“This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro greets SA2020 supporters before addressing crowd. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Ramiro Cavazos looks on.
Mayor Julián Castro greets SA2020 supporters. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Ramiro Cavazos looks on.

By Robert Rivard

There was something for everyone Saturday at the TriPoint YMCA. Hundreds gathered to move and shake in a morning workout that was equal parts body, mind and soul. It was a one-year anniversary celebration of SA2020 and everyone seemed pumped. I’d show you my dance crowd photos, but emcee and San Padre Playhouse CEO Asia Ciaravino ordered the lights turned low. That was probably smart. While she and the YMCA’s wellness instructor Amber Sanders got the whole room stretching, clapping and dancing, most of us don’t look like the stage talent and might not get there by 2020, either.

There are 11 ambitious Vision Goals in the SA2020 plan, which is plenty, but a good 12th one, at the risk of blasphemy, would call on all of San Antonio to dial back on the flour tortilla in favor of the fresh, healthy breakfast that greeted SA2020 attendees on Saturday: coffee, muffins, fresh fruit, granola and yogurt. Yes, people ate it. And then they danced.

Asia Ciaravino (background) and YMCA wellness instructor Amber Sanders lead the crowd.
Asia Ciaravino (background) and YMCA wellness instructor Amber Sanders lead the crowd.

For SA2020 supporters who were at the TriPoint YMCA at the beginning in March 2011, there wasn’t much déjà vu. That’s because organizers turned the lobby and entryway into a crowded walk-through of tables, booths and balloon-festooned displays. The hour before the start of the official program, with people eating and catching up, felt more like a Saturday Farmer’s Market than a public policy pop-up. It was more than social. Sixty local organizations that do the kind of work that makes this city go were on hand as SA2020 partners and to show their own flags. It set the right tone for the event: This SA2020 experience was about taking stock after Year One, noting progress, and committing to everything that comes next.

SA2020 CEO Darryl Byrd asks supporters to become "investors."
SA2020 CEO Darryl Byrd asks supporters to become “investors.”

SA2020 Darryl Byrd asked members of the audience to “become investors, to take ownership” of the 11 Vision Goals. People seemed in a mood to cooperate. “This City belongs to you,” he exhorted the crowd. A stand up and shout out survey of people’s interests in the 11 visions areas was conducted by Ciaravino. I’d say Education and Arts & Culture tied for first in terms of supporter noise in the room.

‘It’s time for everyone to get in the game,” Byrd said, and there was a feel of the playoffs in the big room.

If the event was, at least in part, about measuring change, then it started fittingly with a poetry recital by San Antonio’s first Port Laureate, Carmen Tafolla, who composed a poem for the occasion and received as loud a round of applause as you will hear for a poet when she concluded. The poem set the high energy tone for the rest of the morning. Tafolla was named to her new post by Mayor Julián Castro and the City Council on March 27. It was a big city move and a long overdue recognition for Tafolla and the city’s other leading poets who will follow her one day in the post.

Castro took the stage to a sustained standing ovation, an impressive showing at 9:30 a.m. for any speaker and audience. “I look out and see the faces of a city, I see a city with tremendous momentum, I see a city that believes in itself,” Castro said. Having quoted Robert Frost at a recent Texas Nature Conservancy luncheon at the Pearl Stables, this time Castro reached back to Plato and 4th century B.C. Athens: “This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”

For doubters — and they do exist, though they didn’t seem to be in attendance — Castro had plenty of milestones to tick off to demonstrate SA2020 progress and momentum. Among those advances:

* Voters  citywide overwhelmingly approved the city’s $596 million bond program last week.

* 1,500 new residential units have opened up downtown, representing a $260 million investment. Another 1,000 units are set to come on to the market in the next year.

* More than 10,000 college-bound students from San Antonio schools have been served by Café College, Castro’s innovative one-stop shopping center for students who need help and guidance taking the steps that will enable them to prepare for, attend and finance their higher education.

* Teen pregnancies in the city declined by 10% year over year.

* The San Antonio Police Department was one of only two U.S. cities to win full accreditation last year.

*The city was one of five nationwide to receive a $25 million Promise Grant that will be invested in Eastside redevelopment.

* One survey ranked San Antonio’s economy and job creation as best in the nation.

* The city’s B-cycle program, one year old, is now the second busiest in the nation. The program already has been expanded, and more bike stations and bikes are being added in year two.

* 40,000 people showed up for Síclovía on Broadway earlier in the year.

“I never thought I’d see a time when our city would end up on the list of fittest cities instead of fattest cities,” Castro remarked.

More than a few people in San Antonio, including those committed to transforming the city, see SA2020 as a vaguely defined initiative, the kind of ambitious plan that often gets launched with great fanfare only to take its place on the shelves holding other ambitious plans. That aversion to pep rally policymaking is understandable, but there is a certain evangelical fervor building in the city among people who not only believe San Antonio is on the cusp of great change, but who also believe that such change can be accomplished on a greatly accelerated schedule if there is enough buy-in at both policy-making levels and among the general public.

Against that backdrop, Saturday’s festivities at the TriPoint YMCA were just what SA2020 needed: Affirmation that the program is for real, that it enjoys widespread backing, and that progress is being made. People don’t give up their Saturdays unless it’s worth it. Saturday, May 19, was worth it.

City Hall Brainpower
Three future City of San Antonio leaders: Isabel Howard, Sarah McLornan, and Lori Houston.

Photos by Robert Rivard.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.