More people are now living in cities than ever before, and former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros explains ways in which to capitalize on this urban renaissance in his new book, “Urban Real Estate Investment: A New Era of Opportunity.”
His book, published by The Urban Land Institute analyzes major U.S. cities according to their potential for economic growth.
Cisneros used data to group major cities into four broad categories – consensus strongest, mixed rankings with strong measures, mixed rankings with weak measures, and consensus weakest.
The strongest cities, including San Antonio, Austin, Denver, and Portland, are globally competitive and rely on advanced industries and technology-based innovation. Those cities in the mixed rankings – Baltimore, Phoenix, and Los Angeles – include such factors as neighborhood redevelopment, strong anchor institutions, or status as a state capital. The weakest cities – Detroit, St. Louis, and Providence – are associated with legacy industries and lack economic diversity.
Cisneros said there are five major categories impacting cities – technology, the new economy, demography, design and architectural development, and financial architecture. According to Cisneros, cities mainly use technology for sustainability and consumer ease. He said with the use of technology, smart buildings that serve people can be created.
“An example is to call on your way home and have your air conditioner turned on, then, instead of having it turned on throughout the course of the day,” he said.
Cisneros said cities should modernize urban infrastructure, such as embedding sensors that can route traffic to ease congested roads.
Historically, when businesses and other institutions have been shut down, cities have struggled to repurpose the property and talent. In San Antonio, the defunct School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base is about to become the University of the Incarnate Word’s (UIW) medical school. UIW is acting as an anchor institution propelling Brooks Air Force base forward.
“(The medical school) is an anchor potential in an area of the city, Southside San Antonio, that is going to change not only Brooks itself, as some of the adjacent land is changed into housing, but it will change the Southside. The very character of the Southside itself,” he said.
As the population diversifies, cities will have to learn how to recognize how they can adapt to changing demographics. Minority populations are growing. He said next year, for the first time in American history, the majority of students entering school will be minority.
“Cities need to have a mix of housing types and housing prices, and deal with that in positive ways,” he said.
In regards to design and architectural development, Cisneros said cities need to make walkability a reality.
“Somebody told me the other day that they counted 15 construction cranes in downtown Austin, and many of them were residential high rises, right in the heart of the city, creating a new sense of walkability,” he said.
He said San Antonio needs to think seriously about the future of mass transit. As of now, most people think of VIA Metropolitan Transit as transportation for poor workers, but average San Antonians should think about the integral nature of mass transit in the larger system.
The changing skylines of cities are nothing new, but cities are starting to contemplate the various effects of new construction upon existing structures. San Antonio’s downtown “Red Enchilada” San Antonio Public Library serves as an architectural statement, which “suggests the limitless potential of the human spirit and which evokes a sense of reflection and appreciation,” Cisneros stated in his book. Cities should incorporate good design for the creation of all kinds of buildings.
“There is a lot of creativity and a lot of energy in thoughtful design, walkability, public spaces, all of which are fueling this sense of excitement of what’s happening in the cities,” he said.
Cisneros said it’s a great time to be involved in real estate and real estate investment in San Antonio.
“San Antonio is in many ways, the ideal place for the concepts emerging, worldwide and across the country. Because of the River Walk, because of the penchant geared toward public-private investment, because of entrepreneurs like Kit Goldsbury who made (the Pearl) possible,” he said. “We really are ahead of the curve.”
*Featured/top image: Henry Cisneros spoke about his new book at a luncheon at the Pearl Stable on Wednesday. Photo by Joan Vinson.