I’ll take San Antonio: A Kell-Muñoz designer takes issue with a Lake-Flato architect who left the city

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Dan Lazarine as a boy in Germany

Heidelberg days: Dan Lazarine as a high school student in Germany.

On Feb. 17 we published a piece by former Lake/Flato architect Jeremy Fields, a dual citizen who left San Antonio for Hamburg, Germany several years ago. Fields argued that while San Antonio has made significant strides in building a more livable downtown, it will continue to struggle to recruit and retain talented people who seek a more sustainable lifestyle. Here is a link to that article:

San Antonio? “Not anytime soon”

Daniel Lazarine is a designer with Kell-Muñoz Architects and an avid long-distance runner and member of the Third Street Grackles, the same cycling team Fields belonged to when he lived here. He takes issue with Fields, and today offers his own reverse perspective, having spent part of his boyhood living in Germany as the son of a career Army officer. Lazarine and his wife, Eileen Gaughran, recently bought a home in Mahncke Park to be closer to downtown San Antonio and their jobs there. Eileen is with the American Payroll Association. Both enjoy a three-mile bike-able commute from home to work.


Dan Lazarine, Kell-Muñoz Architects

Dan Lazarine


By Dan Lazarine

“San Antonio? Not anytime soon.”  I must admit I had a conflicted reaction to Jeremy Fields' article extolling life in Hamburg, Germany compared to San Antonio.  I have good memories of my own 4 ½ years in Heidelberg. I once thought it was the ideal place to call home.  I really wanted to believe that popular catch phrase we’ve all heard before – “Well, in Europe they. . . (insert perfect way of doing anything).”

I lived in Heidelberg as a high school kid in the mid-80s, and Germany, indeed, was my Utopia.  The U.S. dollar was strong against the now obsolete Deutsche Mark. There was no drinking age. The whole Cold War thing? That was for my military parents to fret about.

Dan Lazarine as a boy in Germany

Heidelberg days: Dan Lazarine as a high school student in Germany.

A trip back to Heidelberg in 1999 for a high school reunion changed the taste of the sweet German Kool-Aid I had been savoring since I was dragged from Heidelberg back to San Antonio kicking and screaming.  It was during that two-week trip where the phrase “you can never really go back home” hit me like a ton of bricks.  The Heidelberg I had longed for had somehow vanished.  Gone were the idyllic surroundings I fell in love with and thought would never change.  In its place were urban and (gasp) suburban sprawl, trash and graffiti, neighborhoods that were no longer safe to be in after dark, and an autobahn that reminded me of driving in Italy rather than the once uber-orderly ribbons of high-speed concrete.  What had happened to my Germany and why was I actually looking forward to returning home to San Antonio? And why was I ashamed for dragging my fiancé to Germany after selling her on it as the land that the United States could never be?

The answer, as I came to discover, is that no part of the world--however pastoral and perfect it may seem at one point--is immune to the geo-global forces acting upon it.  Yes, Germany had survived two World Wars, and nearly 45 years as a politically and geographically divided nation.  Reunification posed the most daunting challenge to its identity, in my opinion.  The demise of the Berlin Wall, a horrid artifact of the Cold War and an insult to the landscape, was a harbinger of troubling times to come. The Wall was a symbol of a crumbling Soviet Union, which has left its mark on Europe in ways even more significant than the dismantling of the Wall.

My description of the new Germany is not just my musing as a tourist. This description came to me from my German buddies over a few of steins of beer as they caught me up on almost 20 years of change.

So here we have the crux of my conflict. Yes, I loved Germany.  In fact, I loved it so much I joined the military in the hope that I would be stationed in Germany to continue my love affair.  But alas, the Air Force had a different plan for me – they felt I needed to experience the Orient to round me out as a world traveler.  Unfortunately, there was no spark there, but it was not a hate-hate relationship either.  Getting back to the crux – a beloved Germany that had lost its luster versus the reality of San Antonio, my hometown, working hard to change in a positive way despite suburban growth bent on gobbling up land in huge proportions – where should I place my heart and soul?

Phase Three is now underway.

A sign welcomes locals and visitors to the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River.

My answer is San Antonio.  It's not the perfect example of a progressive city, nor is it a world-class city like Hamburg.  But it is my home.  If ever I have had a love-hate relationship with a place it has been with San Antonio.  The suburban sprawl is out of control and there are political forces at work here that, in my opinion, are not looking out for health and welfare of the city as a whole.

That said, I am not completely discouraged about San Antonio’s future. And while Fields acknowledged the success of the Pearl development, other wonderful advancements here were overlooked.  Here’s a list of some of the projects recently completed or in the works:

The River Reach project aims to restore the natural path and flow of the San Antonio River. This is combined with improvements to the adjacent running and cycling paths, making it easier to access the Missions and the newly completed Mission Library.

