Balancing revitalization with population growth is an issue in cities across the U.S., but prominent members of San Antonio's education and civic communities are taking an innovative approach to solving the dilemma.
On July 26, the University of Texas at San Antonio announced it was partnering with Southside First Economic Development Council to create a pilot program to foster social mobility within the neighborhood. Southside First is a nonprofit originally established in 2016, and it was created to promote local businesses, encourage investment in the community, and support South San Antonio renewal efforts.
Leading the partnership on UTSA's side is Urban Future Lab, a self-proclaimed "think-and-do-tank" and research laboratory founded by UTSA Assistant Professor Antonio Petrov. Since Urban Future Lab is a multidisciplinary program, the project will include postdoctoral fellows, as well as undergraduate and graduate students from UTSA's School of Architecture, Construction and Planning.
The main mission of the project is to catalyze the urban renewal of the Southside, an area of the city that has suffered from mobility and income segregation as the majority of San Antonio continues to thrive. More than 350,000 people call the Southside home, but with a median household income of $36,896, residents make significantly less than Bexar County's median household income of $50,719.
“San Antonio is a fast-growing city and, as the city faces north, something is getting left out,” said Andrew Anguiano, SFEDC executive director, in a release.
“In the south, for example, you have major economic assets like Port of San Antonio and you have a neighborhood next door — Quintana — that has a household income of $25K right next to it. The question is, why are these economic assets not activating the environment?”
In order to answer this question, the project, which specifically targets the Mission San Jose and Quintana Road communities, takes a holistic approach. Students and civic leaders first gather information from residents of the target neighborhood to identify critical issues.
Then, under the guidance of Petrov, the Urban Future Lab will examine everything from housing and water access to public transit and neighborhood infrastructure. The lab says it will work with city leaders to help address these issues.
“Based on the social, cultural, economic, and political climate in San Antonio’s Southside, it seems many have accepted that mystery and assumptions inform the decisions that are made,” said Petrov. “Our hope is to begin conversations that identify solutions to improve the quality of life for Southside residents and businesses and for all of San Antonio.”