San Antonio speaks out about the future in SA2020 forum
City leaders asked for ideas for San Antonio's future.
And the people answered, loud and clear.
An overflow crowd filled TriPoint's Grantham Center Saturday with near-revival spirit to share their thoughts and hopes on where San Antonio will be in the next 10 years.
(Watch the video of the entire event here, or scroll down for the rest of the story.)
Mayor Julian Castro, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and outgoing General Motors CEO Ed Whitacre, a longtime San Antonio resident, were joined by community leaders, a host of city and county luminaries to launch the forum.
In the first of a six-month series of SA2020 public hearings, the dominant themes mentioned for addressing change were improved educational opportunities for both early and adult schooling, as well as cutting the city's high dropout rate. (SA2020 organizers invite you to contribute additional comments at their Website, SA2020.org.)
In comments both from within the room and through online chat during a live Webcast by NOWCastSA.com, people said they wanted a better transportation system, such as light rail and more bus routes, to reduce the city's dependency on cars.
People also focused on smart growth - attracting businesses that provide sustainable job growth, not just in the service industry, but more in professional fields.
"I would like a development plan that's small. Everyone has magic, big plans," said Justin Arecchi, owner of Justin's Ice Cream on the Riverwalk. "But look what happened to us with AT&T (which moved to Dallas in 2008, after being headquartered in San Antonio for 16 years ). We have to help small businesses. Some are small because they want to be, and we have to respect that. Start on a small scale and that will lead to bigger, homegrown development."
Another crowd favorite was maintaining and preserving San Antonio's unique cultural heritage and quality of life. This would include more green spaces - hike and bike trails, more farmers' markets and better funding for the arts.
More than 1,000 residents signed up to hear the outline for the future and to share their hopes at the forum, exceeding TriPoint's 700-person capacity. About 200 people had to be taken by shuttle bus to the nearby San Antonio Water System headquarters, where they participated in the conversation through a live Webcast produced by NOWCastSA.com, an online community news organization. According to NOWCastSA analytics, another 500 people at computers clicked on the NOWCastSA.com Webcast to watch to the event live Saturday.
In a chat screen next to the live video, people joined a spirited discussion about what they like, want to preserve or want to improve about San Antonio. The online community added more than 2,200 comments in four hours. The need to improve the city's education system and its transportation services seemed to dominate the conversation among those in the live chat.
At TriPoint, hundreds of residents and neighborhood leaders gathered at round tables in groups of eight to discuss the issues, filling out worksheets with their priorities that Castro will receive.
"Our concerns are about the quality of education, which is uneven across the city," said Randy Murdoch, who serves on three city boards, including Animal Care Services. "At San Antonio College, for example, 70 percent of students need remedial English and Math.
The idea for this project began in 1983 with then-mayor Henry Cisneros, who launched Target 90, which resulted in construction of the Alamodome and brought many biomedical companies to the city.
"At the time we had sense that we were a poor city, that we were at at dead stop," said Cisneros, who at SA2020 participated in a roundtable discussion that concluded education, better wages and transportation were on top of the list. "Target 90 succeeded," he said. "We're no longer dealing with skepticism. We have resources, momentum, confidence and experience. There's never been more interest in investing in our city and that gives us a lift."
Not all of the comments were weighty. One woman drew cheers when she said: "This is the only city in the United States where we can take off 10 days and party -- like Fiesta San Antonio!"
This article, which was co-written by Susana Hayward, was edited and updated by Charlotte-Anne Lucas.