Officials from the City of San Antonio’s Parks and Recreation Department and from local nature-focused organizations gathered at the San Antonio Japanese Tea Gardens Saturday to connect with community members and discuss how to make San Antonio parks more equitable.
“I think equity is – number one – is access for all,” said keynote speaker Brandon Logan, CEO and founder of Urban Capital Partners and a San Antonio Parks Foundation board member.
Parks are places people can come together no matter their race, age, or socioeconomic background, and making sure all residents live within walking distance of a City park is just one step in making local parks and green spaces more accessible, Logan added.
Equitable access to parks also means helping connect people to their local parks through better and more frequent programming, said Director of Parks and Recreation Homer Garcia. The parks department works to offer after-school programs in areas of low socioeconomic standing for this reason, he said.
The parks department is currently going through an equity assessment and will then work with the Office of Equity to create an equity action plan. That assessment will likely wrap up in the fall, Garcia said.
Saturday’s five-hour event included several panel discussions with City Parks staff, nonprofit leaders, and community members, as well as booths where visitors could interact with local organizations and learn more about each.
Organizations present included Latino Outdoors and Black Outside, both of which work with communities of color to help underserved areas of San Antonio connect to nature and outdoor programming.
Equity doesn’t just mean equal access, but feeling equally welcome, Black Outside Executive Director Angelica Holmes said.
Holmes said she’s personally seen the way neighborhood parks in Black communities within San Antonio have been over policed. Last summer when Black Outside was hosting a day camp for local children, Holmes recalled the way a patrol car did laps around the park watching her and the children play in Martin Luther King Park.
“It felt very threatening to me that there was just a constant patrol car,” she said. “No, ‘Hey how are y’all doing?’ It wasn’t community policing. It was more so, ‘Don’t step out of line or else,’ that was the feeling that I got.”
Garcia said he hopes no one has to experience moments they feel unwelcome inside a San Antonio park and that when Holmes and Black Outdoors visit local parks in the future they don’t experience similar instances.
Since the pandemic began, Latino Outdoors Program Coordinator Josie Gutiérrez, said she’s really seen communities awaken and seen more efforts to better City parks, something she sees as very positive.
“We’re seeing more families out there, more kids go outside to play basketball at the park, and I haven’t seen that in a while,” she said.
Now is the time to keep that pro-parks energy going in all San Antonio communities, she said.
The parks department wants to make all the parks across the City desirable to visit, Garcia said. He explained that City staff has been using the funds from the 2017 bond to try to achieve this goal and that funds from a 2022 bond will hopefully continue the effort.
“[We get asked], ‘Well, why does my local park not look like that park on the other side of town?’ … that’s what we are trying to address through the bond,” Garcia said. “I get that we have a finite budget, but we just need to do a better job from a design perspective.”
Following Logan’s keynote, Assistant City Manager David McCary said the City is working with different local organizations and foundations to make sure the funding is in place to better San Antonio’s parks.
“You can have a dream, you can have the desire to do a lot of things, but it’s critical that we support that through the funding that our taxpayers entrust us in doing,” McCary said.
Getting the opinions of community members on what they would like to see in their parks is a vital part of making parks more equitable, said Margaret Lamar, executive director of the Cibolo Center for Conservation.
“You need to ask what the community actually needs and wants,” Lamar, said. “I think that [community] partnerships, and listening … that is where we need to start.”