The Rivard Report’s second annual CityFest will feature San Antonio native Robert Hammond, who helped lead the effort to transform an abandoned rail line into an acclaimed urban park, as its keynote speaker.

Hammond was a key force behind the creation of New York City’s famous High Line park, built on a historic elevated freight rail line. He co-founded Friends of the High Line, a community-driven effort to turn the rail line into an elevated linear park. He will share those experiences during CityFest’s kickoff luncheon Nov. 6 at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

CityFest is a three-day event featuring several panels and speakers, many from San Antonio and the State of Texas, discussing topics relevant to San Antonio and what’s next for the city after the “Decade of Downtown.”

Hammond will share his experience starting Friends of the High Line, which still serves as the caretaker of the park today in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. He and the group pushed New York City’s city council and mayor to support the park project while raising tens of millions of dollars to turn it into one of the world’s most popular urban linear parks, drawing millions of visitors each year.

Having great outdoor spaces and other urban developments is crucial to growing San Antonio’s economy, Hammond said.

“If San Antonio is going to be competitive in the future, it needs to attract smart workers that will attract smart businesses,” he said. “I think San Antonio is on the cusp of being able to do that, but right now … I think its competitors in Texas – Dallas, Houston, and Austin – are doing a better job of investing in the urban downtown.”

The “Decade of Downtown,” spearheaded by former Mayor Julián Castro, comes to a close in 2020, and panel discussions will explore the places San Antonians work, where they live, and how they move around the city as it grows and develops.

Hammond stressed that he’s not an “expert” in transforming urban spaces into green spaces. When he saw serious efforts to destroy the elevated rail line that became the High Line, however, he acted as a concerned citizen, teaming up with others in the community and architects to save the abandoned freight line.

“San Antonio can be insecure in thinking it needs someone from the outside [to tell them what to do],” he said. “San Antonio does amazing things. … I’m not coming to tell anyone the answer. It’s just to encourage San Antonio to invest more in it and to put some attention on it.”

Festivals like CityFest work as a way to spark new ideas from participants, Hammond added.

“It’s not about copying what other cities are doing,” he said. “It’s for people to be inspired.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff also will speak at the opening luncheon about San Antonio projects that started out as ideas and became reality. This year, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts celebrates its fifth anniversary, the San Pedro Creek project continues, and Wolff plans for the fourth Bibliotech digital public library at Fox Tech High School.

CityFest features full days of programming Nov. 7-8 and will be held in the historic St. Paul’s Square district, adjacent to the Rivard Report offices. Watch for information and speaker updates here and information on ticket purchases and registration.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the San Antonio Report.