Speakers at the inaugural San Antonio CityFest include (from top left): Gil Penalosa, LaToya Cantrell, Ron Nirenberg, Amanda Merck, Lori Houston, David Heard, Eric Bell, Lourdes Castro-Ramirez, Aaronetta Pierce, John Philip Santos, Paula Owen, and Molly Cox.
A mix of CityFest panelists. See below for names. Credit: Scott Ball, Bonnie Arbittier, Iris Dimmick, Jeffrey Sullivan / San Antonio Report ; NOLAfiddler / Wikimedia Commons ; Larry D. Moore / Wikimedia Commons; Laboratorio para la Ciudad / Flickr

There will be a feast of programming, speakers, and panels at the inaugural San Antonio CityFest, Nov. 8-10, organized by the Rivard Report and presented in partnership with the Southwest School of Art, with additional programming at the Pearl, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and the Alamo Brewery.

Festival attendees can enjoy the all-day Saturday programming at the Southwest School of Art at the historic Coates Chapel and across Soledad Street at the school’s Santikos Gallery. Then, as CityFest draws to a close after dark, festivalgoers can head to Hemisfair for Luminaria.

More than 60 leaders and creatives from the arts, government, business, neighborhoods, and nonprofit worlds, including invited speakers from outside the city and state, will come together to explore the changing city’s many opportunities and challenges. Click here for registration information and the full, three-day schedule of free and ticketed programming.

The Rivard Report hatched the idea for CityFest after watching the growing statewide impact of the Texas Tribune‘s Tribfest, now 7 years old. We believe an annual urban festival can have the same positive impact in San Antonio, serving as an accelerator, bringing together civically engaged citizens to connect and imagine our shared future. Even in the hurried planning for this first year, we have found many enthusiastic supporters and collaborators. Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith will be among the featured guests coming to San Antonio for CityFest.

CityFest will serve as the capstone event for one of our presenting sponsors, the San Antonio Tricentennial Commission, with strong programming planned to mark the coming end of this special year. CityFest’s other presenting sponsor is the San Antonio Area Foundation, which has given away $410 million to local charitable and nonprofit causes since its founding in 1964.

The two U.S. cities that celebrated the 300th anniversaries of their founding in 1718, San Antonio and New Orleans, will be represented onstage Saturday morning by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, with Tricentennial Chair and Texas A&M University-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson serving as moderator.

Nicholas Frank
Rivard Report Arts & Culture Reporter Nicholas Frank. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Various authors of the official book, 300 Years of History in San Antonio and Bexar County, will be interviewed by Rivard Report Arts & Culture Reporter Nicholas Frank. Another morning panel, San Antonio Icons and Turning Points in Contemporary City History, will bring together on one stage former Mayors Lila Cockrell, Henry Cisneros, and Phil Hardberger, as well as B.J. “Red” McCombs, Rosemary Kowalski, and Aaronetta Pierce.

I have the honor of moderating, and my hope is that many millennials and students will attend. Even as people come together to explore San Antonio’s future, we will take time to hear from some of the remarkable individuals who have most influenced the city’s trajectory over the past 50 years.

For all the hard work the Rivard Report‘s talented business team has put into the first year planning of CityFest, we have no inside information on who will appear on the Saturday afternoon Political Roundtable at the Southwest School of Art’s Santikos Gallery. Voters will decide that, but we certainly expect some winners.

The afternoon programming at the Santikos Gallery is free and open to the public

We’ve invited the candidates for U.S. senator, the two key local congressional races, the governor’s race, House District 121 to replace outgoing Speaker Joe Straus, Bexar County judge and district attorney races, and more. We’ve invited Nirenberg and City Councilman Greg Brockhouse to discuss the outcome of Propositions A, B, and C.

(Haven’t voted yet? Find your polling place for Tuesday’s election here by date of birth and house number or here by street address.)

People from the world of politics have been invited to drop by the Santikos Gallery to spend a few minutes at the microphone. Regardless of who shows, it will be a lively and entertaining conversation with our three well-known commentators and moderators: Rick Casey of the Rivard Report; Gilbert Garcia of the San Antonio Express-News, and David Martin Davies of Texas Public Radio.

Emily Donaldson
Rivard Report Education Reporter Emily Donaldson. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The panel will run from 3-5 p.m. and follow a 1:30-2:45 p.m. panel with State Sen. José Menéndez and State Rep. Diego Bernal titled Public School Finance: What the Texas Legislature Should Do in 2019. That panel, moderated by Rivard Report Education Reporter Emily Donaldson, will include Bob Popinski, director of policy at Austin nonprofit Raise Your Hand Texas; Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside Independent School District; Leanne Hernandez, vice president of finance for the Rio Grande Valley-based IDEA Public Schools; and Nicole Conley Johnson, chief business & operations officer for the Austin ISD.

