Exactly 10 years ago on Sept. 25, more than 1,000 people gathered at the Tri-Point YMCA in San Antonio to answer the question: What do you want your city to look like in 2020?

They couldn’t have foreseen a pandemic and waves of social unrest, but these challenges have underscored the community’s decade-long desire to address complex issues such as poverty, reliable public transportation, and affordable housing.

The nonprofit organization SA2020 has been tracking the progress – or lack thereof – on these issues for 10 years, and on Friday night hosted a virtual anniversary event that both celebrated progress and outlined problems the city has yet to overcome.

It was an evening of “celebration and truth-telling,” said Molly Cox, SA2020 president and CEO.

The event also served as a momentum-builder for SA2020’s rebranding and community input process that answers the next question: What do you want your city to look like in 2030?

“This pandemic … exposed how we have not, institutionally, been meeting community need,” Cox told the San Antonio Report. “It’s clear: Our systems are failing many of our people, and that’s not the vision we set for ourselves. So how do we recalibrate and really disrupt the way that we’ve been doing work?”

Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary and mayor Julián Castro, who created SA2020 during his time at City Hall, and Mayor Ron Nirenberg spoke during the event.

“The time was really right – that the dynamics were really right – for us to dream again,” Castro said of his decision to start the process. “Oftentimes these kinds of plans, they just end up on the shelf,” but SA2020 is alive.

Measuring progress and tracking goals has become especially important during a pandemic, he said.

“My hope is we’re going to put an emphasis on making sure that everybody can prosper in the San Antonio community [post-pandemic],” he added. “We’ve seen that a lot of people who didn’t think of themselves as vulnerable recognize that, really, they are.”

SA2020 uses data from various sources to track progress made in 11 areas of community well-being and economic growth as measured by 61 indicators such as high school graduation rates, crime rates, economic competitiveness, health disparities, transportation efficiency, and safety. It works with more than 170 community partners across Bexar County, including local governments, corporations, and nonprofits to align efforts and improve those indicators.

During the event, Cox and the SA2020 staff highlighted several initiatives and organizations that embody the success of that work, including Pre-K 4 SA (approved by voters during Castro’s tenure), ReadyKidSA, Healthy Futures of Texas, Alamo Promise, Destination College, SA Works, and others.

“I’m proud to be in a city where it’s still teamwork that gets us through,” said Nirenberg, who participated in the first SA2020 meeting 10 years ago as a neighborhood leader. Ensuring mobility – in terms of physical transportation and economic – will take a team effort, he added.

According to SA2020’s data, about 70 percent of these metrics are at least moving in the right direction. But 28 percent of those indicators, including poverty, domestic violence, and justice system recidivism, hadn’t improved or were getting worse in the San Antonio area.

The economic and social impact of the pandemic won’t be completely reflected in the data until 2021. Click here to see the 2019 report. 

To reaffirm a shared community vision for 2030, the nonprofit will continue to work with residents to craft that vision and possibly adjust current metrics and goals.

Since January, SA2020 has collected input from nearly 10,500 San Antonians online and at a few in-person events. Cox said the pre-pandemic goal was to reach more than 160,000 individuals, so like many organizations, SA2020 had to go entirely digital. The 160,000 goal is now out of reach, Cox said, but she considers the 10,500 participants so far (a 75 percent increase over 2010) a win, especially during a pandemic.

The group monitored the demographics of survey respondents to ensure the results reflected the city’s diversity. When respondents skewed more white or affluent than the city’s overall makeup, SA2020 engaged its network of 60 ambassadors to seek input from other populations.

So far, the results haven’t been surprising, Cox said. Residents say the city needs to work on housing affordability, transportation, family violence, college attainment, workforce development/training – and especially education.

“The [coronavirus and economic] crisis hasn’t told us anything new,” said Kiran Kaur Bains, SA2020’s director of community impact. “It’s shining a light on the complex community challenges that existed already in the community. I sense that the urgency of addressing those is more widespread.”

SA2020 is still working on rebranding itself beyond 2020, but it’s keeping its name.

“We joked that maybe we don’t want to have 2020 in the name,” Cox said, because the year has been so tumultuous. “SA2020 will continue to be the independent nonprofit that drives progress toward San Antonio’s shared community vision. Our community vision now goes through 2030. … Every 10 years we will do this again and make sure that we’re calibrating and centering values in our community.”

Beyond shifting its survey efforts online, SA2020 posted in-depth data dashboards related to COVID-19 and launched We>Me, a website highlighting the people and organizations helping to meet community need during the crisis.

The next iteration of SA2020 will enhance how the nonprofit’s website and annual reports communicate the connection between metrics and goals, Bains said. For instance, it will try and draw a line between the poverty rate of a community and access to affordable housing, transportation, and education.

As residents, we understand that our everyday problems are interrelated, but organizations often focus on one issue at a time rather than seeing the big picture, Bains said.

“How we bridge that gap is very top-of-mind for us as we strengthen the community indicators,” she said.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org