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
“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.”