More shade to be thrown on downtown San Antonio streets via design competition

by Brigid CooleySeptember 16, 2020
Commerce Street and Losoya Street in downtown San Antonio. Photo taken summer 2020 during the pandemic.
Much of downtown San Antonio is exposed to the sun. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Downtown officials are seeking community input on a design competition that will result in more shade structures built in the center city.

Couching it as an equity issue, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño launched the competition to demonstrate architectural solutions for providing more shade citywide.

“We as a city should be treating everybody equitably," Treviño said. "And when I see that one neighborhood has a wonderful sidewalk system and great shade, but another neighborhood on the West Side, for example, doesn’t have either one of those, I want to put my intention on that."

The Shade Equity Design Competition is being hosted and organized by the City of San Antonio, Centro San Antonio and American Institute of Architects in San Antonio.

Design teams across Texas were invited to submit designs for structures to be built in three downtown locations: along the San Antonio River bridge on East Houston Street; the intersection of Flores and Commerce streets; and a stretch of West Market/Dolorosa spanning from The Westin Riverwalk hotel to Main Plaza, respectively.

The designs vary from smaller canopies that loom over street corners, to tunnel-like structures that span a block.

[ An online gallery of the design can be viewed here, and will be open for public feedback through Sept. 22. ]

The initial construction of the final design is budgeted for $750,000—$500,000 from the Houston Street Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) and $250,000 from Centro San Antonio. The budget will cover the project's design cost, materials and other expenses. Because the design has not yet been chosen, it is unknown how much of the budget the project will require.

The competition is the fourth of its kind since 2015. Previous competitions sought new designs for the River Walk barges and the main entrance of City Hall, which is undergoing a $38 million renovation.

Teams, whose identities are being kept anonymous, even to the selection jury, were allowed to submit designs until Sept. 10. Submissions will be judged by a jury of five city officials, licensed architects and design professionals, including City Architect Gopinath Akalkotkar and Assistant City Manager Lori Houston.

Among the jury's considerations: The structures should be freestanding, scalable, and should not impede the natural flow of pedestrians. Teams were also instructed to be cognizant of, and include, bus stops in their designs.

The competition winners will be announced this fall, although no date has been set. The winning design will then go through a request for proposal (RFP) process where multiple parties will bid to be contracted in the construction of the design.

Treviño said winners of the past design competitions have all been picked to work with the city to see the projects to completion.

“I have no reason to believe the winner of this will not follow the same path as the other three (design teams) have,” Treviño said.

Out of the 12 submissions received, three winners will be announced this fall. The first place design team will receive a prize of $10,000; the second and third place winners will receive smaller monetary prizes of $3,500 and $1,500. City residents are encouraged to provide community feedback which will be considered during the evaluation process.

In addition to providing the practical function of shade, the structures are meant to provide an artistic element to the city. Judging criteria includes elements such as aesthetics and the incorporation of cultural aspects in the design.

"Treviño always encourages us to embrace public art,” Torrey Stanley Carleton, executive director of AIA San Antonio, said in an interview, “so in a way, shade can also contribute to that experience downtown.”

Partnering with the city, Centro San Antonio has set a “moon shot” goal to shade 80% of the sidewalks downtown through a “tree first” strategy, said Matt Brown, CEO of Centro San Antonio and competition co-host. Since there is no concrete plan in place to achieve majority shade equity throughout San Antonio, the competition will serve as a first step to making it a reality, Brown said.

“The lack of shade throughout the city (is something) that I’m sure is attributed to redlining, which then would go really deep into social equity,” Brown said, referring to the 1930s practice of lenders racially discriminating against borrowers to control neighborhood demographics, during a webinar on Monday. “In part, we’re hoping that the work we’re doing downtown can eventually be spread across the city.”

Brigid Cooley is a Heron intern this fall. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Mesquite newspaper. She can be reached at, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

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