Archive | February 2015

Walking on SoFlo: A Photo Journal

Outside of San Antonio’s immediate downtown, few corridors have the potential to be a great street the way South Flores does. For those unfamiliar, SoFlo is a 4-laner that runs north-south, sitting halfway between Interstate 10/35 and the San Antonio River.

Today, South Flores is a hodgepodge of buildings and uses, and its pedestrian environment is just as varied. Along the 1-mile walk between my office and the VIA Express bus stop downtown, there’s a collection of loft apartment buildings, light industry, law offices, a child care center, a Crossfit gym, a parking garage for the County Courthouse, several surface parking lots, and numerous vacant properties. It is also home to the HEB headquarters, where there will soon be the city’s first true downtown grocery store in a long time (Hooray!).

My walk started at a skewed 5-way intersection, where nearly all the corner buildings are vacant. The exception is a local tire shop whose adjacent converted trailer spews a burnt-rubber-smelling smoke at various points throughout the day. Healthy, I’m sure. A friend says it reminds him of Breaking Bad. Anyway, heading north from the suspected meth lab (kidding!), I approached a set of railroad tracks with what has to be one of the worst bus stop locations I’ve ever experienced:
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Thankfully, the rest of my walk wasn’t as bad as the photo above, but as you’ll see in the following photos, this stretch of SoFlo ranges from inhospitable to acceptable.
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See that sign pointing to North Spur 536? There’s a pedestrian crossing signal behind it.
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I’m not sure what the story is with this sidewalk sandwiched between a car prison and a sandy beach.
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All but one of the retail spaces at 1010 South Flores remain vacant, despite being complete for more than a year.
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While dirt covering sidewalk curb ramps is common in San Antonio, this is definitely the worst example of erosion I’ve seen.
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One of several vacant buildings for sale or lease along South Flores.
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Beautiful buildings like this one tend to get lost among the clutter of surface parking lots and other nondescript commercial structures.
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I’m not sure what this place is, but watch for cars backing directly over the sidewalk. This is definitely unsafe.
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I’m told there are politics involved in the existence of this brand new separated bike way. But I’ll take it. My only question, though, is why weren’t these switched so that bikes would be on the right?
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I have so many questions about the design of this corner. For starters, why are the truncated domes (those bumpy things at the ramps) different colors?
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I believe these sharrows were just recently installed on South Flores, just north of Cesar Chavez Street.
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It’s not until after you cross north of Cesar Chavez Street that you find your first recycling bin. Notice more vacant retail space, seemingly managed by the same group who manages the commercial space at 1010 South Flores.
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Here’s where we enter paid parking territory. In reality, there’s much more space for cars along this stretch than there is for people.
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In fact, this whole block is dedicated to parking.
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If we adapted this corner to be more hospitable to humans, this could be a pretty cool destination.
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One of the first diagonal crosswalks I’ve seen, and it is well used. Unfortunately, that is because people are heading from the courthouse to their cars.
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More great architecture that is lost behind decades of blank-walled buildings. I’m not even gonna talk about that sign.
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BCycle is just one of the great amenities gracing greater downtown. February temps in the 70s mean the system is well used.
Even though South Flores doesn’t make for the best walking experience in San Antonio, it still beats sitting in that awful traffic on I-10. Even if the bus eventually drops me off here:
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Geography of the Generational Divide

I believe it has been pretty well documented, up to this point, the negative effects of both racial and income segregation in our cities. And, of course, those negative effects tend to be magnified when majority middle- and upper-income white neighborhoods are starkly divided from lower-income minority neighborhoods. But what about neighborhoods that are divided on the basis of age?

As I was looking through some data here in San Antonio, I realized that not only are we segregated on the basis of race and income—in fact, we hold the distinction of being the most income segregated large city in the nation—we’re also pretty segregated by generation.

AgeSegregationOlder

Take a look at this first map above. Areas in the light green are those whose majority population are Baby Boomers or older (ages 50 and above, as of 2013). Areas in the darker green are those whose 50-plus population outnumbers Millennials (ages 18 to 34) by a ratio of 2 to 1. This greater share of Boomers and older adults is concentrated in wealthier suburban enclaves, such as Shavano Park, Castle Hills, Olmos Park, Terrell Hills, Alamo Heights, and Cross Mountain/Dominion. They also hold a majority in urban neighborhoods including downtown, Tobin Hill, and Southtown/King William. Interestingly, most of the region’s highest-ranked corridors in the state for traffic congestion are in majority Boomer areas—I-35 between Fort Sam Houston and Loop 1604, Loop 410 between I-10 and US-281, US-281 in the Stone Oak area, and Bandera Road on the Far West side.

AgeSegregationYounger

This next map shows San Antonio’s younger adult population, with areas in the lighter blue indicating a majority Millennial population. Areas in the darker blue show where Millennials outnumber the 50-plus group by 2-to-1. Not surprisingly, some of the largest gatherings of Millennials can be found on our military bases and around college campuses. Other Millennial locales include the Pearl Brewery/Museum Reach area, Mahncke Park, Medical Center, Brooks City-Base, and the Westover Hills area. Another important note is that most majority Millennial areas are found inside Loop 1604, whereas Baby Boomers and older adults are found in greater shares in the periphery. This tends to jive with data that indicates a preference for younger adults to live closer to the city center.

AgeSegregationGenX

Generation X, consisting of adults between the ages of 35 and 49, don’t make up a huge chunk of San Antonio’s population overall. But, it is interesting to see in the map above where Gen X-ers predominate. The late-30s and 40-somethings are most concentrated on the Far West side and in the Far North Central area most referred to as Stone Oak. A good portion of these majority-X areas fall outside the city limits for San Antonio.

What do we make of all of this?

It seems that we’re at a bit of a crossroads in terms of neighborhood preferences and realities. Those in the 35-to-65 age bracket have been moving increasingly outward into the periphery, bringing with them a blend of circumstances that are only growing the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Younger adults are arriving into previously disinvested neighborhoods, saddled with debt and fueling its own brand of resentment among long-time residents.  In between them are the oldest adults, stuck with the original suburbia: homes that, 60 years later, lack the high-end finishes and square footage expected by the Gen X-ers or the conveniences and quality schools expected by Millennials.

There are social consequences to age segregation as well. Lack of interaction between older and younger adults tends to breed distrust toward the other, allowing media outlets to reinforce negative stereotypes about each other’s generations. Children also lose out when they only socialize with other kids, as they fail to develop the skills necessary to navigate a world run by adults, or gain hands-on skills that are quickly disappearing from our workforce. In turn, adults treat children as fully-dependent, untrustworthy beings, incapable of playing outside or using public transit without constant supervision.

While not a silver bullet, adapting our built environment is a key piece to our ending segregation (in all its forms). In some cases, it will require developers to make wholesale purchases of deteriorating homes and modernizing them to meet the needs of today’s households. It requires easing zoning and lending restrictions on densifying our existing neighborhoods—allowing residents to build a small, second home on their property or converting existing houses to better accommodate nontraditional households (e.g. roommates). It requires thoughtful innovation about how transit can be more effective at getting residents around our city. It requires standing up to the ‘I-was-here-first’ cries of homeowners in central neighborhoods who believe their property rights extend beyond their fence. It requires honest evaluation of how we meet the housing needs of a changing American demographic—one that is fast rendering the typical suburban subdivision obsolete. It especially requires that we look at how we have gerrymandered school boundaries to keep poor kids out of wealthier schools.