A Top 10 Great Space almost south of the border

During the same week that Rittenhouse Square was named one of the top 10 Great Public Spaces in the country by the American Planning Association, PlanPhilly visited San Antonio, Texas and checked out its Main Plaza, which was also honored.

With a nod to the Spanish urban planning tradition, the paved open plaza in the heart of downtown San Antonio frames the San Fernando Cathedral, founded in 1731 and home to the Archdiocese’s new Cardinal and the remains of the heroes of the Alamo.

The plaza is in a sense reborn. What had been a cross shaped public space in the early 18th Century had morphed into a rather nondescript park thanks to the construction of municipal buildings and increased congestion and vehicular traffic. But in 2006 the slide into modern mediocrity was reversed as city planners started to redraw the space into a place that would reconnect people with history, the riverwalk, the cathedral and events that require a view shed.

Speaking of history, this was PlanPhilly’s favorite historic paver in the plaza (there are 30).

1745 – “The Hatchet Buried – Likewise a Horse” August 15

Captain Toribio de Urrutia and Fray Santa Ana now determined to do their best to establish a permanent and lasting peace with the Apache nation. … this was a great day for San Antonio. After thirty years of depredations, the harassed settlement was about to secure, as was thought, a lasting peace. Early in the morning the plaza began to fill with an eager throng …   First, a great hole was dug in the center of the plaza, and in this were placed a live horse, a hatchet, a lance, and six arrows, all instruments of war. Then Captain Urrutia and the four chiefs, joining hands, danced three times around the hole, the Indians afterwards doing the same with the priests and the citizens. When this ceremony was concluded, all retired to their respective places. Then, upon a given signal, all rushed to the hole and rapidly buried the live horse, together with the weapons, thus signifying the end of war …

And while we’re on the subject of the famous riverwalk, check out the Blue Hole in the photo slideshow. It is one of the primary Edwards Aquifier springs that creates the San Antonio River.

The eight other APA 2010 Great Public Spaces are: Bryant Park in New York City, NY; Charles W. Ireland Sculpture Garden in Birmingham, AL; Fountain Square in Bowling Green, KY; Emerald Necklace in Boston, MA; Ferry Building in San Francisco, CA; Campus Martius Park in Detroit, MI; Percival Landing Boardwalk and Park in Olympia, WA; and Plaza Real in Boca Raton, FL.

For more information about these public spaces, as well as lists of the 2010 APA 10 Great Neighborhoods and 10 Great Streets, and designations between 2007 and 2009, visit www.planning.org/greatplaces.

Contact the reporter at mgolas@design.upenn.edu

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