Puentes De Poder: What Is Economic Development Anyway?

Replay Video: Around 75 concerned locals gathered on June 29 at the Friendship Baptist Church to discuss what Economic Development means, who it caters to and what its future in San Antonio may be.


The discussion was led by Marisol Cortes, staff member at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. Cortes was joined by panelists Rodolfo Rosales, Retired professor of political science; Maria Berriozabal, former Councilwoman and Author; Nettie Hinton, east side community activist who has supported economic development and historic preservation; and, Dylan Daney, a Unite Here! organizer.

Rosales suggested that San Antonio's City Council acquired a business-like model in the early 70's which increased the profit incentive for businesses in San Antonio. Hinton claimed that economic projects did not contribute to the wellbeing of locals on the east side. Daney shared his concerns of labor exploitation in San Antonio, and Berriozabal shared what she had learned about city council politics as a councilwoman.

DSC04413“At the end it (Economic Development) is all at the expense of the community,” said Rosales.

Economic growth measures the flow of money into an area and not necessarily the standard of living or effective income distribution of that area. San Antonio's unemployment rate currently stands at 7.6 percent, which is the national average according to U.S. Census Bureau. Despite the average rate of unemployment, jobs in the city do not provide adequate income for workers because the business models are designed to maximise profit and not to prioritize the wellbeing of workers. This happens as employers reduce expenses through contract labor and tax breaks.

Economic incentives for foreign business in the San Antonio Area led to projects such as the Alamodome and the AT&T Center. Hinton spoke about the social costs on the east side, such as traffic patterns affecting everyday life and lack of parking due to turning lanes. Local taxpaying residents have to endure these costs for the benefit of outsiders and tourists visiting these locations, Hinton said.

DSC04436Hinton asked why landfill projects are ideal for the east side as opposed to research and development projects or a Pre-K education center. She added that economic development ought to be local to increase the quality of life, and the money should circulate within the community for long-lasting positive results.

Water system services at Crescent Hills in Comal County was also an issue at the discussion. Berriozabal mentioned that the Bracken Bat Preserve will be affected. The cost of the water system installation will be subsidized by taxpayers through the San Antonio Water System (SAWS), and sewage systems pose a health hazard if constructed at a close proximity to the Edwards Aquifer. Such a project would increase economic development now, but could cost future generations with their health. (Read the Greater Edwards Aquifier Aliance report on this issue here.)

Every economic project has a group that profits and a group that faces the cost. Being aware of the consequences can help locals decide what it will be like to live in San Antonio in the future. The focus of this discussion was to empower the youth.

"We, the older ones, are here to support you," said Berriozabal.

The event was co-sponsored by Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and Martinez Street Women's Center.
Puentes De Poder will host a free screening of "My Brooklyn," a film about gentrification in New York at 7 p.m July 13 at the Esperanza Center, 922 San Pedro. Director Kelly Anderson will introduce the film and help facilitate discussion. The film has political parallels to San Antonio.

Watch the full video of the event here:

Additional footage was provided by Brian Gordon of SATX DIY. 

SATX DIY is a resource for local music and DIY tutorials.


Photos by Clayton Price.