With the pandemic still a reality, the fourth annual San Antonio CityFest will feature a mix of safe, in-person events and a series of livestreamed panel conversations, running four days from Oct. 13-16.

Fittingly, the theme of this year’s event is “What’s Next?” as San Antonio Report journalists and invited panelists assess life over the past year in Texas cities and anticipate the new, post-pandemic reality that lies ahead.

This is my favorite event of the year, a time when staff, local and and visiting leaders, and readers step back from the constant flow of news to give deeper consideration to some of the most pressing issues of the day.

We are as eager as everyone else in the city to return to “normal,” however that is defined post-pandemic, but prudence dictates that we present CityFest as a hybrid event this year.

Our signature luncheon event will be held Thursday, Oct. 14, in the H-E-B Performance Hall at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts with seating at appropriately spaced tables. A social mixer Friday, Oct. 15, will be outdoors at Legacy Park downtown, followed by a guided bike ride and cultural and historical tour Saturday, Oct. 16, that begins at Confluence Park and ends at Elmendorf Lake Park.

Char Miller Credit: Courtesy photo

Former Trinity University professor and author Char Miller, now a professor at Pomona College in California, will be the keynote speaker at the luncheon at the Tobin, discussing his new book, Westside Rising: How San Antonio’s 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement. Lifelong Westside resident and former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, who reviewed the book for the San Antonio Report, will join Miller on stage for a conversation about the flood and the repercussions from the disaster that continue to help define San Antonio’s economic and racial segregation.

Miller remains a keen observer of politics and history in San Antonio, while Cisneros witnessed the episodic Westside floods and municipal disinvestment in the barrio while growing up, which helped shape his public service and political trajectory. It should be a riveting conversation. Click here for tickets to the 11:30 a.m. event.

Other CityFest discussions, including five with multiple panelists, will be virtual. You can register here for a free pass to the online events.

The opening panel on Wednesday, Oct. 13, will bring into sharp focus the challenges for big-city mayors of managing through the long pandemic, as leaders struggled to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to keep the economic recovery and reopening of schools on track while while doing battle with the state’s top elected leaders over mask mandates and other public health protocols.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg will be joined by Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, and El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser for The Texas Challenge: Leading Cities Safely Through the Pandemic. Local government reporter Jackie Wang will serve as moderator.

The second panel, titled Federal Pandemic Relief: the Once-in-a-Lifetime Investment Opportunity, will feature San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff for a conversation I will moderate examining the planning underway to allocate hundreds of millions in federal relief money being sent to cities and counties in 2021 and 2022 to be spent between now and 2026. A new bond cycle, anticipated expansion of San Antonio International Airport, and completion of the San Pedro Creek Improvement Project bring anticipated capital improvement spending to several billion dollars over the next five years.

A third panel in the afternoon and still in development is tentatively titled, The Thin New Line: Policing, Public Health, and Mental Health Calls. It will be moderated by Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick.

A pair of panels on Friday, Oct. 15, will explore the future of the workplace. In the first panel, CityFest x SA Startup Week Collab: the Future of Innovation, Technology and Journalism, San Antonio Report Publisher and CEO Angie Mock and Geekdom CEO Charles Woodin look out over the horizon in a conversation moderated by tech executive Dax Moreno.

The second panel, The Future of Work in San Antonio, will feature Afamia Elnakat, the infrastructure and environmental health director at Noctuam LLC; Michael Ramsey, executive director of Workforce Development at the City of San Antonio; and Teresa Harrison, associate professor of management at the University of the Incarnate Word. San Antonio Report Story Editor Tracy Idell Hamilton will serve as moderator as panelists explore the “new normal” in workplace culture and protocols.

Then it’s time for some outdoor socializing. CityFest in the Park at Legacy Park will feature an evening of art, poetry, and live music from members of the 2nd Verse spoken word poetry collective while audience members enjoy food and drink from local vendors. Bring a blanket or lawn chair. The festive evening will be introduced by Gloria “Glo” Armmer of 2nd Verse, followed by performances by the RNS Band, San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, Rooster Martinez, Chibbo Ortunda, and Johnny Morales. Arts and Culture Reporter Nicholas Frank will interview the artists and poets live onstage.

Senior Reporter Brendan Gibbons, author of the San Antonio Report’s The Trailist feature, will lead a moderate, 10-mile VIP bike tour on Saturday, starting at Confluence Park and ending at Elmendorf Lake Park. Limited tickets are available for the VIP ride, which will be limited to no more than 50 cyclists. The ride will feature two stops to meet with special guests Miller and Amelia Valdez, a lifelong Westside resident who works for the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. Both Miller and Valdez will speak briefly about the 1921 Flood and its lasting repercussions. Some free tickets are available.

View the full CityFest schedule here. Find some time to join us for this year’s CityFest programming, in person or for our virtual events.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.