Citizen-Input Public-Planning Processes

tonio Proposed Solution #1

This image is NOT the plan proposed by H-E-B, but it is illustrative of a Win-Win Solution to keep Main Avenue open.

San Antonio Current reporter Mary Tuma contacted me for her article following up on H-E-B’s plan to privatize the section of Main Avenue on the south edge of downtown.   H-E-B’s bid to to create a suburban style campus downtown sailed through city council as widely expected. Council’s action is an approval to create an automobile-oriented superblock, which not only is contrary to urban planning best-practice principles; but more heinously, it is contrary to the democratic institution of community-input planning the city has been conducting. It is reveals an ugly side of our city’s processes: special interest lobbying and top-down management.

The citizen-input public-planning processes which occurred over the past few years along with enacted policies for redeveloping a more livable downtown should stand, be respected and should have categorically thwarted the private corporation’s deep-pocket real estate play that contradicts the public-input plans. H-E-B should have come to the community planning meetings and openly voiced their objectives. They should have sought resolution in the public-planning arena. Instead, public land, a right-of-way, is being traded for a gas station and jobs. Job creation is an important component of the community’s plan, but not at the expense of the larger goal: to create livable communities that integrate all goals.

The sad part of this situation is that H-E-B could accommodate a higher number of employees without taking over public land (See illustration by imagineSanAntonio, above, and as issued in their Press Release.) The city could have worked with H-E-B to create a vibrant campus that would reflect the thriving, progressive city Mayor Castro’s SA2020 initiative projects. The surrounding community could have retained its vision for livability.  

Thinking idealistically, I wonder how can our city evolve so that powerful corporate interests and the real estate oligopoly genuinely participate in community-based urban planning processes?

Below are a few excerpts from the article.


….Proponents of the $100 million expansion point to the allure of job growth. While the promise of new employment brought on by the 10,000- square-foot store remained vague for some time, the City’s Development Office cleared the confusion up at the early December meeting, saying H-E-B will employ 800 workers by 2020 and an additional 800 employees by 2030—50 percent of these will be new jobs. Mayor Julián Castro said he understood concerns of the residents affected by the partial Main Street closure but that the chance for economic development was worth the investment.

“We have on the table an opportunity to create a significant number of jobs in the urban core of the city and create a grocery store that I believe will further catalyze the revitalization of downtown,” said Castro, of the 1,600 estimated jobs.

To mitigate walkability and cyclist concerns, H-E-B also promised to create a 30-foot pedestrian and bike amenity zone, re-open Whitley and Dwyer Streets, ensure ADA-friendly walking paths, arrange and replace or preserve the bike route and pedestrian path through South Main Avenue and enhance pedestrian signals and crossings. The street upgrades must be made before closing Main Avenue, City representatives said.

However, the mitigation improvements didn’t do much to help assuage critics’ qualms.

“Those ideas don’t alleviate any of those concerns from citizens, myself included,” David Bogle, a local architect and University of Texas at San Antonio College of Architecture professor, tells the Current. “They’ve broken the street grid and connectivity already, it’s not mitigating the real problem they’ve created.”

“To use their term, the ’30-foot amenity zone’ is just sort of window dressing on their own property,” says Bogle. “… It’s just one block long they’re talking about improving; it’s a conceptual proposal that is not something that is very feasible or workable and it will just create unsafe situations.”

Bogle, co-chair of the local chapter of the AIA Urban Affairs Committee, has presented against the H-E-B site at City zoning and planning commission meetings. He argues the plan is “antithetical” to most of the citizen and public input policies that are in place here in San Antonio, pointing to the Lone Star Community Plan, which shows residents favor high-density, public transit-oriented, mixed-use developments in the core. “What they are proposing is anything but this,” says Bogle. “It’s a low-density, single-use parcel and very much automobile oriented—it’s not what our downtown needs.” In fact, says Bogle, the new store will negatively affect SA2020 goals, including miles traveled, public transit ridership, travel time and air quality indexes as well as walkability scores….


Streets for the people – SA Current

Businesses on Broadway are increasingly pedestrian- and bike-friendly. The street itself? Not so much.  Photo by Callie Enlow.

