It’s a wrap, well not quite
Today was the last public forum for SA2020, Mayor Julian Castro’s long-range planning exercise to help shape the future of San Antonio. About 1,000 people gathered at the TriPoint YMCA this morning, giving up a Saturday morning to help finish the process. During the past four months over 4,000 people have come to various public venues to define a vision, establish measures and map out a path to helping San Antonio build a brighter future. Today was about commitment and identifying who could help implement that vision as the process moves deeper into the community. So what did we experience over the past four months?
I can speak best from my own personal experience and what I saw happening firsthand at each of the sessions. During that first session where I sat with a bunch of bright young students to today when one of those students impressed the crowd it has truly been an amazing experience. I’ve met a lot of people and come to find out San Antonio is a can-do city with a lot of drive and determination. Everyone participating really wants to see our city achieve greatness.
In September an overflow crowd came together to start the process, not really knowing how this would play out. Several were skeptical, remembering other times when they were asked an opinion only to be pushed aside by selfish agendas. This process seemed to offer promise. After all, how can you ignore the voices of capacity crowds who made their voices heard?
I sat at the Student table with Dr. Dennis Ahlberg, the new president of Trinity University, who would serve as the table’s facilitator. Two young men, Mark Vargas and Drew Schaffer, would become a part of my SA2020 experience and show me how much hope we can have in our youth today. Dr. Ahlberg helped this table of future leaders craft what they wanted to see San Antonio look like.
During the sessions people gave input about a city that should value its heritage but encourage new development and entrepreneurship. San Antonio, as many stated, is more about neighborhoods and small communities than urban sprawl and loss of identity. It has a strong arts community that was well represented and offered promise for new economies in areas such as digital entertainment and creative content.
Transportation definitely was on everyone’s mind, with many ideas focused on how to attempt to curb urban sprawl. Couple that with an environmental view and a desire for clean energy and you could see those that participated wanted to see the 7th largest city in the nation become more responsible in managing its resources.
Education is always a standard bearing issue at these type of forums and SA2020 was no exception. Many spoke about the need to consolidate the 15 or so school districts into one or two, address continued funding challenges and work towards better usage of educational resources. As stated in the vision, “This city is propelled forward by an integrated education system where students succeed, parents and teachers are engaged, the community is involved from classroom to governance, and learning is a lifelong process to prepare for meaningful employment.”
Today participants were asked to tell a story of what San Antonio looked like in the year 2020. Everyone wrote their stories with many of them echoing the words of the prior sessions. I especially loved one where the storyteller talked about better streets and sidewalks, improved public safety, and walkable neighborhoods so residents would walk more and improve their health and fitness. Pretty good combination of aspirational goals, in my opinion.
But I really have to share the highlight of the day for me. As I was preparing to spend the morning pushing updates to social media for SA2020, Drew came and sat beside me. I’ve seen he and Mark at every single session since this started. It was great to reconnect with this bright young man and hear how he has enjoyed this experience. I couldn’t engage more due to the social media thing but I could tell he was a part of the conversation at the table.
When the facilitator started pulling together some storytellers to relate their stories, I told Drew he should get up and read his. Drew’s a shy young man but has a lot of great ideas. He’s very much engaged in environmental issues and it was great to see him at the second sessions sitting at the table next to Bill Sinkin. You could call them bookends of San Antonio’s environmental journey; the leader of the solar journey and the next generation ready to complete that journey.
Drew was hesitant to read his thoughts before such a large crowd. After I read what he had written I knew the crowd needed to hear his ideas and convinced him to get to the front. Drew put together a truly coherent vision for San Antonio, capturing many of the ideas of the past four months. When he finished the crowd applauded enthusiastically, realizing he was representative of a brighter future in San Antonio.
One great aspect of the sessions was how civil and respectful everyone was to each other. People talked as neighbors even though they may have been from opposite parts of the city. Community leaders, council members and candidates, and average citizens were all a part of the conversations. With so much of the divisive attitudes we have seen in our country over the past few months it was a blessing to see such cooperativeness in our little neck of the woods.
But with all these ideas, the journey’s far from complete. Now the mayor’s staff will be pulling all this together and moving the ideas to the community for implementation. Individuals and groups will receive the ideas and start to put these into action as best they can. The steering committee must first synthesize the volumes of information but there’s a great journey ahead for the next ten years.
Let’s hope we’ll look back at the stories told today and find familiarities with the text.