When people hear I am from San Antonio they often ask if I hope the High Line becomes like the River Walk. The answer is no. The River Walk is designed for tourists, and my dream is that the High Line is first and foremost a well-loved park for New Yorkers that visitors may also enjoy.
But San Antonio now has the opportunity to be known for a wholly different kind of public space that's designed for residents, not tourists, and it makes an inspiring story.
The last, large tract of undeveloped land just a few miles from downtown's River Walk was the 311-acre Voelcker Dairy Farm. Most of the property had not been cultivated and looked like the land settlers saw when they first came to the area. Some of the trees there were standing at the time of the Battle of the Alamo -- all within the bounds of the tenth largest city in the country. Plans were in the works to sell the property for housing developments. Instead the City, at the Mayor's initiative, bought all 311 acres and set about to preserve the landscape and turn it into Voelcker Park, which will be the city's largest park.
And it keeps getting better. Them they hired the team of Steven Stimson Associates and D.I.R.T Studio to oversee the development of a master plan. D.I.R.T is led by one of my favorite landscape designers, Julie Bargmann.
Their winning competition entry is after the jump.
Julie Bargmann is one of the most crazy and wonderful landscape architects I have ever met. She's most famous for her work embracing brownfields and sites others find too damaged. I credit her as one of the saviors of the High Line (I'll tell that story another time). I underestimated San Antonio and thought they would never pick someone as unusual and brilliant as Julie. The team celebrated what is uniquely "Texan" about the site, taking design cues from the native landscape and preserving much of the existing vegetation, which includes a number of century-old oaks.
The main web site for the park is voelckerparksa.com
The community group for the park is Friends of Voelcker Park
Two other old friends of the High Line were involved in the competition. Casey Jones (who put together our first planning study, Reclaiming the High Line, with the Design Trust in 2002) and Reed Kroloff (our adviser for the 2003 High Line Ideas Competition and now Director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum) have a firm together, Jones/Kroloff, that among other things, advises people doing design competitions.
The three other firms in the competition were Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Ltd (Seattle); Olin Partnership (Philadelphia); and Overland Partners Architects (San Antonio).