Businesses on Broadway are increasingly pedestrian- and bike-friendly. The street itself? Not so much. Photo by Callie Enlow.

Streets for the people is an article about San Antonio’s downtown streets issues – at least about a few of our many street issues. Automobile-oriented street spaces are what we have inherited, and while they provide connectivity for people who wear cars everyday, they choke the city’s potential to transform into a walkable, more sustainable city.
Below is an excerpt. Please link to read the entire article.

….we really need a citywide conversation and rethinking of how our major streets work, and for whom. Fortunately, we have some guides for ways to think better and smarter about streets.

Former San Francisco planning chief Allan Jacobs, in his book Great Streets, provides a host of models and guidelines from around the world. Jacobs describes the best streets as “comfortable to walk along with leisure and safety,”—streets that are equally usable by both drivers and pedestrians. He also notes the importance of streets as social spaces, where people can socialize and interact. The basic elements of “great”—or even just better—streets are now widely recognized and developed, employed in such ways as San Francisco’s 2010 Better Streets Plan. They include sidewalks sufficiently wide to accommodate both walking and gathering, with benches and shaded areas as well as sidewalk cafes and kiosks. Improved street ecology is also important, including an abundance of street trees and greenery, effective management of storm water and thoughtful placement of utilities (that means not building sidewalks with poles right in the middle)….


Why cul-de-sacs are bad for your health

Aerial photos above showing approximately the same portions of San Antonio analyzed below.

Aerial photos above showing approximately the same portions of San Antonio analyzed below.

A new book, Happy City by Charles Montgomery, is featured on

To bring this home to San Antonio I have drawn the illustration below from a study done by a former VIA employee regarding urban connectivity as required for walkability and public transit. At the top of the page I have paired comparative aerial photographs of approximately the same two areas: on the left the connected, walkable and healthy part of town – on the right is the disconnected, auto-dependent and bad-for-your-health sprawl.

I suggest that the old adage “you are what you eat” is being rewritten. You are where you live!

Analysis of two areas of San Antonio showing different levels of connectivity.

Analysis of two areas of San Antonio showing different connectivity levels of connectivity.

….investigators from the Georgia Institute of Technology led by Lawrence Frank discovered that people’s environments were shaping their travel behavior and their bodies. They could actually predict how fat people were by where they lived in the city.

Frank found that a white male living in Midtown, a lively district near Atlanta’s downtown, was likely to weigh 10 pounds less than his identical twin living out in a place like, say, Mableton, in the cul-de-sac archipelago that surrounds Atlanta, simply because the Midtowner would be twice as likely to get enough exercise every day….

….Connectivity counts: More intersections mean more walking, and more disconnected cul-de-sacs mean more driving. People who live in neighborhoods with latticeworklike streets actually drive 26 percent fewer miles than people in the cul-de-sac forest.


…Proposal Clears Planning Commission…

Red-dotted line is currently South Main Avenue.  The entire northern half of the soon-to-be superblock is "planned" to remain underutilized and auto-oriented - this on the side facing downtown San Antonio.

Red-dotted line is currently South Main Avenue. The entire northern half of the soon-to-be superblock is “planned” to remain underutilized and auto-oriented – this on the side facing downtown San Antonio.

Iris Dimmick, of the Rivard Report, wanted to speak to me after planning commission vote, and her article, “H-E-B Proposal Clears Planning Commission, Moves to City Council” is in the link to the right with some excerpts below in the grey box. First, here’s a little background and a curt summary of where things stand.

I made presentations to the zoning commission on Tuesday and to the planning commission on Wednesday. I emphasized the fact that the proposed plan by HEB does not comply with the relevant community-input land use plan. “High-Density Mixed-Use” is the community vision, per the Lone Star Community Plan. Bob Wise spoke and presented the win-win solutions from imagineSanAntonio per his article in the Rivard Report.

Zoning commissioners voted unanimously to allow, with a special use authorization, a gas station in the “Downtown” zone, against the land use plan. Like dominoes, and against the City’s 2011 Strategic Framework Plan, planning commissioners voted unanimously to declare as surplus, and to abandon, the public right-of-way South Main Avenue, dismantling the potential of this thoroughfare to become a complete street and to connect to other complete streets.

