On May 5, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas, Phase One of San Pedro Creek‘s revitalization opened to the public. In addition to the environmental and economic recovery the project brings, it’s also a celebration of the city’s predominant Mexican culture.
Locally-based design firm Muñoz and Company was chosen back in 2015 to design a four-phase restoration of the sterile, over-engineered, 2.2-mile concrete drainage ditch. The portion that has just opened is actually just the first part of Phase one: 2200 feet of riverwalk that has now been named the San Pedro Creek Culture Park.
Having once served as the site of the first civil and religious settlements of San Antonio, San Pedro Creek was channelized, deepened, straightened and sometimes completely covered by civil engineers in the early 20th Century, forming a social, cultural, and economic barrier between Anglo and Hispanic San Antonio.
Driven by the need to forge a stronger bond between people and water—as well as to reestablish historical and environmental context while addressing flood control issues—the New San Pedro Creek re-imagines this “drainage ditch” as a linear urban park that celebrates the unique blended culture of an increasingly Latino San Antonio.
San Pedro Creek possesses a rich and beautiful story, a reflection of the many points of the city in which it traverses. Its design draws upon the character of those intersections to create a sequence of unique experiences for users while incorporating ideas inherent in Latino Urbanism.
These characteristics include shared public space, local craft, walkability, public transit, and flexibility of space for informal gathering. The New San Pedro Creek also reestablishes the aquatic habitats and accompanying native plant life that once flourished on its banks to create a culturally vibrant, sustainable space for San Antonians working, living, and visiting the Center City.
The world-class linear park is the result of a joint effort by Bexar County, the San Antonio River Authority and the City of San Antonio to transform San Pedro Creek into a restored natural creek habitat and greenspace. Combining purpose with beauty, the San Pedro Creek Culture Park weaves public art and architectural design into historic preservation, flood control, water quality and ecosystem restoration.
“Through the revitalization of San Pedro Creek, we are inviting people to connect with our community’s vibrant history and culture,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “Bexar County was founded along the banks of San Pedro Creek and the San Pedro Creek Culture Park celebrates and expresses the culture, history and natural qualities of Bexar County through its beautiful design and artwork.”
The first phase and segment of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park – stretching from the flood tunnel inlet at N. Santa Rosa Street near Fox Tech High School to Houston Street – will debut with a full day of family-friendly programming – including children’s art and craft activities, historical presentations, live music and local food truck fare – from noon to 9 p.m., including a special evening Illumination Ceremony at 7:30 p.m., presented by Bexar County.
“The San Antonio River Authority gets a tremendous amount of joy bringing these types of projects to fruition for the community,” said San Antonio River Authority Board Chair Mike Lackey. “It’s been a challenging in terms of designing and constructing a linear park in the middle of downtown San Antonio but seeing the transformation of the Creek gives us the energy and excitement to continue working on these types of once-in-a-lifetime endeavors.”
Exemplifying beauty with a purpose, the San Pedro Creek Culture Park serves as vital infrastructure for a growing downtown. By increasing the depth and width of the existing channel, the project will remove 30 acres from the 100-year flood plain, safely conveying floodwaters within the San Pedro Creek banks.
The project will also improve water quality in a highly urbanized segment of the downtown watershed through the use of low-impact development features, including bioswales and storm water interceptors.
In addition to creating a beautiful new linear park, the San Pedro Creek Culture Park returned the creek to a more natural state, which benefits the native flora and fauna, while also improving flood control. Through the project, the existing channels will be deepened and widened to contain the 100-year floodplain with the San Pedro Creek banks and will vastly improve water quality with the addition of bioswales and aquatic plants that remove pollutants from the waterway.
Public art provides a beautiful backdrop to the restored creek, telling the story of our community through contemporary art and cultural programming. The first segment of the Culture Park features four tile murals designed by prominent San Antonio artists – Adriana Garcia, Katie Pell, Alex Rubio and Joe Lopez – that commemorate the rich and interweaving cultures that define San Antonio and Bexar County.
