When San Antonio eventually emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, three local entities want the city to be a healthier, more walkable, and shadier place.

Centro San Antonio, the American Institute of Architects San Antonio, and the office of Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) have teamed up for the Shade Equity design competition, an effort to bring more shade structures to walkways throughout the city.

The competition drew 12 entrants, and one of the architects soon will win the top prize of $10,000.

The description for a Monday webinar to introduce the project to the public begins, “Everyone needs and deserves access to shade.”

Treviño emphasized the point during the presentation, where the councilman was joined by Centro San Antonio CEO Matt Brown and Jay Louden, past president of the American Institute of Architects San Antonio.

Treviño, whose district includes the downtown area, noted that wealthier, outlying neighborhoods tend to have the benefit of tree-lined streets and an abundance of shade, while less wealthy areas – the West Side in particular – bear the brunt of San Antonio’s hot sunlight.

“What we can do as a city is say, look, we should be treating everybody equitably,” he said.

Brown agreed in his closing remarks, saying that as San Antonio emerges from the “Decade of Downtown” promoted by then-Mayor Julián Castro, the next decade should focus on the East Side, South Side, and West Side.

While the Shade Equity idea runs close to another item high on Treviño’s agenda, that of sidewalks throughout the city, Louden characterized the project as one facet of a holistic approach to supporting public health initiatives.

“Shade is an essential component of public health, particularly in a city like ours, where summer drives how we adapt to place,” Lowden said in introducing the webinar. After a summer of record-breaking heat, he noted predictions that show a daily average rise of 2 to 3 degrees by year 2050 and that shade will only become a more pressing need.

Brown described creating more shade areas as a “triple bottom line” benefit to “people, places, and profits,” by encouraging people to be more active downtown visiting businesses, and for business to save money on air conditioning costs with the benefit of sun blocking structures.

Trees are the obvious solution to creating shade, Louden said, but shade structures are important for areas that cannot easily support new trees. One design incorporates trees, in planters that can be placed and moved as needed, but most of the 12 designs entered into the competition focus on elaborate structures such as overhangs, canopies similar to covered bus stops, arbors that overhang sidewalks, and a two-block-long portico that adjusts in size and amount of sunlight blocking.

Entrants were given three downtown locations for their shading solution designs: Market and Dolorosa streets from Navarro Street to Main Plaza, Flores Street at Commerce Street, and the river bridge on Houston Street, with one design proposing turning the bridge into a pedestrian plaza covered by an extravagant kiosk.

The public is invited to view and rate the competition designs through Sept. 22, input that will be considered in the final determination of which projects advance. Entrants are kept anonymous to avoid influencing judgment on their projects.

The competition winner will receive a $10,000 prize. The runner-up will be awarded $3,500, and third place will receive $1,000.

The winner will have no guarantee that their idea will ever be realized, as the project is still notional, Brown emphasized. If implemented after future review by City Council, the eventual project would be budgeted at $750,000.

Brown said Centro has raised $250,000 for the project, and $500,000 has been raised through the Houston Street TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone). He said the hope is to break ground on a pilot project “in the next 12 months or so” but that the competition is just the first step in what will be a long process of realization.

“There is no long-term plan figured out yet,” Brown said.

Explaining the need for a concerted effort to provide shade infrastructure, Treviño noted similar efforts already undertaken by other cities to combat increasing heat. In San Antonio, he said, “we’re closer to the equator than Cairo, Egypt. And so the intensity of the sun here is tremendous.”

Disclosure: Centro San Antonio and the American Institute of Architects San Antonio are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...