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Best of SA 2013: 4/24/2013
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Three Epic Park Projects That Could Transform SA

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

A conceptual design for Confluence Park

Pearsall Park, deep in the heart of the South Side, is a surreal place. As it is now, a quick turn off Old Pearsall Road pulls you from a busy strip of tire shops and taquerias into a vast expanse of grassland, like a wormhole to pre-civilization San Antonio. The 231 acres do contain a small dog park, the source of the only signs of life during a recent Sunday visit. Beyond that, the vacant fields stretch on and on and the few man-made structures are a chain-link fence, the occasional rusted trashcan and a disc golf course. With some imagination, the rolling hills could be grass-covered dunes and the far-off sounds of street and air traffic could be the gentle waves of a sea just beyond view. Cresting the tallest hill via a gravel path gives 360-degree views of the city, which seems far off in the distance. It’s spectacularly empty.

While Pearsall is a hauntingly serene urban retreat right now, the site has a bigger destiny in store. Much bigger. With a recent land purchase, it doubled in size this spring, making Pearsall one of the largest park in the city, roomy enough to accommodate some $7.5 million worth of park improvements approved in the last bond cycle.

HemisFair, with its flashy plans and downtown address, tends to get all the press these days, but it’s projects like Pearsall and others on the South and West Sides that could truly transform SA where citizens actually live, and which should open around the same time. By 2017, formerly blighted areas like a municipal dump, an old CPS laydown yard and trash-strewn creek beds should be new homes for some of San Antonio’s most innovative public spaces.

In the past five years alone, San Antonio has made noticeable strides in providing green spaces, though they’ve been mainly limited to wealthier areas on the North Side (the shade-dappled Hardberger Park for instance) or quickly gentrifying downtown (the River expansion projects Museum Reach and Mission Reach.) Even the Salado and Leon creek greenways tend to have access points clustered in the more middle class neighborhoods they pass through, with a few notable exceptions located along both creeks’ southernmost reaches.

Yet despite these improvements, San Antonio’s total commitment to parks and public green space is fair to middling according to the latest City Parks Facts Report produced by the Trust for Public Land. The annual report analyzes parks data from the 100 largest cities in the U.S. Based on information from Fiscal Year 2011, San Antonio had 23,369 acres of parkland. For comparison, San Diego, a city with roughly the same population at the time, had more than double that acreage devoted to public parks. While no Texas city particularly stood out, San Antonio fell behind its state peers like Dallas, Houston and Austin in nearly every metric, which includes acres of parkland as a percentage of city area and acres of parkland per 1,000 residents. We’re objectively awful in spending on parks ($54 per resident in FY 2011, among the bottom 20 cities on that list), walkable park access (we ranked 36th out of 40 cities ranked), and number of playgrounds per 10,000 residents, which was a dismal 1.3.

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