Additional artwork commissions include storytelling through historical text and poetry by John Phillip Santos, ceramic artwork representing the historical nature of the nearby street names by Diana Kersey and colorful tiles by Michael Menchaca inspired by the people, culture and history of San Antonio.
“Bexar County has invested in many vital projects to improve the lives of our residents, but no other project has been more prominent and culturally meaningful than the creation of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park,” said Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo. “The vision of the Bexar County Commissioners Court to create a space where local citizens and visitors could learn and appreciate the roots of local heritage and culture is being realized with the opening of this first segment.”
Visitors will be able to navigate the San Pedro Creek Culture Park with the help of the mobile app, which includes a variety of ways to learn about and interact with the Creek. Available on Android and iOS, the app features a customizable 18-stop audio tour as well as extensive plant and animal lists for those who want to learn more about the native flora and fauna of the creek.
The San Pedro Creek Culture Park will encompass a total of four phases, with three segments in the first phase. The second segment, which spans from Houston Street to Nueva Street is currently under construction. When the four phases are completed, the San Pedro Creek Culture Park will span 2.2 miles through downtown.
- Contain the 100-year floodplain within the San Pedro Creek banks.
- Reimagine the creek as a linear urban park and continuous playspace for San Antonians working, living, and visiting the Center City.
- Advance urban watershed and water quality management practices, ensuring the safety and sustainability of our biotic habitats.
- Enhance and catalyze cultural and economic revitalization opportunities by reconnecting the creek with people, the urban core and articulating ‘quality of life’ value.
Driven by the need to forge a stronger bond between people and water, retain historical and environmental context while addressing San Antonio’s 21st century water issues, we’re challenged by a dense and at times unyielding urban envelope, with extraordinary possibilities. We view the creek as a garden, a healing composite of living offerings that with great thought and care, will nourish us for years to come. By listening to the language of San Pedro Creek, its story will be shared via art and cultural components unique to our city.
Many times mistaken for a drainage ditch, modest San Pedro Creek continues to nestle deep in the historic heart of downtown San Antonio. In attempt to reconstitute its life-giving qualities, reflect on its rich history and create a sense of place, its primary purpose as a flood control safeguard must be emphasized. Numerous studies and research illustrated that the flood character of the creek still posed significant risk from the localized watershed (downstream of the tunnel inlet.)
Simultaneously segregating and aggregating, San Pedro Creek possesses a rich and beautiful story, a reflection of the many points in which it traverses. By drawing upon the character of place, it is possible to celebrate these individual components and establish a sequence while integrating them into a whole. To capture and restore San Pedro Creek’s tremendous potential, we look to Latino Urbanism to help tell the story.
Latino Urbanism in essence, is a blend of renewed emphasis on building community deciphered in the language of a new America. Blurring the lines of indoor and outdoor, Latino Urbanism synthesizes the common and the exquisite. It renders spaces warm, engaging and celebrates shared public space and connection. Emphasizing the supremacy of solids over voids and a generous use of pattern, it encourages the strategic use of shade, small pocket spaces and gathering spots in San Pedro Creek.
Giving voice to San Pedro Creek via Latino Urbanism helps us re-think, re-cycle and re-use everyday materials that may not appear architectural at first glance, but have been used in an architectural manner in communities with very modest means for generations. San Pedro Creek’s past, present and future inspires celebration of our traditions of culture, craft and elevation of the common. Yielding both comfort and delight, it pushes us to strive for more with less, yet still preserve the goals of maintaining a strong cultural and historical response to the design challenge ‘El Arroyo’ poses.
By incorporating Latino Urbanism into our dreams of San Pedro Creek, it provides us with a tool to shape this blended identity and gives birth to a physical representation of cultural anthropology. Employing Latino Urbanism’s Mestizaje (a blend) into San Pedro Creek honors both its sacred traditions and its everyday life. Embedded with remnants of our history and ecosystem, San Pedro Creek’s restoration will emerge layered in the manner of contemporary culture, serving as a modern ‘codex’ – an ancient tool used to accumulate history and document it for posterity.