South Texas Triangle Op–Ed
1. Powerhouse potential_ Why San Antonio should care about a different Texas Triangle
Dr. Alberto Gómez
5 min read
1. Powerhouse potential_ Why San Antonio should care about a different Texas Triangle

Texas is a beacon of America’s future, a landscape of vast plains, borderlands and diverse communities.

Home to four of the nation’s 10 largest cities, a thriving economy and top educational institutions, the Lone Star State is an economic powerhouse. With a GDP of more than $2 trillion, it ranks as the world’s ninth-largest economy, second in the U.S. only to California.

Particularly, the Texas Triangle is a global mega-region that connects Dallas-Forth Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, and boasts a GDP of $1.3 trillion, which accounts for 6.3 percent of the U.S. economy.

This region enjoys a unique geography that is likely to experience the fastest economic growth in the nation over the next 30 years. It has a unique convergence of population centers, energy hubs, ports, financial institutions and manufacturing sectors — and a close relationship with Mexico. This geographic advantage is of global importance as it represents a historic opportunity for economic expansion.

Yet despite this prosperity and celebration of the Texas Triangle, San Antonio and areas such as the southern border towns and the Rio Grande Valley are often overlooked in the narrative of regional success, especially considering the region's many ties to Monterrey, Mexico. While Texas thrives on the global stage, its southern region faces challenges in keeping pace.

This southern enclave boasts a rich identity, blending Mexican and American influences, and stands out for its unique culture, landscape and linguistic diversity. In fact, it very much represents the demographic future of Texas and Northern Mexico, as urban centers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border enjoy a young population base, offering a unique opportunity for investment, workforce development and innovation in authentic place-making. 

San Antonio, a city of confluence, has long served as a pivotal element in Texas' evolution. Given its significant Latino majority and consistent economic growth, San Antonio is widely projected to be a rising figure in Texas’ unfolding narrative. Recent changes in the city reflect not only an acknowledgment of its rich history but also the potential to shape the future.

The South Triangle 

To harness this potential, we need to look beyond the Texas Triangle and turn our attention south, to a region that embodies Texas’ future in demographics, heritage, labor and geography. 

We propose envisioning a new mega-region: the South Triangle. This would connect San Antonio with Laredo, the Rio Grande Valley, Corpus Christi and the Northern Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

Keeping this in mind, it’s essential to recognize the region’s influence extends beyond Texas, reaching into Northern Mexico. Such a mega-region merges both the Texas Triangle and South Triangle into a formidable economic dynamo, with the San Antonio-Austin corridor as its heartbeat.

To make this happen, we envision creating a more cohesive and prosperous South Triangle by fostering regional awareness and facilitating the exchange of social, economic and environmental resources between San Antonio and Northern Mexico.  

The Texas Triangle is already a well-known and formidable urban cluster. However, broadening its scope to encompass the South Triangle creates a transnational hub, home to more than 35 million people. 

Such cross-border collaboration could bring new expertise and networks, establishing San Antonio and its partners as the central link to the Americas. It reframes San Antonio from a city on America’s southern fringe to one anchoring two continents, encapsulating a rich tapestry of social, cultural, economic and geographic narratives.

The idea of seeing the city as part of a global narrative was first introduced in 1968, when the HemisFair World’s Fair reconceptualized San Antonio’s location, shifting the narrative from a city on the frontier to one in the geographic center of the Americas.

Themed  “Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas,” HemisFair had the ambition to recast San Antonio as a cultural and economic focal point in the Western Hemisphere. The goal was not just to overcome the stigma associated with North-South and frontier-crossroads disparities but to use the idea of confluence to inspire optimism and courage for the city.

This was not in spite of the disparities but rather to embrace a new future shaped by the city’s unique geography, history and culture.  In fact, let's remember that in 1992, due to its key geographic role in hemispheric trade, this narrative contributed to San Antonio being chosen as the location for the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

A collective vision

This guest commentary draws on the work of the Urban Future Lab — a think-and-do research and design studio at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Past projects include the “Puro” symposium in 2016; “Digital Economy and the Future of Work in the Border States of Tamaulipas and Texas,” presented at the Second International Conference on Border Studies in 2017; the “Dimensions of Citizenship” in 2018, showcased at the Venice Biennale as a contribution to the U.S. Pavilion; the “San Antonio Southside Pilot Project”; and the “Future of the South Summit” in February 2020, days before the world went on lockdown as a result of the pandemic.

The summit was held at Confluence Park due to its symbolic location. This was not only about reminiscing about the “Confluence of the Americas” idea; the location and the spirit of this park exemplify the deeply rooted ethos of “South.”  

We invited scholars, experts and community leaders to discuss the region’s future and highlight the potential of “South” as a place of makers and the stories surrounding those makers. We reflected on the possible contributions to urban and rural development from the skills and traditions inherent to the region.

This “South” has its own unique flavor, blending Mexican and American influences. You’ll find everything from unique landscapes and food to a mix of cultures and people. It’s where you’ll notice Spanglish whether you move south or north. Our summit didn’t just focus on San Antonio’s potential; it also looked at what the entire region says about our shared values, economy and culture.

Crafting a better future

As a continuation of the "Future of the South Summit" conversations, we have compiled a series of guest commentaries, in partnership with the  Express-News Opinion team and the Better Futures Institute, to advance ideas that can help crystallize a vision for the future of the South Triangle. We’ve invited writers and experts from diverse fields to offer insights into key regional industries, including energy resilience, demographics, digital and urban infrastructure, trade, economic development, the environment  and the job market. These commentaries will run over the next two months as we hope to foster a broader conversation and spirit of collaboration about the future of this unique region.

As we navigate questions of growth, progress and innovation, we must also seek answers in our roots, labor, demographics and geography. This region in the making is of global importance, exposing new regional and global trends such as nearshoring and its impact on communities along the I-35 corridor, and the rise of the aerospace industry along the U.S.-Mexico border.

As we chart our path, we must reflect on our contributions to this evolving landscape. How are city and regional leaders collectively addressing these challenges placed in front of us?  What legacy do we wish to leave for future generations? By championing unity, creativity and innovation, we can craft a future that celebrates collective endeavors, uniting varied communities to create a better future for all. 

Antonio Petrov is an associate professor at the University of Texas San Antonio, founder of the Urban Future Lab and member of the Global Diplomacy Lab and the BMW Foundation Responsible Leadership Network. Beto Gomez is a San Antonio tech entrepreneur, Urban Future Lab guest scholar and CEO of the Better Futures Institute. David Robinson Jr. is an Urban Future Lab guest scholar and development manager at Weston Urban.

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