Americas - Issue 85 - Magazine | Monocle

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Transformed neighbourhood

Appetite for reconstruction

San Antonio — Food and drink

When investor Christopher Goldsbury was deciding whether to buy the old Pearl Brewery, a run-down former industrial site in the centre of San Antonio, Texas, his advisers warned him against it. Fast-forward 14 years and the entrepreneur – who made his money in the food industry – has transformed the city’s neighbourhood. A $40m (€37m) project to build 124 new apartments on the Pearl site will finish next year, while a boutique hotel by Roman and Williams will open its doors in October.

The biggest transformation is the renovation of a series of derelict former brewery buildings to turn them into the city’s top gastronomic destination. As well as a campus of the US’s top cooking school, The Culinary Institute of America, there are now 15 chef-run restaurants on the site (the latest, Southerleigh, opened in April). While only a short hop from downtown, the closure of the Pearl Brewery in 2001 seemed to confirm a pattern of urban decline in this part of town, where migration to the suburbs and office closures had slowly turned a once-bustling suburb into a dead zone in the heart of the city. “It seemed abandoned, forgotten,” says Roberto Treviño, a councillor who represents the district. “It was the kind of place you did not want to be at any time of day but especially not at night.”

Treviño says the ongoing development has turned a blighted neighbourhood with a reputation for crime into a lively corridor, with the bounty spreading beyond the 9-acre perimeter of the former brewery. Some 2,000 residential units have been built in the surrounding area in the past three years, the developers say, while another 1,000 are in the works.

“It’s the whole neighbourhood that’s seeing this big food renaissance,” says Johnny Hernandez, one of San Antonio’s top chefs, whose Mexican street food restaurant La Gloria is based at the Pearl site.


Libby Schaaf

Mayor of Oakland


A former aide to state governor Jerry Brown, 49-year-old Schaaf assumed office in January, promising to lower crime and promote the Oakland brand.

How would you assess your time in office so far?
Oakland has had a lot of changes in leadership and we are just coming out of a horrible recession. A lot of my focus has been on trying to rebuild our workforce.

Where do you stand on gentrification?
It’s my dream that Oakland can develop and grow but in a way where this new prosperity is shared and also benefits our long-term residents.

How much is crime hindering Oakland’s progress?
We have seen an encouraging trend in recent years but we have to address safety very holistically. We need more police but we need them to do a better job. For me that’s community policing.

Why are you pushing a ‘Made in Oakland’ initiative?
When I talk about what makes Oakland special, I highlight our diversity, creative community, industrial flavour and progressive values. That makes us a natural place for the maker movement.

How much work is there to do in infrastructure?
One of government’s core functions is to provide infrastructure that allows for a great quality of life and a strong economy. Oakland, like many US cities, is struggling with ever-reducing funding from the state and federal governments, so we have to figure out a way to do our duty without passing on a bill to future generations.

Smart housing solution

Micro managing

New York — Architecture

New York’s inflated rental prices and lack of space are infamous but size doesn’t always have to matter according to Manhattan-based architecture studio Narchitects, which has teamed with the city government to try and find a way around the property conundrum. Because while the numbers of one and two-person households are rising, according to Narchitects principal Eric Bunge the city still has a housing stock geared towards the nuclear family.

In a bid to redress the imbalance, the firm has launched a pilot project with the city, constructing 55 micro houses that were completed in Kips Bay, Manhattan, in May. The units were granted a special dispensation as they are under the minimum size limit enshrined in the law. The goal? Prove that cleverly thought-out small living spaces – incorporating high ceilings and ample storage – can help solve NYC's housing issues.

Lessons from the region
Rio de Janeiro

The next host of the Olympic Games has both poverty and wealth and everyone is passionate about the place. Here’s why.

  1. It’s a cliché but the beach can be a truly democratic space where the ability to look good in swimwear will trump wealth – for a few hours.
  2. The migration behind high metal fencing is never a good thing, even if it is essential.
  3. Tropical modernism is a style of architecture that continues to woo.
  4. Physical exercise should be championed for all: youthful runners and senior power-walkers can benefit from sharing the same space.
  5. We should not abandon our city cores but revive them.

Bright idea to be copied

Double standards

Curitiba, Brazil — Sustainability

Often cited as Latin America’s most sustainable city, Curitiba’s green spaces, comprehensive public transit and successful recycling schemes have long made the capital of Brazil’s Paraná state a model of enlightened urban planning. Its parks along the Iguazu River double as flood plains – and leisure lakes – when the waterway bursts its banks, and the city even uses grazing sheep to keep park lawns trim.

Most impressive is the integrated bus network. A single cheap fare sees four out of five of Curitiba’s 1.8 million residents leaving the car at home, reducing congestion and air pollution. Meanwhile, poorer locals are given bus tickets in return for recycling. This encourages those in shanty areas beyond the reach of waste trucks to bring their rubbish in rather than dump it into rivers. The scheme has helped reduce landfill and improved quality of life.

Beyond making it a good place to live, Curitiba’s achievements also translate into hard numbers. Per capita income lost to traffic jams is 11 times lower than in São Paulo, while the city’s recycling saves 1,200 trees a day.

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