Photo: Kristel A. Orta Puente /Kristel A. Orta-Puente
Chicana artist Kristel A. Orta-Puente, an activist with the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group, took this photo to show the views that would be lost with development.
Kristel A. Orta-Puente was standing near the corner of Cherry and Lamar on the city’s East Side last summer when she shot a breathtaking photograph of the historic Hays Street Bridge.
Captured at the waning moments of a summer sunset, the image shows what would be lost if a controversial apartment complex becomes reality.
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The view is a national treasure, and San Antonio’s elected leaders need to treat it that way.
Over the past several weeks, more photos have been taken from the corner of Cherry and Lamar: pictures of kids playing soccer on the big expanse beneath the bridge; people walking their dogs; couples holding hands; and social justice activists with arms stretched high in the air as if supporting the weighty structure.
That’s what they’ve long been doing: supporting the bridge, fighting for its survival and restoration and now our access to it visually.
If their intentions have been in any way unclear, activists wore their goals on T-shirts: “Cherry & Lamar,” for the view they want to preserve; “Private Hands Off Public Lands,” to remind the city that it promised to develop a park there, then betrayed them; and “Puente para la Gente,” Spanish for bridge for the people.
If the reasons why a developer would want to build near this bridge are in any way unclear, it’s the view, a sight that will be sought by an elite.
The controversy is over the privatization of views, and the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group has used various hashtags to explain where they’re coming from, including #StolenLandStolenView.
As disappointed as activists are, they’ve rallied since City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s unilateral decision last month to approve an almost 150-unit apartment complex development there.
Starting today, they’re launching a photography competition that will double as a public-awareness campaign. It’s political persuasion by photo.
The project invites you to get your picture taken in front of the Hays Street Bridge near Cherry and Lamar. Bring your family, friends, pets, teammates and walking buddies.
Be creative. Embrace the bridge. Support the bridge. Own the view.
Share your images on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tag your family and friends. Tag leaders everywhere, not just San Antonio. Tag Mayor Ron Nirenberg and members of City Council, too.
Here’s an example: Graciela Sanchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, used Orta-Puente’s photo last week to wish Nirenberg a happy birthday via Facebook.
“Ron, my gift for your birthday is the beautiful view of the Hays Street Bridge,” she wrote. “This is the view that will be lost forever with the future building of a five-story, market-rate monstrosity.”
“Don’t let development destroy one of San Antonio’s rare treasures,” she added. “Be courageous. Be wise. … Think of the future for all residents and future visitors.”
It’s a campaign that begs for an equally creative solution from city leaders to get the land back in public hands.
Orta-Puente, a Chicana artist and ethnographic photographer, admits to bouts of cynicism.
“Just in studying San Antonio history, you see this happen repeatedly,” she said of decision-making that sides with monied interests rather than public good.
She wasn’t surprised by a city manager who set aside two rulings against the development by the Historic and Design Review Commission; this while the restoration group’s lawsuit against the city is on appeal in the Texas Supreme Court.
“I was more disappointed, because I expected that people in place now, like our mayor, would stand up and not allow that,” Orta-Puente said.
When she looks through her lens, she sees exactly what’s at stake. “We’re just giving it away,” she said. “We’re just letting it go.”
On Friday, members of the restoration group were figuring out the photo competition. They’re hoping to accept pictures through about mid-May, and then figure out how to judge and mount an exhibition.
The group hopes to engage more San Antonians and encourage them to drive east, see what might disappear and, ultimately, join the effort to save that incredible view from Cherry and Lamar.
Elaine Ayala is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of her stories here. | firstname.lastname@example.org | @ElaineAyala