San Antonio River Walk

Designers: Robert H. H. Hugman | City: Austin, TX | Project Type: riverfront
Date Visited: 1.18.13

Location: 110 Broadway Street San Antonio, TX
Size: approximately 5 miles

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An inspiration to designers and engineers worldwide, the San Antonio River Walk is a public park that wears many hats: a major tourist destination that draws millions of visitors annually, effective engineered flood control, and a diverse showcase of Texan plants. Open 365 days a year, the River Walk consists of a network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River, lowered from street level. Lined by bars, shops, restaurants, and hotels, the park is not only a tourist draw, but is also a green network for connecting tourist sites, from the Alamo to Rivercenter Mall.

The origins of the River Walk comes from a disastrous flood that hit the city in September 1921. In response to the millions of dollars in damage and the many casualties, city officials hired an engineering firm to study and propose preventative measures to prevent future flooding. The firm proposed to fill in parts of the river with concrete, a plan, which though backed by city officials at that time was successfully protested by several groups, including the San Antonio Conservation Society.

In 1929, architect Robert H. H. Hugman submitted a plan to beautify the river, drawing precedents from Venice. He proposed to turn the urban river into a park lined with shops and apartments, as well as footbridges and gondola rides. The proposal was accepted and backed, and was finally completed in March 1941. It wasn’t until after 1962, however, when the San Antonio Riverwalk Commission was established and a new masterplan drawn up did the River Walk begin to evolve into the commercial success it is today. The design has also won numerous awards for its engineering feats and for the creation of an urban ecosystem supporting a number of historical markers.

Cutting curves into the city grid of San Antonio, the River Walk works beautifully at the intersection of urban design, engineering, horticulture, architecture, landscape architecture, and capitalism. I can appreciate it for these aspects, however, the area is too commercial and “Disneyland” like for my tastes–at night, lit-up Cinderella-like horse drawn pumpkin carriages even roam the streets looking for passengers who have broke off from the thick crowds seeking night life down on the River Walk.

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