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By Roberto Hugo González

As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition May 2019

In the field of urban design, Pedro Ayala is a unique professional who has succeeded in acquiring a vast experience. He has a passion for preserving and revitalizing economically distressed communities. No matter how great the challenge is, his strategies will make the difference. What he does, is not an easy task, it’s a complicated process of engaging, creating and organizing people that shape and lead our cities; but for Ayala, it comes naturally.

Once a challenge is first identified, his method of transformation gets implemented by building community workshops and educational seminars. By building on local assets and investing in people, it’s possible to rebuild local economies. His background in architecture and economic determinants of urban city phenomena, and his community involvement have led him to learn more about the importance of creative economic development strategies that transform urban cores. 

Ayala believes that urban core revitalization, real estate, and policy strategies can make a city healthier and should facilitate more active lives. So, as he says it is not so much about designing a building, it’s more about how the citizens can be involved in the decision-making processes so that cities are strong and build a sense of community. 

“For a city to be active you need to have connections through streets, sidewalks, and public transportation.” He emphasized that investing in existing infrastructure and assets, cities can be more connected to where you live, work, and where you recreate.

His community involvement is impressive, Ayala, as an urban designer, believes that people should be involved in this process. Cities are very complex. “You have politics, you have zoning laws, codes, ordinances, and all of these elements determine the future of a city.” He said, “There’s a lot of trends in the country that have shown us that if we are more involved in our communities, we can make a change in how we live.” To that end he feels a sense of responsibility to his community, where he grew up, that is McAllen.

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To get involved in what he does, Ayala formed two entities, one is his consulting firm called BUILD (Building Urban & Innovative Land Development). With this company, he consults on Real Estate Development, Preservation, Civic Pride, the Importance of Revitalization, Aesthetics, Quality of Life issues and more, servicing entities from cities to economic development clients. “These are creative strategies that I’ve learned through graduate school in the University of Houston studying urban design principles, and economic development strategies.”

According to Ayala, the other entity is BUILDrgv, which is a community organization that interfaces with citizens and leaders. It is a grassroots initiative to focus on just the Rio Grande Valley. BUILDrgv was started in August of 2016, as an initiative to build awareness and education on the economic importance of historic preservation, the importance of reusing existing assets and resources. “Whether they are buildings or whether they’re cultural, so that cities can be more innovative, and not as inefficient with their resources,” he said.

“As a result of the demolition of the McAllen Civic Center, that’s when we felt that there was a gap to fill to build education and awareness about renovating, adaptive reuse or recycling of buildings.” He added, “If we can recycle plastic bottles, why can’t we recycle buildings?”

For this effort, he has promoted and celebrated seminars and workshops. “We have invited architects, urban planners, professors, artists, leaders in education, and in urban planning and design, and preservation, to create a dialog and to educate more about the subject,” he said. 

The seminars have an essential purpose, and that is to emphasize how vital historic preservation can be. “These strategies can elevate community pride and bring economic vitality through tourism. Through historic preservation, you can build an identity for a city that’s truly unique.” 

Ayala pointed out that cities are evaluated by corporations on their downtown areas, so he has had seminars, one in specific that was popular on the resurrection of the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio. This event took place in Harlingen and attracted more than one hundred people.

He said that the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio was the old Pearl Beer site that was converted to a Mixed-Use development with a five-diamond boutique hotel. They developed retail, housing, commercial space for restaurants, and entertainment; this is right next to the River Walk. “Now it’s just booming.” He said, “I brought the Valley, the preservation architect to talk about that project.”

Mayor Chris Boswell of Harlingen and members of the city commission attended; it also included visitors from Brownsville to McAllen. The topics for seminars are hot and unique; that really made the difference with the audience. The three experts Ayala invited were a preservation architect from San Antonio who worked on the Pearl Brewery, also, the architect who works for the Texas Historical Commission to talk about tax incentives, and then Ansen Seale, an artist that works with the architect; his forte is public art. 

The McAllen Chamber of Commerce was also a host for a seminar. “We had my thesis professor, architect, and writer, Rafael Longoria. He gave a one-hour lecture on the 17 strategies for Sub-Urban Change.” The seminar was also well attended, and without a doubt, these are hot topics, presented by professionals that educate the public on how to implement them.

Ayala said that there are so many cities in Texas with their own set of challenges to revitalize in a more creative way that accounts for people and not so much the car. He has plans to help educate the Rio Grande Valley communities with artistic and educational videos to post them on social media at the reach of everyone. “Workshops and seminars will continue; city leaders are the ones that would benefit from my strategies.”

He said, “We have certain topics aimed at organizational development and building a sense of community called place-making, tactical urbanism, where we use temporary testing grounds and pilot projects for example to slow down traffic, to bring people to use an unused parking space, for people to gather and to recreate. These are things that we can work on with the cities, if you’re working with city property or even a private owner, maybe it’s a vacant piece of property, etc., because ultimately cities want to prosper and serve the taxpayers.”

Ayala graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s from Texas A&M University in environmental design, and in 2002, he earned a master’s degree in architecture and urban design from the University of Houston, Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture. After having been in business for more than two decades he says, “Urban design is my passion and my preference to improve quality of life.”

A future interview with Pedro Ayala will be about roundabouts, bicycle lanes, and accessibility. 

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