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RUDAT Outlines Boerne’s Options As Growing Town Charts its Future A five-day charrette in June led by an AIA Regional & Urban Design Assistance Team (RUDAT) highlighted the challenges facing this Hill Country town 25 minutes north of San Antonio. RUDAT personnel drew upon the knowledge and aspirations of a wide range of local citizens to formulate its assessment that is being produced as a report for the City of Boerne. As one observer remarked, “The city was alive and united for the week of RUDAT. So now we hope to keep that excitement up throughout implementation.” During its five days in Boerne, the RUDAT members studied how to create a vision for the community’s future. Their work was supplemented by a large amount of public participation through questionnaires, public meetings, open-mikes, and group discussions. Knowing that successful urban design can enhance the quality of life for those who live, work, and play in the area, the Boerne RUDAT was requested from the AIA by Paul Barwick, ASLA, senior planner for the City of Boerne. Barwick asked the team to provide ideas and solutions to a wide range of concerns in Boerne’s “three Cs”—Cibolo Creek, the central business district, and the civic campus (a tract of land to develop the new library, city hall, and other municipal facilities). A preliminary report, which is now being finalized for city officials, includes a section dedicated to “Civic Health.” While ideas of regenerative design, community image, historic preservation, and downtown densification have piqued the interest and generated excitement within the community, it was that issue of “civic health” that began to address the fragmented, sprawling, and divided aspects of the community and its surrounding areas. In addressing that issue, Joel Mills, who as director of the AIA Center for Communities by Design participated in the RUDAT, pointed out that Boerne lacked gathering spaces – or, as he called them, “third places” – that can bridge social and cultural gaps within a community. For example, he suggested that the town’s Germanic culture may have led to a rather staid-minded community that only grudgingly accepts change and growth. The result, he said, is both a fragmented social network and the city’s sprawling physical layout. “Compare it to a large city like Austin and you might notice the lack of interactive spaces, such

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To celebrate the regional character of Boerne, the RUDAT charrette developed a plan for creating four “gateways” along Interstate 10 with cooperation from the highway department. Monumental artwork and landscaping would mark the entrances to Boerne and attract motorists traveling through the Hill Country.

as coffee shops, music venues, bistros, or small parks,” Mills said. “For people who move into a new area, these spaces are often the most vital in establishing a sense of home and acceptance. These creative, social, and entertainment venues allow for people to come together in a non-partisan and communal way.” Another section of the report-in-progress is called “Image of the City” and draws upon recommendations by RUDAT member James Abell, FAIA, who suggests the city create pocket parks, or small recreational areas along Main Street or at other strategic points, that will provide activities for area youth who are currently at a loss for places to gather. Another section in the report is titled “Forward Together,” in which Joel Mills proposes an alliance between social groups that would provide an outlet for people to socialize outside of political gatherings. The face-to-face meetings during the RUDAT’s five-day visit were especially refresh-

ing in an era when “virtual communities” such as MySpace and Facebook seem to have changed our sense of social interaction. Particularly helpful was the opportunity to have actual conversations and make personal connections with professionals and peers in both San Antonio and Austin. For example, John Nyfeler, FAIA, (who chaired the Austin RUDAT in 1991) and Bill Brice of the Downtown Austin Alliance provided Boerne leaders with a wealth of coaching for the initial design assistance phase and future implementation. Nyfeler counseled patience, as cities take decades to evolve, stating, “There is no time limit for these visions.” He suggested that the overall vision needs to be accepted and embraced by the community for the plan to become the groundwork for development in the years to come. B e n

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The writer was co-chair, along with Paula Hayward, for the Boerne RUDAT.

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