Urban design studio aids
unique coastal Texas town

Students develop strategic plan aimed
at revitalizing Palacios, Texas environs


Seeking ways to diversify and rejuvenate their weakening economy, the citizens and city fathers of the small coastal town of Palacios, Texas recently enlisted the assistance of a Texas A&M urban design studio. The resulting semester-long partnership yielded a detailed action plan aimed at transforming the quiet fishing village into a garden spot, a livable city to be enjoyed by residents and tourist alike.

The collaborative urban design studio, led by Michael Neuman, a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, incorporated the talents of students from Texas A&M's urban planning, landscape architecture, recreation, parks and tourism sciences (RPTS) programs. Their objective, Neuman said, was to assess the community's tourism potential and devise an urban design plan for making Palacios a more beautiful, pedestrian-friendly and economically active town.

To facilitate the students’ efforts and demonstrate their appreciation to the Texas A&M College of Architecture, the city provided $15,000 to cover expenses and donated another $30,000 to establish the City of Palacios Endowed Scholarship for the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning.

The studio’s comprehensive effort required resident surveys and site analyses examining population demographics, soils, hurricane risk reports and transportation evaluations including accident reports and parking availability.

Palacios residents and city administrators assisted the students in all phases of the research and stayed in constant communications with the studio.

“Besides doing the planning and designing, our students got to interact in a very democratic environment with a great client,” Neuman said. “We have students in the program that are from all kinds of governmental societies. They got to experience local, grass roots democracy first hand. The effect of this project on these students’ lives is incalculable.”

Over the course of the project, Neuman said, eight Palacios residents visited the A&M campus to review the student’s progress, and 29 different people from A&M spent a total of 140 days in Palacios.

“We estimate that 150 residents were involved in the plan and 1,350 completed our surveys.” Neuman stated. “Not bad for a town of 1,700 households.”

The students’ site analysis was presented in Palacios last February to an enthusiastic crowd of residents and city leaders.

The research found that the shrimp-dependent city’s economic decline was largely precipitated by increasing fuel costs and decreasing shrimp sales, the professor explained. Though the city council had been searching for ways to diversify their economy and thwart the impact of the declining shrimp industry, they lacked a comprehensive plan for achieving this goal. In the next phase of the project, the students developed such a plan.

Presented at the end of the spring 2003 semester, the redevelopment plan outlined improvements for the city’s waterfront, its downtown area and the main corridors linking these areas together. Ideas included constructing a bike and hike trail to connect the entire town, relocating city hall and building a new hotel. The students also redesigned the highway bypass, adding a landscaped-center median to make the road safer to travelers.

“The big idea we leave you with,” Neuman told those gathered for last May’s final presentation, “is that any investment in the quality of your public spaces will be returned many times over to residents, businesses, visitors, the city itself, and most importantly, to your youth.”

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