

“The former system plan really looked more from a needs-perspective basis,” he said. “When it came to budget or bond programs, it really may not [have] reflected what the public wanted.

“When we’re making our professional recommendations, [this plan will ensure] it’s coming from the public.”

Urrutia expects to present to City Council a final proposal by April or May. If Council approves the plan, it will serve as the guiding document for parks decisions through 2029.

The public comment period is open until Feb. 8, and San Antonio residents can leave feedback on the Parks and Recreation website. There will also be a “Telephone Town Hall” meeting on Thursday, Jan. 31, where residents can dial in to learn more and ask questions. You can register for the meeting here, or call in at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Dial 1-888-400-1932 for English, and 1-888-9342 for Spanish.

4 thoughts on “City’s 10-Year Plan Calls for ‘Responsive, Resilient’ Parks

  1. I attended the public meeting for the ten-year Parks Plan, but, integration of the growing 2o0 miles of nature trails was not mentioned.

    The growing 200 miles of linear nature trails connect most of the parks and almost make a loop around San Antonio, larger than Loop 410. The trails are like a separate park system in itself. The trails can be used for health, transportation, utilities, and environmental purposes. The trails are being integrated with sidewalks and more entrances. And most importantly, the trails are being integrated to facilitate the use of the VIA Bus Transit System.

    This trail system is called the Howard Peak Greenway Trail System. I would like to thank previous City Mayors, and, the City Linear Creekway Advisory Committee for their vision and for their years of volunteer work, concerning this greenway trail system.

    Click on “Trails and Transit” above for an example of integrating trails with the VIA Bus Transit System. Increase use of trails and transit by tourists will help increase bus frequency, which in turn, will facilitate the use of VIA buses by San Antonio residents in the near future.

  2. Install the necessary purification infrastructure to allow youngsters a place to swim along local rivers and creeks. It was a shame to see children unable to wade along the new San Pedro Creek due to unclean water.

  3. The meeting that Thursday. It consisted of participation theater.
    Everybody is handed a paper with a few lines on it, so citizens could express their feelings and ideas and feel good, while the ten year plan has such large holes in it you could drive a lazy staffers truck through it. It was planned that citizens were not allowed to speak about their concerns for the ten year plan. We were given comment papers with a few lines to write our comments. The consultants would than gather all the comments so citizens would feel that they had been heard.
    Glittering generalities and good feelings for “all the good works” were expounded by consultants to the delight of parks and recreation staffers. Calls for thinking globally from talking heads with microphones reinforced that they weren’t interested with our concerns. Yes, we wanted to talk about how this plan would affect OUR parks and OUR natural areas.
    People like Wells want us to think globally yet what most people in San Antonio actually need is equity. San Antonio historically has taken care of the privileged class before the rest. It is a historical fact.
    This global thinking in this global plan presently translates to words from city officials that do not actually translate to actual equity for the whole city. There is a saying in Spanish, “No mas de los dientes para fuera” Translation: Only from the teeth out. Glittering word of concern that speak to effectiveness, but actually words with no action.
    A case in point, Medina River Natural Area is the only natural area South of the northern most point of the International Airport. The other four sister natural areas are clustered North. Did Parks and Recreation not consider the citizens of San Antonio in the center of the city, the Eastside, the Westside, the near Northside and the Southside in the recent past to “make parks restorative to benefit the community’s health?” Is it that the city doesn’t think that the rest of the city needs restorative health?
    Presently, 511 acre Medina River Natural Area has pit toilets (it has city water), a shack for a headquarters (smaller than the bathrooms at Hardberger, no one staffing the shack (other natural areas have more than one support staff person), a headquarters with a landline that goes out when it rains (Visitors must only have trail and medical emergencies in the sunshine). Oh, wait, there isn’t anybody at the headquarters anyway. The understaffed crew at this natural area is shifted away to work in other natural areas with frequency.
    Several years ago Medina River Natural Areas lost its Education Coordinator, who was transferred to Hardberger. I don’t fault the parents who live near Hardberger for wanting their children to have educational STEM reinforcement and enrichment. My question is, who in the city thought the kids South of the Airport were less deserving? Did they think that these children in the Southern Sector had enough STEM reinforcement and enrichment? Did they think that children from the Southern Sector are better suited for jobs that didn’t involve Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics? How dare they?
    The trails? Well, I was on the main trail about a mile and a half East from the headquarter shack when I encountered a couple stopping and taking their child out of her stroller. I overheard the mother remark under her breath, “Its just too bumpy.” I asked about their concern. She remarked, “This trail could give my baby Shaken Baby Synonym.” She held her daughter for a bit as I helped with the stroller down the trail. She stopped and told me that it would be much easier to go back to the parking lot.
    Medina River Natural Area does have maintenance equipment on site, much of it borrowed from the Northern cluster of natural areas.
    my assumption is that thinking globally is in actuality a one way street, North.
    Where is the city council on questions of equity in natural areas? Do they not care about their citizens having restorative benefits for community’s health? Or is that only good for folks North of the airport?
    Please don’t believe me about these shabby conditions, visit and compare and contrast how the city treats the Northern sister natural areas and the shabby shape of Medina River Natural Area.
    Hey, Mr. Well, words are cheap. We need Global Equity in our natural areas.

  4. Rogelio, great idea. Let’s keep our river water creek water clean. Let’s bring back water flow in our creeks. This helps our children, our wildlife, and the health of our environment.

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