Smith Park, located at 1301 Buena Vista St., is San Antonio’s first municipal playground. It was gifted to the City of San Antonio by the San Antonio Playground Association nearly 105 years ago. This gift was made with the intention that it “be used for a playground forever,” according to a San Antonio Express-News article.
But Smith Park hasn’t lived up to that expectation. Today it sits empty with just two tables and a simple grill on a slab of pavers — no children in sight, not even a playground. It is one of the few parks without children’s recreational equipment. It is not ADA accessible and has only one trash can.
Since Smith Park was gifted to the city, the addition of parks and more than 130 playgrounds has enriched communities throughout San Antonio. During the pandemic, many have relied on outdoor spaces for recreation and reflection during a time of isolation and uncertainty. This has highlighted the importance of these community spaces and the disparities in how these spaces are maintained.
Some residents share concerns that because parks like Smith Park are located in communities identified as low-income, they are treated with less dignity than parks located in other parts of the city. It could also be that this park, being rather small, may be overlooked as a suitable space for a park. But for me as a resident of the area, it has the potential to be the perfect space to sit, relax, and enjoy a meal.
As the only park between West Commerce Street and the connection to the Apache Creek, over a mile of trail away, it seems only natural that Smith Park be one of the many community spaces refreshed and reimagined. This park sits along the Westside Creeks Restoration Project, represented by community leaders like co-chairs, Skye Curd and Robert Ramirez, Patti Radle, Charlie Mata, Gabriel Velasquez, and many more. The project’s “focus is to restore 14 miles of creekways that were channelized as part of a 1954 federal flood control project known as the San Antonio Channel Improvement Project,” and it will highlight parts of the West Side that have long been overlooked.
As a resident, neighbor, and member of the Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association, whose boundaries sit only feet away from Smith Park, I hope to see its revitalization and reinvestment. These simple spaces, while small and few, can create a whole new dynamic in an ever-changing community.
The commissioner at the time Smith Park was gifted to the city, Theo Y. Hull, “gave the principal address of the evening,” and shared that “by the gift and acceptance of this playground, San Antonio is taking first rank among the progressive cities of the country.”
Commissioner Hull was right, but we cannot continue in that tradition if parks like Smith Park are ignored while growth occurs around them. We must fulfill the requests of the generous nonprofit that gifted our city and our community this space.
Over the years, there have been dramatic shifts in the landscape of San Antonio’s core, and the Historic West Side. Many fear changes as development projects roll into the cultural zone that is the West Side of San Antonio where vibrant murals and historic structures are abundant and respected — where places like Jaime’s Place and the Basila Frocks Building are showing hope for respectable and conscientious development.
As these changes occur and this conscientious development continues, it is important that we advocate for the stewardship of our community spaces. It is important that we hold our elected officials accountable and push for more funding for parks like Smith Park and those in the surrounding area.
Now that the Biden administration has allocated an additional $2.34 million to the Westside Creeks Restoration Project, the city should invest similarly to update parks like Smith Park and others on the West Side.
We could replace the pavilion that once stood over the still-present platform, build an ADA-accessible and inclusive playground, and construct a restroom that can be used during park hours. Smith Park could be a community garden, a place for a weekend carne asada, and a neighborhood gathering place.
Now it is up to our elected officials to make room in the budget, neighborhood leaders to push for those changes, and community members to make their voices heard. Smith Park isn’t the only solution, but it is a step toward something better.