San Antonio achieved a decade of downtown development, then fell into 18 months of pandemic pain. Now is a natural moment to pose the question, “What’s Next?,” the theme of CityFest 2021, the San Antonio Report’s Oct. 13-16 gathering of civic figures and thought leaders for public conversations on the fast-growing city’s future.
“That’s something special you find at San Antonio Report events, this really cool nexus of the community, journalists and leaders in our city all in one spot,” said Laura Lopez, the Report’s events and audience engagement manager.
The public festival is in a “hybrid” format this year, Lopez said, with some in-person events and some livestreamed online, “to meet the needs of our entire audience.” Most events are free with pre-registration, with two ticketed events.
On Oct. 13 at 10 a.m., CityFest kicks off with a livestreamed panel featuring Texas mayors Steve Adler of Austin, Mattie Parker of Fort Worth, Oscar Leeser of El Paso, and Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio addressing the topic “The Texas Challenge: Leading Cities Safely Through the Pandemic,” with moderator Jackie Wang.
Wang, local government reporter for the San Antonio Report, said the panel setting will allow viewers a glimpse into the choices these mayors have made in leading their cities through the economic and psychological challenges wrought by the pandemic.
San Antonians will have a chance to compare their mayor’s leadership with other Texas city leaders as well, Wang said. “Even though we’re a hyper local publication, we still look for outside context to examine ourselves,” she said.
Outgoing Editor-In-Chief Robert Rivard will follow with a livestreamed panel at noon, “Federal Pandemic Relief: the Once-in-a-Lifetime Investment Opportunity.”
Rivard will lead a conversation with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and City Manager Erik Walsh, to examine how hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars will be spent over the next five years to bring the city back from the pandemic and chart a course for the future.
While some of the stimulus funds will be used to cover “big holes in budgets,” Rivard said, “hundreds of millions of dollars remain to be allocated and smartly invested.” The panel will give viewers a chance to hear directly from Wolff and Walsh on how they intend to allocate the money, Rivard said. “What needs in the community – and there are many – are they targeting?”
The panel will build off of the CityFest theme, Rivard said, which is “all about measuring our resiliency, and thinking about where do we go from here after surviving with some difficulty and a lot of loss, a 20-month stretch that none of us saw coming.”
Oct. 13 at 2:30 p.m., Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick will moderate a panel titled “The Thin New Line: Policing and Public Health,” addressing challenges in policing and mental health.
Dimmick will lead a conversation with Jenny Hixon, public health administrator for Metro Health; San Antonio Police Dept. Lt. Jesse Salame, chief of staff for Police Chief William McManus; Mike Lozito, director of the Bexar County Office of Criminal Justice; and Eric Estrada, executive director of San Antonio Clubhouse, a nonprofit focused on holistic care and support for those facing mental health issues.
Dimmick said the conversation will illuminate collaborative initiatives already undertaken by the city and county, such as the Bexar County Specialized Multidisciplinary Alternate Response Team (SMART) co-responder program that aims to avoid arrest in mental health crisis in situations in favor of providing assistance.
“This is an opportunity to get a broader perspective of … how the police department and mental health department are being changed” in response to activism on the issue, Dimmick said.
A local keynote
The Thursday keynote luncheon will be held at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts as a ticketed event, featuring author and environmental historian Char Miller in conversation with former mayor Henry Cisneros, whom Rivard described as “the most legendary mayor in contemporary San Antonio history” and “a native son of the West side.”
As a longtime San Antonian and distinguished scholar at Pomona College in Claremont, California, Miller has authored several books including San Antonio: A Tricentennial History and The Nature of Hope: Grassroots Organizing, Environmental Justice, and Political Change.
The pair will discuss Miller’s new book West Side Rising: How San Antonio’s 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement, which details how the Anglo-dominated political response to that signal event shaped the city’s policies and agendas for decades to come.
Friday features a livestreamed collaboration between the San Antonio Report and the SA Startup Week annual conference on entrepreneurship and technology, with Publisher Angie Mock in conversation with Geekdom CEO Charles Woodin from 10-11 a.m.
Story Editor Tracy Idell Hamilton will follow with the “Future of Work in San Antonio” panel discussion at noon, with Michael Ramsey, the city’s executive director of workforce development, Afamia Elnakat, infrastructure and environmental health director at Noctuam LLC, and University of the Incarnate Word business scholar Teresa Harrison.
Hamilton said the panel is meant to appeal to everyone. “We all work,” she said, and the pandemic affected every San Antonian, whether they were able to pivot to working from home, had to continue interfacing with customers and community despite the risk, or at worst, were suddenly unemployed, all while dealing with childcare and family sustenance.
With low unemployment locally but many jobs open in various sectors, she said “we seem to be in a moment right now where workers have a little bit of power.” Hospitality workers are seeking better wages and benefits, office workers are seeing the benefits of flexible schedules, and workers overall are seeking equity in who is employed and how they are paid relative to their managers.
And some fun in the mix
While CityFest will focus primarily on important conversations on issues affecting San Antonio, Rivard said there’s also fun to be had.
“We’re going to remind people that at the San Antonio Report, our journalism is very serious, but we’re also about community and connecting people.”
On the evening of Friday, Oct. 15, the Report will team with the 2nd Verse spoken word poetry and performance collective for an evening of thoughtful entertainment in Legacy Park.
The free, in-person, outdoor “CityFest in the Park” event begins at 6:30 p.m. with guests encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chair. Food and drink will be available at Pinkerton’s BBQ on the park or from various vendors. The program begins at 7 p.m. with San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson alongside poets Rooster Martinez, Chibbi Orduña, and Johnny Major Rivers III, with music by The RNS Band.
CityFest will close Saturday morning. Oct. 16 from 8-10 a.m. with a special VIP event for the adventurous: “The Trailist Tour” led by Senior Reporter Brendan Gibbons.
Bicyclists are encouraged to join in the ticketed event, to explore the Westside trails of San Antonio. The round-trip ride will begin and conclude at Confluence Park, stopping at various locations along the way. All riders will receive a San Antonio Report branded drawstring bag complete with ride map, water and snacks.
Reflecting on his last CityFest as editor of the nonprofit news website he and spouse Monika Maeckle started nearly 10 years ago, Rivard said, “the concept behind CityFest is pretty simple, but pretty important.”
Now in its fourth year, the annual ideas festival “serves the city’s interests … for us at least once a year to hit the pause button on the intensity of daily life and deadlines, and step back and look at the big picture and talk about where we’ve been and where we’re going,” Rivard said.
“When we can bring together engaged citizens with elected leaders and public policy experts, and bring in outside voices to give us perspective on best practices elsewhere, I think we become a better city, we become a more creative city, and we don’t succumb to the status quo,” he said.
The Legacy Park event is free with RSVP and open to all. Panel discussions are free with advance registration here. Tickets for the keynote luncheon are available here with discounted prices for San Antonio Report members, and tickets for the VIP bike tour on Saturday are available here. Access to livestreamed events will be provided with registration.