City Council cinched the deal on Thursday, voting to support HEB corporation’s plan to create a huge superblock in downtown San Antonio. Per their proposed plan it will have a new gas station and store with surface parking lots on its (otherwise potentially) most urban, north-east corner. This new privately-owned parcel will be almost twice as large as any other major American city’s largest superblock!

Architect and urban design professor David Bogle pointed to the Lone Star Community Plan’s call for “high density mixed use” at the sites of the proposed grocery store and current H-E-B employee parking lots.

The proposed grocery store and gas station are “low density, single use,” Bogle said. ”The privatization of a street at this location would work against goals established for downtown.”


“These issues are not going to stop after South Main (Avenue) is sold,” Bogle said after the round of “yay” votes approved the closure. Tomorrow at City Council, “we’ll reiterate the valid concerns of the citizens … and the costs (of this plan) dismissed by the government.”


Lecture: Martin Filler | makers of modern architecture

Makers of Modern Architecture: Architects, Patrons, and Communities
The McNay Art Museum
Tuesday, November 19, 6:30 pm, Chiego Lecture Hall

Drawing upon two volumes of critically acclaimed essays, Martin Filler, Architecture Critic for New York Review of Books, offers a lecture focused on the effect architects, patrons, and communities have on what gets built and why. Filler discusses architects with strong Texas connections such as Philip Johnson and Renzo Piano, as well as recent controversial projects including The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York.

Martin Filler signs books purchased through the Museum Store immediately following talk.

Tickets are available for McNay members for free, nonmembers $10, educators and students with an I.D. $5. Reserve space by e-mailing or calling 210.805.1768. Registration deadline: November 18, noon.


Open floor plans – San Antonio E-N

Outdoor Rooms Sketch

Outdoor Rooms: Deck, Treehouse, Covered Patio

I was interviewed by Jennifer Hiller for her article for the Express-News and was pleased to see it run with my conceptual design sketch for a series of outdoor rooms I proposed as additions to a house. There are three areas to extend the interior kitchen and breakfast rooms: a covered porch, a mulch-floored room with a tree house above for the kids, and an open deck with built-in seating. Also published with the article is a photograph of the open plan kitchen of the Holland Avenue Residence.

Please view the article on-line or see excerpts below.

Multiuse rooms, open floor plans among trends – San Antonio Express-News – By Jennifer Hiller: November 8, 2013

Home design has gotten practical and wandered outside.

Outdoor living areas and no-nonsense spaces such as home offices and mudrooms are among the most popular trends in home design, according to the latest survey from the American Institute of Architects.

Kermit Baker, chief economist with the AIA and senior research fellow at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, said post-recession design dollars are being directed toward practical rooms that people use the most, such as great rooms and master bedrooms, or mudrooms where families can stash shoes and backpacks. Low-maintenance or energy-efficient features are popular, as are things such as docking stations for phones.

“During the boom it was about technology-intense media rooms and wine cellars and sort of froufrou areas in the home that you didn’t really need,” Baker said. “Now it’s really much more about lifestyle and more multipurpose spaces. Homes have gotten smaller and you need multifunction rooms. Mudrooms and home offices are very practical. You can telecommute or consult between jobs, or work at home part time.”

Other practical features trending in home design: tankless water heaters, recycled materials, water-saving features, extra insulation, ramps and elevators, storm-resistant design, automated lighting and first-floor master bedrooms. Additions or alterations to existing homes are popular.

And even people with large budgets are spending it in a focused way, Baker said. “It’s not just, ‘I have some extra money to spend on my home,’” Baker said.

Architect David Bogle of Syncro Architecture Studio, said many clients want to renovate existing homes, whether it’s one they already live in or one they’re purchasing, and may take their time.

“The goal is to transform it over a period of years. They want a master plan like an institution would do for the long-range planning of their home,” Bogle said. “I think people are getting smarter about the built environment, and it translates to their homes.”