* The River North improvements expanded the River Walk northward, allowing access to the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Pearl development and Brackenridge Park.

* A renovation of the Municipal Auditorium is in progress, and when it’s completed the state-of-the-art Tobin Center for the Performing Arts will feature a direct connection to the River Walk.

* Hardberger Park, while a suburban project, sets a precedent that not all prime tracts outside of Loop 410 have to be consumed by gated communities and strip malls.

* The Linear Park system for Salado Creek, Leon Creek, the Medina River and San Antonio River offers 34 miles of vehicle-free green space for running, hiking, and biking—more than 1,200 acres completed so far and more to come.

* A new Federal Courthouse aims to celebrate the history of San Antonio’s West Side while spurring a new master plan for HemisFair Park and the revitalization of the historically significant San Pedro Creek.

* The St. Benedict Lofts live-work development in Southtown continues the revamping of the city’s near Southside.

* A new Master Plan for Broadway calls for the extension of the River Walk even further northward along with a street car line reminiscent of the ones that existed here in the early 20th century. A new Children's Museum will open in a few years.

* The expansion of the Pearl and developments like 1221 Broadway are changing the look of Midtown on an almost daily basis. Broadway is now becoming a place to live and not just a surface street to drive on.

* A new master plan is in the works for Alamo Plaza.  There is even talk of closing the Plaza to vehicular traffic and turning the street between Lake/Flato Architects and the old Post Office into a green space.

* The city has initiated the Free Parking Tuesdays Program to remove the greatest complaint for not partaking of the wonderful nightlife the River City has to offer.

* A Bike-Share program was recently implemented in sleepy ol’ San Antonio as well.  And now our progressive Austin neighbors are wondering and asking, “How did you do that?”  A car-share program is also in the works.

* The near Eastside will be the site of another revitalization project in the way of the Ellis Alley redevelopment project.

* A composting bin project is being piloted in Mahncke Park along with my favorite new ordinance – a smoking ban during Fiesta parades.

* San Antonio celebrated its second Síclovía Festival this month, attracting more than 40,000 cyclists, runners, and walkers to experience a vehicle-free Broadway for most of a Sunday .

Did I mention the weather?  A recent March morning started off at a brisk 40 degrees, perfect for an early morning run. It quickly warmed up to a sunny 70 degrees.  San Antonio enjoys average temperatures just under 70 degrees compared to Hamburg’s average of 48 degrees.  San Antonio has 83 days of rain per year compared to Hamburg’s 180 days.  Those are more than just numbers to a cycling junkie!

Mission San Jose is visible in the background.

Dan Lazarine enjoys a balmy March day along the San Antonio River.

While I am extolling the list of the wonderful attributes of San Antonio, I should mention the wonderful neighborhood where Eileen and I call home – Mahncke Park.  Just north of downtown and within walking distance to Brackenridge Park, the Witte Museum, the planned Children’s Museum, and Central Market. It's the perfect blend of urban/suburban life.  We can ride our bikes to work in under 15 minutes, without the traffic typical of a large metro area.  We can ride or walk to local restaurants,  the Broadway Daily Bread bakery, even a barber shop.

San Antonio is changing, and very much for the better. Hamburg has an 800-year head start on San Antonio. It's a major port city and the second largest city in Germany.  Give us another 800 years and let's see what happens!

Photos courtesy of Dan Lazarine and Eileen Gaughran.

7 thoughts on “I’ll take San Antonio: A Kell-Muñoz designer takes issue with a Lake-Flato architect who left the city

  1. I have to agree with Dan’s optimism about San Antonio. Over the past decade, I’ve experienced recent developments through a stop-motion lens — I live in a condo on Lexington for a week at a time at 3 month intervals (my company is headquartered in San Antonio near the downtown library, but I live in New Jersey). I’ve been impressed with the improvements. The River North development and progress on Broadway has made me say “this would be a great place to live.” Yes, the downtown needs more living amenities; yes, the parking situation is a problem to be solved — but I see San Antonio moving slowly and steadily in the right directions. I bring my coworkers to La Gloria (near the Pearl development) for lunch, and they’re amazed by their own backyard. These types of public/private development seem like smart moves to me, and they seem to be paying off for the city.

  2. Bob

    Thanks for your comment. We are interested in your two-city existence and wonder if you would be willing to write an article contrasting the two communities, and what you like and dislike about each place. We’d be happy to help you with the editing and posting of photographs. I’m sure TRR readers would want to read such a piece. Interested? –RR

  3. I do not disagree with Bob. In fact, I think these initiatives and others are moving this city forward. I will say that while the Mayor is doing a good job, many of us realize Scully and the “operations” side of the city are really revamping and running these projects, as well as idea implementing. Either way, it is working and that is all that should matter to us denizens.

