On the Border: An Environmental History of San Antonio

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The region surrounding the San Antonio River Valley and the Edwards Plateau was slow to tame. The indigenous people, the Payaya and the Tonkawa, understood how to manipulate and survive in this often harsh environment. They used fire to maintain grasslands and were in turn sustained by the large mammals who grazed there. When the first Spanish colonists arrived, they found bounty in the vast herds of buffalo thundering over the broad plains and an abundance of lumber available from the thick forests. But the Spaniards never could conquer the region, eventually relenting to the fierce native American tribes, the withering summer heat, and unpredictable, damaging storms. Over a century later, San Antonio remained a frontier outpost for Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and later the United States. It wasn’t until the mid-1880s, when rails began cutting a swath through the south Texas plains, that the city began broadening its economic reach. Twentieth century urbanization produced a new array of problems and challenges for San Antonians. Over-population, incidence of disease, and social pathology plagued the swelling metropolitan area—putting lives and the quality of life in jeopardy. Urban growth also threatened green space and historic architecture, and brought into question the distribution and availability of water. Water has always been central to life in San Antonio. Whether fending off rising flood waters or searching for precious droplets during times of drought, the denizens of the region have had a tumultuous and symbiotic relationship with water. Yet, it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that the water supply became a political issue. The city’s tap water and flood management policies cut sharply along ethnic divisions and class lines, leaving thousands without the “luxury” of indoor plumbing and, worse, without protection from flooding. Environmental conditions became a catalyst for political reform when surging waters from the swollen San Antonio River watershed ripped through the community in September, 1921, flooding the central district and killing scores. The city responded by constructing its most important public works project—the Olmos Dam—which now stands sentinel over modern San Antonio’s flourishing downtown and renowned Riverwalk. This collection examines the environmental history of San Antonio, drawing upon an interdisciplinary array of authors and insights to highlight the evolving interaction between humanity and the south Texas landscape, while striving to make us a bit more sensitive to how changes in each shaped the other. Char Miller is professor and chair of the History Department and director of Urban Studies at Trinity University in San Antonio. He is author of “Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism,” co-author of the award-winning The Greatest Good: 100 Years of Forestry in America, editor of American Forests: Nature, Culture, and Politics, and co-editor of Fluid Arguments: Five Centuries of Western Water Conflict.
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Editorial Reviews

As though to sound the number of dimensions in which the Texas city sits on some border or another, the contributors come from many disciplines<-->history, demographics, crime, art. They explore questions about the interactions of climate and geography, demographic composition and social ecology, economic forces and natural resources, and other interfaces. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822941637
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Series: Pittsburgh Hist Urban Environ Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

Urban nature : an introduction 1
1 San Antonio : an environmental crossroads on the Texas Spring Line 17
2 "A fine country with broad plains - the most beautiful in New Spain" : colonial views of land and nature 41
3 Where the buffalo roamed : ranching, agriculture, and the urban marketplace 56
4 Parks, politics, and patronage 83
5 The landscape of death : homicide as a health problem 99
6 Battlefields : the military and the environment 121
7 Empty taps, missing pipes : water policy and politics 141
8 Establishing "sole source" protection : the Edwards Aquifer and the Safe Drinking Water Act 169
9 Sitting down at the table : mediation and resolution of water conflicts 182
10 The preservation of San Antonio's built environment 199
11 Elusive balance : landscape, architecture, and the social matrix 222
City limits : an afterword 239
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