Better Block
Avenue B during the Better Block program at Síclovía. (Photo by Peter French)

One morning late last year I walked out of our Lavaca neighborhood home designed by Hilary Scruggs of Operative Ventures, a contemporary, two-story metal-clad home located near Brackenridge High School. A man with an expensive camera was in the street taking photographs of the dwelling–no surprise given its modernist lines and stark contrast to the street’s early 20th century wood-frame homes. That was my introduction to Peter French. In retrospect, it’s amazing we had never met. We’ve since found we share many friends, acquaintances, values and interests.  Memory tells me I told French that morning I was preparing to launch my own online media site in the new year. With French’s posting today, then, we come full circle.

French is a husband, father, new urbanism real estate developer, social entrepreneur, Trinity alum (class of ’98) and avid photographer. He is tweeting about placemaking, social entrepreneurship, urbanism, photography, and food as himself @pfrench99 & as co-founder of his infill development & real estate consulting company @LoomisBurton & blogging at the LoomisBurton blog.  All that, and French oversees Plum Creek, the largest new urbanism development in Central Texas. 

You can enjoy a more in-depth view of his photography here:

By Peter French

The eleven vision areas and corresponding targets of the SA2020 plan are not optional endeavors for a world-class city. People in San Antonio are clamoring for sweeping social transformation. But the city and its citizens will need help creating and implementing the programs that can make that happen. In an era of unprecedented collaboration and cooperation we must be willing to look to the outside world for bright spots, for solutions, for actionable ideas that can be transplanted and nurtured in our communities and neighborhoods. We can accelerate the SA2020 plan’s implementation by creating a framework in which the world’s brightest change agents and social innovators are brought in to accelerate our transformation. The result of that open source approach will be enduring benefits for our city.

Social problems lend themselves to crowdsourced solutions. We know that communities of disparate demographic and economic make-ups struggle with similar issues. Educational performance, transportation, and health and fitness levels are areas that virtually every U.S. community is working to improve. We are all incentivized to find solutions to those problems by virtue of the fact that we are all paying for the programs and policies that perpetuate the status quo. Given the choice between funding success and failure, I choose success. There are places that are improving their performance on key quality of life issues; these are the bright spots that need to be replicated and calibrated en masse across the country.

What I am calling a Change Agents in Residence Program will serve to identify those bright spots and then systematically replicate and calibrate them here in our own neighborhoods. It is the act of calibrating that requires local understanding, involvement, and participation. An excellent example of the success of this replication and calibration system can be found by examining The SmartCode. The SmartCode is an open source, form-based planning code which is distributed by the nonprofit Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS). Now in its ninth version, The SmartCode has been calibrated and adopted by over 100 municipalities nationwide. The code itself has been vetted and refined through extensive research, collaboration, and implementation and is both excellent and free. When a community elects to enact The SmartCode what they pay for are the experts who work with local staff to calibrate and implement it. This approach gives precedence and credence to an important element of the Change Agents in Residence Program.

San Antonio River Parade
San Antonio River Parade across from the Hilton Palacio del Rio. (Photo by Peter French)

The SA2020 plan will serve as the primary guide for prioritizing this call to action. A wide variety of public and private knowledge resource must be made available to the Change Agents along with direct access to key personnel across many agencies and industries. Change Agents would not be subject to management or oversight by committee or city council, but would work with them to navigate the local regulatory framework. The entity that administers the Change Agents in Residency Program will be a 501(c)4, giving it the ability to lobby for legislation to make successful programs permanent and to encourage local support for positive change. The program is envisioned to produce a wave of focused and interconnected social change programs that are operational in 12 months. The reputations and integrity of the Change Agents and the City will be the nexus of our mutual accountability.

The Change Agents in Residence Program will use an interactive Web 2.0 platform similar to IdeaScale or MindMixer, to announce the program, call for applicants, aggregate their responses, and select the Change Agents with input from local stakeholders. Critical criteria for selection will include: scalability, an existing track record of success, and the ability for the program to be replicated quickly. This platform is a marketplace, and Change Agents will be compensated for their contributions. In exchange for a salary and the potential for a results based-bonus the Change Agents will replicate, calibrate, and implement successful self-sustaining social programs. The program will in turn give the Change Agents a remarkable opportunity to perform and collaborate in a very public way, adding value to their program and presumably attracting interest from other communities that will pay them to replicate their success once again. Change Agents might be CEOs on sabbatical, teachers, professors, retired mayors, governors, or presidents, entrepreneurs, students or soldiers, or anyone with a proven track record for delivering social change. The framework will enable successful social programs to bubble-up.

Change Agents in Residence will be paid for their expertise and will be responsible for the development of their own project-related budgets. A proposed pay package of $100,000 + room (if required), office and shared staff, and a bonus of up to $50,000 based on end of year results would be offered to attract a diverse field of candidates. Project related budgets will range greatly and variable funding sources will be tapped to find the required resources. In general, Change Agent pay and project related costs will be raised from a blend of private and public sector sources including crowd funding. The social equity bond market has been adopted by Europeans as a means for funding social change and would be an excellent tool to support this program. Rounds of social equity bonds (think war bonds for social good) could be sold to charitable foundations as low return program related investments to fund the social success based bonus pay component of the program. Indexed returns could also be paid to private bond holders based on the success of the related program. Public funds freed up by the successful implementation of Change Agent in Residence projects will be used to pay back the charitable foundations the following year, allowing those dollars to be recycled for other charitable purposes.

Better Block
Avenue B during the Better Block program at Síclovía. (Photo by Peter French)

As the seventh largest city in the United States, the future of San Antonio is a global concern that warrants global consideration. There are plenty of bright spots out there and the technology now exists to identify and aggregate them on a national scale. We have done an excellent job articulating our needs and establishing our priorities. Big City. Small Town. And as metrics for social progress were an important component of the SA2020 plan, a baseline for success has already been identified. What we need now are world-class solutions, new social technologies, and boots on the ground to get them going. The Change Agents in Residency program is not about planning or information gathering or benchmarking. It is about tapping global talent to accelerate the implementation of the SA2020 plan through the replication, calibration, and launch of strategic and tactical social programs. The next steps are the creation of the entity, a funding plan, and the process for replicating and calibrating successful programs here in San Antonio. Eventually this program is going to need a staff and a home…anyone interested?

Reach Peter French at

French is a husband, father, new urbanist real estate developer, social entrepreneur, Trinity alum (class of ’98) and avid photographer. He is rarely without a camera and shoots both digital and film....