San Antonio’s continuing growth places increasing importance on the quality and availability of area healthcare facilities, and no single institution is poised to fulfill this growing need better than the South Texas Medical Center (STMC). A truly vital healthcare resource for greater San Antonio, the STMC is a campus of approximately 900 acres with more than 40 medically related treatment, education and research facilities that accommodates more than 5 million annual outpatient visitors. While for many years healthcare facilities were frequently seen as austere environments of necessity — places people hope to avoid and, when required to visit, leave post haste — the paradigm of sterile, uncomforting healthcare facilities has been eschewed by progressive municipal leaders and healthcare design professionals for a more patient-centered approach. Moreover, healthcare environments have for many years been located largely in suburban locations and not designed for the pedestrian experience, which too is being rethought by designers and planners.
Indeed, today’s leading healthcare environments are more often being designed with the patient experience in mind and the larger built environment ― the public urban realm ― viewed as an integral component of a vibrant daily setting. The STMC is currently undergoing a significant transformation to align with this mindset. In 1998, the Medical Center Alliance (MCA) was formed to address and improve traffic and congestion problems caused by growth at the STMC. More recent efforts, as part of an initiative known as STMC Enliven, are poised to significantly enhance the STMC ― while preserving the campus’ existing open spaces that have value and inherent opportunities ― in a way that creates an urban hub of activity, catalyzes mixed-use growth and makes the overall patient experience much less stressful. This ongoing effort is a partnership between the MCA, San Antonio Medical Foundation and landscape architecture firm TBG Partners.
STMC Enliven identifies a series of improvements for the short-, medium- and long-term future of the campus and began with an in-depth planning process to update a master plan originally created in 2000. This planning effort united STMC member institutions, governmental agencies, neighbors and planning team facilitators and included interviews, an on-site design workshop and a presentation of final design recommendations. The overall effort is rooted in six guiding principles: enhance the existing brand through integrated signage and wayfinding systems; focus on the campus core for pedestrian connectivity and activity; reduce conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles through streetscape refinements and enhancements; expand STMC employee offerings through the addition of a mixed-use gateway village; define site planning parameters for the integration of a high-end research park; and refocus planning and design emphasis upon expansion of vehicular to include human scale. The first project to become a built reality from this master plan effort is a redevelopment of Wurzbach Road, a primary urban arterial through the STMC that runs in a northeast-to-southwest orientation. This effort focuses on one of the campus’ primary corridors and emphasizes safety and enhancing the pedestrian experience. The redesign introduces a 2-foot-wide buffer strip between the curb and sidewalk and widens those existing sidewalks from either 4 or 6 feet in width to 8 feet. The design preserves existing trees to the fullest extent possible to provide shade and character for the pedestrian experience, and the project is expected to be completed by the end of summer.
This street redevelopment will be followed by a transformation of Floyd Curl Drive, another prominent thoroughfare that intersects with Wurzbach and travels from northwest to southeast. A less developed roadway, Floyd Curl Drive has been reconceived as a green street, with the sidewalk set back even farther from fast-moving automobile traffic. The design will provide a meandering 8-foot-wide sidewalk separated from the street by a two-way separated bike lane traveling the length of Floyd Curl Drive. This project’s design will commence in late 2015 and, once the infrastructure is in place, will allow nurses and doctors — many of whom live within 2 miles of the campus — to conveniently walk or bike to work in a safer, more engaging pedestrian- and cyclist-oriented environment. These initial projects will showcase the tremendous potential for transforming the overall STMC campus in an exceptional and enduring manner. The overall Enliven STMC endeavor is a progressive effort that will help bring the STMC to the forefront of large urban medical centers and create a hub of pedestrian-oriented activity. The STMC already plays a vital role in the health and wellness of the San Antonio community, in addition to facilitating many pertinent research and educational functions, but this effort identifies many opportunities to enhance this mixed-use environment and promote long-term growth with a purpose.