Integrating downtown with student life

Innovative ideas are helping to integrate student life with the established cultural influences that downtown offers.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales is advocating for “life under the bridge,” a project that plans to improve urban development by connecting study activity with downtown’s growing economy.

In order to improve existing student housing and increase the number of housing units in the downtown area, San Antonio created a public-private partnership with Peanut Lofts by selling city property for $235,000 while providing an additional Brownfield cleanup grant totaling $400,000. Peanut Lofts provided housing options for students whose courses are primarily downtown. The roughly 100-unit complex has dorm-style options with a community kitchen, a co-op and retail shops so residents can experience student living.

Councilwoman Gonzales also promotes the safety of locals and students in the surrounding area. She has proposed a pedestrian priority zone near UTSA, multimodal transport and nearby housing developments. “The idea is not for students to push a button and wait to cross,” said Gonzales, “It’s that they should be able to cross anytime at anywhere on the street.”

The plan calls for slowing down traffic and making the area safe for pedestrians to walk to campuses and restaurants, and increasing overall walkability in the area. Ideally, students will cross two lanes instead of four lanes when walking to UTSA from nearby parking lots.

Additionally, “life under the bridge” is intended to provide a sense of community by encouraging cultural awareness. Councilwoman Gonzales stressed that “it has to do with increasing pedestrian viability of the neighborhood and area.”

Suggestions to achieve this goal include having food trucks, music venues and non-profit art organizations revitalize life under the bridge. Specifically, bridges may become a canvas for artists to portray the life of downtown San Antonio.

Moreover, education reform is projected to make progressive changes that would provide students with the resources to be college ready.

District 5 contains UTSA’s Downtown Campus, Our Lady Of The Lake University and St. Phillips community college. Councilwoman Gonzales believes “it requires partnerships between the city, the schools and the universities to ensure our students are successful.”