    However, I believe what the former employee, now Germany resident, intends it the contrast of culture, its interaction with people, and in return, the peoples interaction with the culture.

    Merely having places is a start. It does not turn a city into a “cultural” experience that is described by our German resident, which entails a way of life. This described lifestyle is one of complete interaction.

    The use of all these new facilities are likely to be limiting, except the Alamo. the Tobin Center, Hardberger Park, and others are used by small segments of the population. Dont get me wrong, they are key to building a better city. But the totality of the interaction and the “feel” and outcome produced with its citizens is much different than what was described by our German friend.

    “Visitor”-scapes are important but not the end all. We need more “cultural”-scapes and connectivity of all parts of the city. Right now we have outposts at destination places within the city.

    I am looking forward to how the north river and broadway expansion coalesce into a single scape. This is more of what we need.

    Let me finish by saying that our German friend was a bit too harsh. Different strokes for different folks. I prefer to live here :).

  4. btw: Pearl brewery is a one-hour eat and walk destination place. It really needs development and integration to other parts of the riverwalk and city.

    If not for the bakery and Il Sogno, unless you work there, why else visit. Sure farmers market, la gloria, etc. but same deal.

    just my 2 cents.

  5. After reading this, I feel compelled to share my own story. If you currently live in the Downtown area, feel free to read and comment, but this is for folks who do not live in Downtown and are contemplating the move to our urban jewel-in-the-rough.

    I have a love-hate-love relationship with San Antonio, and I take both sides of the discussion (with bias).

    As a newly wed and (30 something) college student, I lived Downtown and loved it for over 2.5 years. Then we had a kid. And we bought a house in the suburbs. And now I’m counting the days until I move back to Downtown! Let me explain…

    Having a kid influences the way you look at Downtown. Needless to say, I was very much influenced by family, who, despite good overall intentions, never asked us what we wanted. We thought about schools. My wife taught at a public school just west of Downtown before our birth. We were very certain that we did not want our child going to one of these schools. That left private schools, which are too expensive for us. So with the encouragement of family (You can’t raise a kid in an apartment!???), we bought a house in the suburbs. In a good school district. Close to family. However, that was all that changed. I still work in the Downtown/midtown area, and we also started our own business that operates in Southtown. Now, instead of a 2 mile commute to work on bike or moped, I have a 15 mile, 20 minute-without-traffic-commute. One way. I used to be part of the solution, now I feel like I am part of the problem. While my mortgage and utilities are about the same as my rent and utilities, my fuel consumption has quadrupled (both our cars get 30+mpg). As well as the amount of time we have lost. In addition to our loss in time with commuting, we now have a yard that requires 2 hours a week of maintenance, not to mention $$$ for watering, lawn mowers, etc.

    Money is a big issue for lots of people. If you have money, you can afford to live in Downtown, or anywhere else for that matter. If you don’t have money, it SEEMS more affordable to buy in the suburbs. Nice Downtown living is expensive. Parking is bothersome. Grocery stores are scarce. Living Downtown still requires owning a car.

    For $1500 a month, I can rent a 1000 sf apt in Southtown. OR, I can buy a home in Northeast San Antonio with 2000 sf. That may seem appealing to many people, but when you consider all the factors I mentioned earlier, is it really a value? I guess that depends on what you value. I think that for many people, they would rather own and commute then to rent. In addition, what kind of people can afford to rent in Downtown? The people who can, young professionals, can probably afford the commute as well. Plus the dollar goes a lot further(depending on perspective) when buying in the suburbs.

    It really comes down to thought processes and preferences. Many people feel that the suburban life is ideal, the best of both rural and urban living. I can write a 10 page essay about the issues (political, social, commercial, economical) that form the above mentioned thought process, but I’ll spare you!

    Downtown needs pioneers. People who are willing to buck the trend of; “bigger is better,” and adopt the thinking of; “less is more.”

    San Antonio is a beautiful city, that does draw a large number of tourists each year. Some of these tourists actually LIVE in San Antonio (think about it). We can show them that Downtown is an affordable way to live, work and play. We continue our slow, steady change to make San Antonio a livable city of tomorrow.

    In my opinion, suburbs are all the same; from Kansas City to Los Angeles to San Antonio. What is the point of living in San Antonio, if we don’t actually LIVE in San Antonio? We plan to sell and move closer, maybe find a rental in Alamo Heights or Olmos Park, or brave Southtown. Good schools, close to the action, and definitely bike-able. I’m tired of commuting. And of yard work.

  6. Pingback: ‘I’m tired of commuting…and yard work.’ | The Rivard Report

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