For the past fifty years, a precious 330-acre landscape has stood its ground against a growing and urbanizing San Antonio.
Withstanding the rigors of dairy farming and impact of new major roadways, this parcel has been overgrazed and degraded, yet maintains its rich history and potential to regenerate the wonders of the shrinking native landscape. Heritage oaks still stand tall through invasion of foreign species and thick brush; the historic grassland surface remains beneath the pioneer thickets; animal and bird species find food and shelter within its habitats; the historic Voelcker homestead still resides at its northern reach. Located within San Antonio and nestled among existing and growing neighborhoods, the site is in a unique position to thrive as an urban ecological park as it demonstrates how human enjoyment and ecological function can and must support each other.
The Park remains a precious parcel, but does not stand alone as Salado Creek forms a strong ecological and recreational ally to the east. Connecting to Salado Creek through its local hydrology and the regional greenway lends the Park an even larger presence in the City and sustains its ability to thrive.
The Voelcker site was once part of the vast native oak savanna that stretched across the San Antonio region, blanketing the landscape with grasslands, spots of oaks and oak mottes and seasonal wildflowers, offering habitat and food to native species that had adapted to its cycles. This was prime land for ranching, farming, and eventually urban development which changed the character of the landscape in dramatic ways. Fortunately, the Voelcker site has retained its potential for rich ecosystems and the creation of a new park highlights the opportunity to regenerate the mosaic of the native landscapes that once covered the City. The native regional landscape lends its clues to how the Park can become a microcosm of interwoven ecologies, supporting a richness and diversity of species within this urban setting.
The health and resilience of the San Antonio landscape at Phil Hardberger Park also takes its cues from the rich history of human settlement. Water resources and agriculture are at the foundation of the San Antonio region’s cultural history. Four centuries of shaping the land have created distinct forms in the landscape, from the missions, acequias and agricultural fields to the social traditions of San Antonio’s diverse communities, that have provided design inspiration for Phil Hardberger Park.
The concept of the Park as a cultivated wild interprets and integrates the rich cultural history of San Antonio with the diverse and resilient ecologies that are native to the region. Embedded in a region of productive modes of farming and ranching, as a cultivated wild Phil Hardberger Park reverses and expands upon the concept of what a productive landscape can be. Rather than extract and exploit resources for human use, resources are respected, restored, and renewed. Through the science of ecology and the art of design, the Park can foster rich and diverse site ecologies in conjunction with healthy and active people. The integration of human recreation and non-human ecologies impacts far beyond the physical reaches of the Park as each visitor’s awareness develops into an overall sense of environmental responsibility. The design of Phil Hardberger Park’s forms and spaces, systems and programs reflect the City’s unique ecological and cultural heritage, engendering resonance with local residents and demonstrating its distinct South Texas identity to visitors from afar.