SAN ANTONIO – Gabriel Gonzales and Natalia Tovar, with St. Timothy COPS Core Team, have helped turn Benavidez Park, which was once crime-ridden, into a thriving community space.
Gonzales said the park was used as a meeting spot for nefarious activities before the beautification.
“It was a place where hookers were hanging around, and their Johns were here doing business,” Gonzales said.
According to the duo, a splash pad was supposed to open in the spring. The opening has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tovar said the park’s beautification came after a lot of persistence and push from community members. Now, Gonzales and Tovar are starting to see families and children enjoying the space.
“I’ve noticed that North Side parks have everything, and we are striving to get the same thing that the North Side has,” Tovar said. “Just because we live here in the West Side does not mean that we can’t have the best.”
Linda Hwang is with The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit whose mission is to save land for people to enjoy. She said it’s not just how much green space low-income communities can access but how the spaces compare to higher-income neighborhoods.
“Having a patch of grass is probably better than having no grass anywhere,” Hwang said. “But we now know that it’s possible to, you know, create better high-quality parks for people in those existing spaces.”
Hwang said public parks are more than just spaces for exercise; they can help reduce crime and improve public health.
“They can be places for outdoor learning and education,” Hwang said.
“They can be great places for just bringing people together to talk about what’s happening in their space.”
Tovar and Gonzales said they’ve already seen that transition occur at their park, where churches, organizations and crime prevention meetings are taking place.
Homer Garcia III, director of the City of San Antonio Parks & Recreation Division, saic parks are used by everyone regardless of income or background.
“It’s kind of that equalizer. It belongs to everybody,” Garcia said. “So when we look at parks and in low-income communities, you know, we have a lot of parks that are directly in those areas of town that we believe need access to recreation and amenities the most.”
Here’s a look at how many parks there are in each district:
- District 1: 50
- District 2: 47
- District 3: 27
- District 4: 23
- District 5: 29
- District 6: 17
- District 7: 24
- District 8: 19
- District 9: 11
- District 10: 17
The city also has school parks that have been opened to be used by the communities around those campuses:
- District 1: 4
- District 2: 4
- District 3: 3
- District 4: 4
- District 5: 3
- District 6: 2
- District 7: 2
- District 8: 2
- District 9: 3
- District 10: 3
In 2017, San Antonio taxpayers approved more than $187 million in bond funding for 79 parks, recreation and open space improvements. Garcia said 50 projects involved parks, 36 are currently under construction and about two dozen have already been completed.
Garcia said while equitable park access is a priority for the city, it’s vital that the community be involved in speaking up about the amenities and programs they want to see in their nearest parks.
“Our park system is for everybody, not just a single demographic or single population in San Antonio,” Garcia said. “And because it’s for everybody, we need to make sure that we’re listening to everybody in those investments to help shape the vision for what we want to see.”