After the flood of October 1998, the City of San Antonio quickly enacted one of the nation’s largest buyout programs, ultimately receiving nearly $10 million to help buy out over 400 structures in the affected floodplains. By law, structures must be demolished and properties purchased under this FEMA program must remain as open space in perpetuity. They can be used as parks, wildlife refuges, camping areas, etc., but cannot be developed or sold to private individuals. Indeed, the City of San Antonio has created public spaces such as parks and trails on some of these lands. However, others remain vacant.
In the fastest growing city in the US, where land is at a premium, thinking creatively about how to use these lands can help address multiple urban challenges including food insecurity, urban heat islands, equity in access to green spaces, and climate change mitigation—alongside flood risk mitigation. The Padre Park Food Forest, soon to be created along the San Antonio River, represents a small-scale innovation that could be scaled up to other city-owned lands, such as those that were part of the buy-out program.