Gil Penalosa, 8 80 Cities founder, speaks as the keynote speaker at a luncheon at the Pearl Stables during CityFest on November 8, 2018.
Urbanist Gil Penalosa speaks at a luncheon at the Pearl Stables during San Antonio CityFest on Nov. 8, 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

What if all city leaders, planners, architects, and innovators experienced the world from 95 centimeters, the average height of a 3-year-old? What if the built environment catered to the needs of older adults? How would this change the approach to the design and maintenance of public space?

How taking these factors into consideration would change the design and maintenance of public space is the topic of a workshop and panel discussion Friday featuring Toronto urbanist Gil Penalosa.

The San Antonio chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar International (WTS), a group dedicated to professional development for people in the transportation sector, also will discuss building cities and improving transportation for people “from pre-K to gray.”

“The elderly and young people are often overlooked when people talk about building cities and improving transportation,” said Jillian Harris, a WTS committee co-chair. “For this year’s workshop, we decided to focus on how to use transportation to build a vibrant city, because transportation touches every single aspect of our lives and can have a significant impact.”

Penalosa, is the founder and chair of 8 80 Cities, a Canadian nonprofit with a mission to improve sustainable mobility, parks, and public spaces to transform urban areas into cities that are great for both 8-year-olds and 80-year olds. He first came to San Antonio in November 2018 when he served as keynote speaker for the Rivard Report’s inaugural San Antonio CityFest.

“He left a very positive impression on a number of people throughout the city who want to engage [Penalosa] to help us tackle some of the most pressing problems in our urban core,” said Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard.

“One of the most pressing topics for Nirenberg and the new City Council will be how to improve transit options in San Antonio and how to make our streets safer. We are one of the worst cities in the country for fatalities and unsafe streets – that has to be addressed.”

Harris said that the goal of the workshop taking place at Friday’s annual professional development seminar is to get transportation professionals to think about public health as more than just a buzzword, and to get people talking about what health really means to a city.

“There is sometimes a tendency by professionals to get so tied to basic engineering principles and the standards we are held to that we lose the human side of the work we do,” Harris said. “Our hope is that this conversation [that includes Penalosa] will open up those blinders a little bit and add some perspective.”

Penalosa said San Antonio’s current struggle with scooter regulation might be the push the city needs to commit to safe-streets initiatives, policies that bicyclists have advocated for over the past several years.

“At a minimum, San Antonio is going to be forced to have more protected bike lanes, if even just to solve this problem,” Penalosa said. “From there, San Antonio can build on and address how it can use this new mindset to improve the lives of all its citizens through safe transportation options and public green spaces.”

Penalosa will also participate in a panel conversation hosted by the Rivard Report on Thursday at Hemisfair, where he and other panelists will discuss the importance of urban green spaces to health outcomes, and how the city can work toward a culture of safe streets for people of all ages and all methods of transportation. Also participating in the discussion are Andres Andujar, CEO of the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation, and Amanda Merck, senior research area specialist for Salud America!.

The panel conversation with the Rivard Report will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the UNAM auditorium, following a happy hour at the Yanaguana Garden promenade that begins at 5:30 p.m. Admission is free for Rivard Report members, while general admission is $10 and includes two drink tickets. The WTS workshop at the Urban Ecology Center at Hardberger Park is open to the public. Registration is $70 for individual participants, and $25 for students.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.