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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

Sandy Jenkins, the parks project manager for the City of San Antonio, said she’s actively working with the Trust for Public Land to improve San Antonio’s rankings on the next City Parks report. “We’ve made tremendous strides,” she said during a phone conversation last week, “we’ve still got some work to do. There’s definite room for improvement.” The $87.15 million approved for various park, recreation and open space projects in the last bond cycle should help. That some of the biggest projects will occur in the city’s poorer and denser districts will objectively raise some of those reported numbers, and could provide lasting impact on a host of other socioeconomic factors.

Public health researchers increasingly point to the availability of easily accessible recreational resources, like public parks and trails, as a factor that positively influences people’s physical behavior. Salud America!, a research network focusing on Latino children and obesity headquartered at the University of Texas Health Science Center, recently released a report showing that Latino kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods have less access to active spaces than other children and, in a related study also released by Salud, experience less active play. The National Recreation and Parks Association also cites several economic studies that found that proximity to a park or green space raised property values, increased neighborhood appeal for potential buyers and helped to create jobs. In some specific instances, cities like Los Angeles and Kansas City saw a reduction in crime that correlated with increased park programming or improvements.

Imagine then, what a park could do for District 4 residents who live along Old Pearsall road. Imagine that the park, all 512 acres of it, would become one of the largest in San Antonio. Imagine that many residents remember the site by its former nickname: “Mount Trashmore.” You’re imagining the plans for Pearsall Park.

“It’s one of the most compelling stories going on,” says District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña, who is not exactly paid to say that, but who certainly has a vested interest in the park, since a) it was his idea to devote $7.5 million to the project and b) it’s essentially in his field office’s backyard.

However, Saldaña does have a point. From 1967-82, much of the current Pearsall Park site housed a municipal landfill and Kelly Salvage (the old Kelly Air Force Base site is nearby). And it is in a lower-income area of Saldaña’s district that, by his own admission, “hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.”

According to data from the 2010 U.S. Census, the median household income for families in Pearsall Park’s zip code was $33,883. Comparatively, the median household income for families in Hardberger Park’s zip was $81,745.

“It used to be a dump and it’s going to be a destination when we’re done with it,” said Saldaña. Shortly after the Stanford grad (and South San grad, for that matter) was elected in 2011, he began evaluating his district for 2012 bond projects. Typically, to create citizen buy-in, bond money is doled out in small sums across several projects, but Saldaña had a different idea. “What if we did something really big for one of the biggest parks we have?” he recalls wondering. So he pushed to allocate a huge chunk of the bond money District 4 parks were estimated to receive to improve just Pearsall.

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