Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What Makes a City Great?

I have recently started following the Urbanophile Blog.  Aaron Renn, an urban analyst, consultant and speaker, suggests

The true mark of a great city is in how it treats its ordinary places and things, not its special ones. Does it invest as much care, or any care for that matter, into the ordinary, workaday aspects of the city?
In San Antonio special care is taken to make sure the River Walk is pristine and well gardened, that highway entrance ways to special areas are more decorative, and that all major tourist attractions are well tended.  But how are the everyday spaces treated.

Renn chooses London to focus on because of its use of iconic vehicles, structures and even police uniforms to keep its traditional image intact.   Everyone recognizes the Double Decker red English bus and the Police or Bobby helmet.  Back in the 70s and 80s there was even a tour bus company in San Antonio that used refurbished English buses.

San Antonio has done a good job of maintaining its historic structures, many inner city neighborhoods have been or are in the process of being restored.  But what about outside in Loopland?

Wealthy neighborhoods are, of course, always well kept because the residents can afford to do so.  But let's think about what represents our city.  One thing that comes to mind that was built about 20 years ago, and has become a tourist attraction,  is the gigantic pair of cowboy boots in front of North Star Mall.
Photo from Labelscar The Retail History Blog

Limestone, Live Oak trees, Blue Bonnets and wildflowers also represent our fair city.  Mexican and German cultures are integral to our history.  And unfortunately highways, billboards and telephone poles also represent us.

So with all these aspects in mind how have we done.  Lady Bird Johnson, great lady that she was, instituted the Highway Beautification program.  Every year wildflowers are seeded in the medians and on the sides of highways so that in the spring, weather permitting, we have a wonderful display. (Sometimes it can be a bit of a road hazard because of all the cars stopped along the side of the road to take pictures.)  The city has also started seeding medians of major, non-highway roads as well.

Photo by Mark D. Roberts along IH 10

Mexican culture is represented throughout town by the Mexican restaurant.  In recent years the advent of the Taqueria as added an authentic Mexican flavor to the city.

Limestone quarried nearby has been used in many public and private buildings. 
 Photo by Sheila Moran
The Quarry Market Shopping Center is actually a converted cement plant.

German culture is mostly represented in the restored inner city neighborhoods.  The King William or Wilhelm neighborhood was built by well-to-do German merchants.

Overall, San Antonio has done a pretty good job, but there is still room for improvement.  The billboards in San Antonio are an eye sore and they are not likely to go away, but what if they each had to have some type of uniform border that represents San Antonio Culture,  maybe some taco orange paint?  I don't know, just thinking out loud.  Does anyone out there have any ideas?  Leave me a comment.

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