Smaller square footage means design must focus on the most heavily used parts of the home. “It’s an optimization of what is important,” Bogle said. “That’s where the expense and the space goes.”

Including outdoor living areas as “rooms” of the house is one way to extend the home and take advantage of the yard — and the budget.

“The idea is that through affordable and ordinary, inexpensive, everyday materials you can achieve great things through design,” Bogle said.


Bogle recently did a conceptual drawing of a townhome project for a developer who wants to target empty nesters. All the townhomes would have elevators — which would make it easier to age-in-place (another design trend) — installed or as an option.



Dialogues In Planning: Urban Connectivity

Urban Connectivity Poster Download

Urban Connectivity Poster Download

UTSA Center for Urban and Regional Planning invited me to moderate a panel discussion at their “Dialogues in Planning” forum next Monday, November 4th, entitled “Urban Connectivity.” Please join us and bring your questions for the panelists.

Streets play an important role in the lives of the city dwellers. The form, function and character of communities are defined by the public realm which is largely our street network. Well-designed street networks connect us in safe, direct, and convenient ways and allow options for various forms of transportation, from walking to bicycling to driving to public transit. Poorly planned cities disconnect the street networks, divide neighborhoods, limit accessibility to locations, and increase vehicular congestion. This dialogue will contemplate what streets and connectivity mean for San Antonio’s urban core and its neighborhoods, as we head into what Mayor Julian Castro has called the Decade of Downtown.

via Dialogues In Planning: Urban Connectivity | imagine San Antonio.

November 4, 2013 6 – 7:30 pm
University of Texas at San Antonio – Downtown Campus
The downtown UTSA campus is accessible to bus routes #20, #66, #68, #70, #75, #76, #79, #93 and Primo (#100)
Frio Street Building, Multi-Purpose Room (1.402)
Free Parking at UTSA Lot D-3, underneath I-35


Urban design for a downtown grocery San Antonio E-N

I wrote the article below for the Build San Antonio column of the Express-News about the urban design for a downtown grocery and it ran in today’s Home section. Unfortunately, the Build San Antonio column, which is provided by the San Antonio Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIASA) for bi-weekly publication, is very limited in length and, as I found out, is not a venue for a “position” directly relating to actual projects in the city! The project that you may read about between the lines is H E B’s proposal to the City of San Antonio (CoSA) for a downtown grocery store thankfully brought to our attention and “dissected” by Benjamin Olivo on his Downtown Blog where you can find some background and a link to the “winning” proposal.

I was shocked to see in the proposal a large parking lot, a gas station and a small convenience store for high-end prepared foods. It had no windows for visibility to/from the street and no doors facing the street. More shocking was the demand by H E B to be given South Main Avenue, the public right-of-way from Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard to Arsenal Street, and all costs associated with ownership transfer from the citizens of San Antonio to the H E B corporation. This would amount to serious dollars, well beyond the initial $1M gift demanded, and for what amounts to a place-holder, low-intensity car-centric development that they claim will lose money (excluding the gas station portion of the development’s economics!!) and only is assured to be in place for 5 years.

The AIASA Urban Affairs Committee mission is to support public input to public design and planning initiatives and to provide best-practice urban design information and advice when we can. We also support neighborhood level groups with knowledge and procedure recommendations in their efforts to positively transform the public realm – parks, streets. Our committee is preparing a Position Paper, for review and approval by the AIASA Board, against the public funding for this low-density project since it fails in important areas of urban design and would enable the privatization of an important public street space. CoSA is restoring the historic street grid in Hemisfair Park – streets that were erased in the late 1960’s. Giving this one away to H E B would be saying goodbye to it forever. CoSA should hold out for a long-term, urban development that promotes a livable, sustainable city and that embraces the goals of SA 2020. H E B and their corporate campus could be an important part of the future of downtown, but they need to be a PART of the city, not a grand private suburban campus in the middle of downtown.

September 29, 2013

In recent years, San Antonio has been doing a great job painting a picture of a true livable city.

