San Pedro Creek Culture Park: Hideous drainage ditch now inviting urban space

In this place of herons where the grasses sway in starlight I have flowed since the dawn of evermore.

John Phillip Santos, historical text carved in limestone

The stretch of San Pedro Creek between the tunnel inlet at I-35 and Houston Street beside a new office tower climbing toward the sky might only be a little more than four blocks long, but the transformation from drainage ditch to park seems miraculous to me.

Yes, I watched the earlier magic worked on the Museum and Mission Reaches of the San Antonio River Improvements Project, but there was absolutely nothing natural-creek-like remaining following decades of flood-control projects in this neighborhood.

All that remained was a ditch. And then there was a dream. San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

Some dismiss projects like these as “legacy projects” fluffing up politicians’ egos with taxpayers’ dollars. Politically charged, the design process for a project this complex is rarely perfect. There are budget cuts, and still the enormous projects tend to run over-budget.

But, as with the original Paseo del Rio project, they can prove visionary. Development along the Museum Reach demonstrates how quickly highly blemished urban corridors become desirable.

While flood-control is an underlying purpose of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the incorporation of site-specific art reflective of the city’s history and culture gives the new pedestrian passageway a distinctive San Antonio feel.

Bexar County is the primary funder of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, and the San Antonio River Authority is project manager.

looking south from Houston Street

Work is underway on the next phase heading southward from Houston Street. As you can see from the photo, this narrow stretch probably is even more challenging.

In my mind, the photos above illustrate that the complications and difficulties encountered along the way are so worth it. Those involved are leaving a legacy that will enrich the quality of urban life for generations to come. Looking forward to walking the next phase and those to come.

Postcard from Ferrara, Italy: Museums serving history in manageable bites

The landmarks housing Ferrara’s museums are worth visiting for their historical and architectural merits alone. Their content provides glimpses of Italy’s past in small, easy-to-digest bites.

These photographs are from Casa Romei, built in 1445 by Giovanni Romei who married Polissena of the ruling Este family, and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, a 16th-century palace primarily showcasing artifacts from the Greco-Etruscan seaport of Spina.

My take-away lesson? The true definition of symposium gleaned from text in the archeological museum.

During all those years of working with nonprofits, why did no one ever fill me in on the proper recipe for conducting a symposium? Comfortable couches for reclining; snacks within easy reach; and, most importantly, free-flowing wine generating free-flowing conversation and exchange of ideas. I would have attended more and staged more if I had only known.

Although, maybe those years of gatherings in the over-sized corner booth of the Kangaroo Court on the River Walk were just that.

Let Paseo del Rio lore be altered henceforth. The almost mandatory, after-work, boozy gatherings of River Rats were not mere happy hours; they were lofty downtown symposia.

Dionysus certainly would hoist a glass in approval. And, as I learned this in Italy, Bacchus would as well.

Postcards from San Miguel de Allende: Redirecting Grafitti Artists, Part Four

Part One, Part Two and Part Three

Some people see the arroyo of Obraje running through San Miguel de Allende as a squalid ditch, a place to dump household garbage when one fails to heed the bell of the municipal trucks collecting trash. It diverts floodwaters away from Colonia Guadalupe during the rainy season, but during the much longer dry season it serves as a shortcut for many, including children attending one of several schools bordering the arroyo. The area, well below street level, also is a magnet for those engaged in drug deals or other dangerous liaisons. And those armed with spray paint.

Former San Antonian Colleen Sorenson looks at the ditch and sees something different. She sees Paseo del Rio or pathways like those along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River. The graffiti-covered walls of buildings backing up to the arroyo represent additional blank canvases for more constructive artistic expression. Muros en Blanco, ecologically concerned residents of San Miguel de Allende and city officials began meeting, and change is happening.

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Bulldozers were clearing away debris in February, when these photos were taken.

According to an article by Antonio de Jesus Aguado in Attencion San Miguel, Edgar Bautista, head of the city’s Urban Development Department, said:

“The perspective is touristic…,” and it fulfills the development goals of the Millenium, the priorities of which are security, health and education. The idea is to turn the arroyo into a patio-garden within the city, a tourism corridor, “in other words, a park that would generate a new ecosystem as important as Parque Juarez.”

Colleen was working on another arts festival, but, in addition to the mural projects lining the arroyo, the event would involve the schools in Colonia Guadalupe and carry strong environmental messages to foster a spirit of community stewardship.

Looking forward to seeing the transformation next time we return….