The most inspiring speaker coming to CityFest will be Gil Penalosa, founder of Toronto’s nonprofit 880Cities.org, which works with cities across the globe to improve people mobility as the path to better community health. Gil and his brother Enrique, the mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, helped bring Cíclovía (as most spell it) from its birth in Bogotá to cities around the world.

I’ve been in touch with Penalosa twice in the past week, once when he was in Melbourne, Australia, and then Friday when he was in Havana. Penalosa will be the keynote speaker at CityFest’s opening event, a Thursday luncheon at Pearl Stable. Click here for tickets or table sales.

CityFest, in my imagination, represents the ideal opportunity to pause in our daily lives and reflect on the extraordinary transformation of urban San Antonio in recent years, the continuing explosive growth of the city in its outer rings, and the great opportunities and serious challenges such change and growth bring.

I believe Propositions A, B, and C would send San Antonio in the wrong direction and that they are on the ballot to deceive voters, part of a grudge agenda by firefighters union President Chris Steele, a judgment borne out by his own secretly recorded comments. There are hundreds of thousands of San Antonians registered to vote who have not yet voted. Why not go to the polls, vote no for all three propositions, and then come to CityFest and keep San Antonio heading in the right direction?

If you support the public service journalism and civic engagement events produced by the Rivard Report team, please express that support by becoming a member. Right now we are in the national News Match campaign for nonprofit media sites, so your donation will be matched up to $25,000. Click here to join our team.

Check out some of the other panels

CityFest-goers will have two other opportunities to hear Penalosa at events that are free and open to the public. Friday morning he will deliver a talk to students and faculty at A&M-SA. Members of the public are invited. Penalosa also will appear at a Friday “Happy Hour” panel at the Alamo Brewery from 6:15 to 7:30 pm.

The first panel at the near-Eastside brewery, from 5 to 6:15 pm, will address the city’s affordable housing crisis and plan, co-moderated by Rivard Report Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick and Juan Cano, of Cano Development and the Urban Land Institute, with panelists Lourdes Castro-Ramirez, chair of the Mayor’s Housing Task Force; associate professor Christine Drennon of Trinity University; Leilah Powell, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corp.; Verónica Soto, director, City of San Antonio’s Neighborhood and Housing Services Department; and Meghan Garza-Oswald, president and CEO, CHR Partners.

A second panel, Urban Core Mobility and the Path to Public Health, will include Penalosa; Colleen Bridger, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District; Christopher Lazaro, redevelopment officer, City of San Antonio; and Amanda Merck, research area specialist for Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research, UT Health San Antonio. Cano and Rivard Report Health Reporter Roseanna Garza will co-moderate.

The all-day programming at the Southwest School of Art will include a number of additional panels. San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley and newly appointed Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax will join State Sen. Pete Flores and State Rep. Ina Minjarez for a panel moderated by Texas Tribune CEO Smith, The Future of Home Rule and City Management in Texas.

Rivard Report Managing Editor Graham Watson-Ringo will moderate Gender, Power, & Leadership, with City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval; Kate Rogers of the Holdsworth Center; Jenna Saucedo-Herrera of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation; and Sonia Rodriguez, attorney and former trichair of SA2020.

JJ Velasquez, tech reporter for the Rivard Report, will moderate Park the Car: 21st Century Mass Transit and the Micro-Mobility Revolution,  with Tech Bloc CEO David Heard; Assistant City Manager Lori Houston; VIA Metropolitan Transit CEO Jeff Arndt; Sam Sadle, director of government relations and strategic development, Lime scooters; and Eric Bell, president, Blue Duck Scooters.

Southwest School of Art President Paula Owen will moderate Art, Culture and the Nexus in City Building with Jon Hinojosa, executive director, SAY Sí; Debbie Racca-Sittre, director, San Antonio’s Department of Arts and Culture; Suhail Arastu, advancement, Musical Bridges Around the World; and Marise McDermott, president and CEO, Witte Museum.

The closing “Happy Hour” panel will be outdoors in the McNutt Gardens, titled The Decade of Downtown and SA2020: An Early Assessment, featuring former Mayor Julián Castro; SA2020 President and CEO Molly Cox, Weston Urban CEO Randy Smith, and Kimberly Espy, provost, University of Texas at San Antonio. I will moderate.

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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.