View of downtown San Antonio from UTSA's Downtown Campus. Courtesy photo.
View of downtown San Antonio from UTSA's Downtown Campus. Courtesy photo.

San Antonio’s growth would have been almost impossible to imagine 50 years ago. From the Brooks City Base on the Southside to La Cantera on the northwest and the countless neighborhoods and businesses in between, exponential growth has changed our landscape and provided both opportunities and challenges for us all.

Growth will occur with a plan or without a plan. As Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” In San Antonio, we can either plan for the unprecedented new growth on the horizon, or sit back and hope for the best.

District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, right before the meeting that confirmed her as mayor of San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mayor Ivy Taylor. Photo by Scott Ball.

Count me among those who believe we have a role to play in our city’s destiny. Local government has a duty to develop and execute policies that improve the long-term quality of life in San Antonio for future generations. It is clear that Mayor Ivy Taylor believes in that duty, as well, and I laud her for beginning the comprehensive planning process during her tenure.

The state demographer’s office estimates that an additional 1.1 million people will be living in the San Antonio area within the next two to three decades. By 2050, we expect our population to double. Put another way, that would be roughly equal to today’s population of Chicago, second only to New York and Los Angeles.

Growth that is in the best interest of citizens – whether from the suburbs or inner city – is supported and encouraged by policies that ensure public resources keep up with increasing demand. Why shouldn’t park space, bicycle lanes, and broadband infrastructure be considered during the development services process? Would we be best served to factor water demand into policies regarding housing inside and outside of the urban core?

Effective policy making acknowledges such interconnectedness.

And this forward-looking culture isn’t new to our city. Almost four years ago, San Antonians from every side of the city and all 10 districts, came together to develop a vision for our community. The result was SA2020: a set of benchmarks covering every aspect of life in our city that we wanted to improve in the next decade. SA2020 gave us a near-term vision of where we wanted San Antonio to be. What we need now is a long term roadmap.

District 8 Councilmember 8 Ron Nirenberg speak to the crowd at the 2014 SA2020 Progress Report about civic engagement. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg speaks to the crowd at the 2014 SA2020 Progress Report luncheon about civic engagement. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The comprehensive planning process will bring together neighbors, institutional stakeholders, technical experts, City staff, and outside consultants to develop that roadmap. The final product will be a framework that ensures our short-term policies are in line with our long-term goals. It will ask and answer tough questions on topics like water security, transportation infrastructure, and broadband access. If our growth in the coming decades is to be sustainable, we can’t afford to leave these questions unanswered.

If the plan is truly comprehensive, policies and procedures in one department will inform the others, and vice versa. Development codes will encourage water conservation. Transit corridors will consider current and future congestion. Air quality impacts will inform the process of updating our city’s major thoroughfare plan.

The structure of the effort is the first step to ensure its success. Read more about how the framework works on the District 8 blog here.

Recommended comprehensive planning committee framework.
Recommended comprehensive planning committee framework. Download the full presentation here.

An initial comprehensive plan for San Antonio will take almost two years to complete, but the process, if done well, will serve us for decades. It assumes that the future leadership of the City will embrace the high standards being set by Mayor Taylor and the current City Council. While elections will change some of the faces, the course we set together should continue. I can state that as long as I am a member of the council, I am willing and privileged to be part of this effort and serve as chair of the comprehensive planning committee.

Your input is critical. Let’s build a San Antonio that make us – and our children and grandchildren – proud.

City Councilman Ron Nirenberg represents San Antonio’s District 8 on the northwest side and chairs the City Council Comprehensive Planning Committee. He is also an appointee to the National League of Cities’ Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Steering Committee, which has lead responsibility in developing NLC federal policy positions on issues involving air quality, water quality, energy policy, national wetlands policy, and waste management.

Related stories:

Comprehensive Planning Not So Easy to Follow

Weighing the Costs of Water Security or Doing Nothing

City Planning for San Antonio Growth Bomb

Bexar County Sixth on U.S. Census List for Population Growth

Councilman Nirenberg on San Antonio’s Environmental Resiliency

Ron Nirenberg

Ron Nirenberg is the mayor of San Antonio.