San Antonio, Texas, the state’s second-largest city—and one of the U.S.’s. As this capital of Mexican-American culture celebrates its 300th birthday, it also confronts a sizable shift in its character, economy, and ambitions. “Historically, [San Antonio is] a city that was isolated, small, and didn’t see a lot of growth,” says Ian Caine, an associate professor of architecture and director of the Center for Urban and Regional Planning Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).
Riverside County and San Bernardino County to the north form this metro area. Like many such metro areas in the Southwest, it extends far into uninhabited desert areas, in this case east through the Mojave Desert to the Nevada/Arizona border. Larger than nine U.S. states, it is often referred to as the Inland Empire. Cities in the western portion, including Riverside, San Bernardino, Ontario, and a patchwork of other communities, are developed suburbs of the Los Angeles area with a rapidly growing and increasingly self-sufficient economy.
San Antonio has instead relied on steady, unspectacular growth, with fewer booms—or busts. It’s a military town, with two major bases nearby and a growing cybersecurity industry, and the city remains a perennial tourism destination, thanks to the River Walk and Alamo. There’s a sizable oil industry because of the Eagle Ford shale, a nearby geologic formation rich in petroleum. And Interstate 35, dubbed the NAFTA Superhighway due to the amount of shipping it facilitates to and from Mexico, cuts right through the center of town.