Declaring the “decade of downtown,” the mayor’s office is educating residents and real estate developers about the value of redeveloping the urban core toward the goal of a long-term sustainable city. Economic development is being analyzed within its larger context, which for San Antonio includes heritage conservation and sustaining the unique character of neighborhoods.

To serve long-deserving downtown residents, as well as those who will reside in the many new and in-progress housing developments, we need a downtown grocery store option. This need is widely accepted.

The city of San Antonio has accelerated the possibility of a downtown grocery store by offering $1 million for a viable solution. A store is now on the immediate horizon.

What should the best downtown grocery store proposal look like? The strongest solution should enact basic urban design principles, including:

Pedestrian-scaled, accessed-from-the-street buildings.

A defined building edge to enclose and frame the street, and hide any parking spaces from street (most urban stores have very little if any parking).

The site should serve a mix of uses, including residential and commercial spaces that serve the urban population.

With the commitment by the city for increased bike and pedestrian connectivity, a new grocery site should be well appointed with amenities such as bike racks and transit stops to serve downtown and the surrounding neighborhood residents. These types of amenities, along with sidewalk seating areas, small stages for music and small kiosks for special events, are much more akin to urban grocery environments than the large areas devoted to special event tents and gasoline stations typically found in suburban settings.

A sense of permanence and urban-scaled density expressed by at least a two-story building (perhaps options for future additional height), and a building footprint much larger than the parking area, which is better accommodated in a structured parking garage.

Driveways that are located as far from street intersections as possible, so that motorists driving in/out do not conflict with pedestrians.

Good urban design, as outlined in the AIA’s 10 Principles for a Livable Community, along with affordable, extended-hour grocery shopping, will push this city toward its long-time goal of having a real downtown grocery store.

There are many urban grocery store examples across the country that demonstrate how important doing the right thing is to the success of the store.

Designing a store environment with good urban design principles is crucial.

Let’s get it done right.

David F. Bogle is a principle (sic) at SYNCRO Architecture Studio. He is on the graduate faculty at UTSA’s College of Architecture.


Infill Development Need Not be Large Scale to Have Impact

Heyday developed and designed Buzz Court, a popular small lot development on Silver Lake’s Rowena Avenue. Nico Marques / Photekt

Heyday developed and designed Buzz Court, a popular small lot development on Silver Lake’s Rowena Avenue.
Nico Marques / Photekt

Existing urban areas are seeing redevelopment, but luckily that does not always mean whole blocks of single-family homes are being replaced with large-scale mixed-use and residential multifamily projects. Smaller scale multifamily developments are the best solution for most established neighborhoods because they “fit.” They are less likely to destroy the existing character of neighborhood also. Smaller developments create diversity and variety that mega-block developments do not. They support small business opportunities and accommodate owner-occupied property more readily. They are simply more human-scaled. Excerpts below, and images above, are from an article by Carren Jao about the successful smaller developers making big changes in Los Angeles.

It used to be that Americans dreamed of moving to the idyllic suburbs. But cities are undergoing a major revival. Based on the Census Bureau’s estimates, from July 2011 to July 2012, cities with more than a half million residents grew faster than their suburbs. Meanwhile a 2012 residential trends report by the Environmental Protection Agency confirms that between 2000 and 2009, 21 percent of new residential construction occurred in previously developed areas….

….what sets smaller developers apart from their larger counterparts is the amount of personal investment they make in each project. “Part of our motivation isn’t just economic opportunity,” said Smith. “It’s a chance to help make Los Angeles.”

Buzz Court, Heyday Design & Development Nico Marques / Photekt

Buzz Court, Heyday Design & Development
Nico Marques / Photekt

via Feature> Small Scale, Big Change – The Architect's Newspaper. By Carren Jao


Cultural Landscape of San Antonio’s Westside

Claudia Guerra has been analyzing the cultural landscape and spirit of place on San Antonio’s Westside. Recently she applied to the Graham Foundation for a grant to further her research. SYNCRO architecture studio has agreed to finance a portion of the study and lend support with some supplies and a mapping exercise. Linked here, by the cover, above, and in the right-hand column, is the photo essay distilled from her academic paper presented at the National Council of Chicano and Chicana Studies in March 2013.