Confluence Park Celebrates San Antonio’s Shifting Water Management Legacy

In early March, the city of San Antonio celebrated the opening of a new park. Named Confluence Park, it sits on about 3.5 acres (1.4 ha) where two major rivers meet. The park was ten years in the making, a former construction storage yard, costing about $13 million.

By using 22 huge concrete petals to gather and move rainwater, the park represents the importance of management of water usage in this south Texas city. But the park is also a sign that San Antonio is shifting its development strategy from seeing its river areas as industrial zones and more as places to develop with open space, housing, and mixed uses.

“The South Side is rising again,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg at the park opening. “The center of gravity of San Antonio is shifting ever so slightly southward.” Robert Amerman, executive director of the San Antonio River Foundation, which spearheaded the project, expressed a similar thought: “Confluence Park is here to tell the story of why this place matters. Why water and resource education matters. Why telling stories to our children matters.”

What is happening in San Antonio is happening in urban areas all over the United States. Water use and reclamation—and seeing water as an asset that spurs growth—and developers are moving to the central city because of that. In this case, an area just south of downtown that has lacked investment in recent years is now seeing an upside that few even saw ten years ago.

And what is the key to all this is that real estate developers are willing to work with the city to use water in their development more efficiently and make those investments to do so, as long as they know that the city’s water supply will be stable in the future and at a good price.

“We have come to the point where we don’t even think about saving water anymore, we just do it,” said David Adelman, the founder and principal of AREA Real Estate, one of the leading real estate developers in San Antonio. “What is interesting is even though we have an abundant water supply by most standards, we continue to lead the country in water use reduction.

“We have gone out and acquired other water resources to use, and we have set limits on that use,” Adelman continued. “Because there is a common theme here and everywhere. Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Among the big U.S. cities, San Antonio is known for a few things nationally: the famed River Walk, the perennial NBA champion Spurs, and the Alamo. Maybe even being a city where great Tejano music and fantastic comida mexicana are the norm.

But among urban planners and developers, San Antonio is also known for being close-to-the-best at something else. In the current century, when water is perceived to be as valuable as oil was in the 20th century—and cities around the globe are trying to find ways to sustain their access to and use of it at a reasonable cost—this seventh-largest U.S. city is indeed leading the way.

Learn more at URBANLAND

Kate McCartyenvironment