LSA 46 TACKLES THE CITY’S INFRASTRUCTURE WITH A FOCUS ON BUILDING AN EQUITABLE FUTURE
Infrastructure is a huge topic to tackle, but a relevant one given San Antonio voters recently approved a $1.2 billion bond in May to invest in the city’s infrastructure and address housing affordability.
Leadership San Antonio Class 46 began “Infrastructure Day” at The Tower of the Americas with Dr. Lilliana Saldaña, Associate Professor and Mexican American Studies Program Coordinator at UTSA, followed by a presentation by Brandon Wagner, Director of Social Practice for Form Communities. Through Form Communities’ gardening efforts, they have provided almost 5,000 meals and have transformed their members through purpose and community – promoting wellness through sustainable urban farming.
The class then participated in a simulation with Kristopher Wickerham, Career Programs Leader at H-E-B, after he gave an overview on federal and state food programs. It was a challenge to stretch their allotted budgets to the benefits provided by the programs.
The class then departed for the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) campus, where they heard from a panel of CEOS from the transportation and utilities industry: Jeffrey Arndt, VIA Metropolitan Transit; Robert Puente, San Antonio Water System; and Rudy D. Garza, CPS Energy. This panel addressed funding issues and efforts to ensure equitability in San Antonio neighborhoods.
Adam L. Hamilton, President and CEO of SWRI, welcomed LSA Class 46 and discussed how SWRI is based on equity principles. The company’s mission is “advancing science and applying technology to solve humankind’s most difficult technical challenges from Deep Sea to Deep Space and practically anywhere in between.”
During lunch, the class explored digital equity and the divide among various economic groups and those with disabilities via a panel of speakers, including Brian Dillard, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Antonio; DeAnne Cuellar, Community Broadband Outreach Team Lead, Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Marina Alderete Gavito, Executive Director, SA Digital Connects; and panel moderator, Sharron Rush, Executive Director of Knowbility. During the pandemic, Rush said it became more obvious how much people rely on the Internet and the vital need for better connectivity – and yet, Gavito said that 20 percent of San Antonio residents faced barriers to the Internet due to lack of infrastructure or affordability issues. Rush, Dillard and Cuellar brought disability awareness into the conversation and said that making online resources available for all provides a more sustainable and impactful end product.
Classmates then jumped into autonomous vehicles to learn more about how they could provide more affordable mass transit options. Local news outlets joined the class while they talked to SWRI employees working on solving common issues through robotics or artificial intelligence and machine learning.
We ended the day where we began – The Tower of the Americas – to hear from a panel addressing affordable housing. Mark Carmona, Chief Housing Officer, City of San Antonio moderated the panel featuring his City of San Antonio colleague, Sarah Wamsley Estrada, Housing Policy Administrator; Leilah Powell, Executive Director at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC); and South Alamo Regional Alliance for the Homeless (SARAH)’s Executive Director, Katie Vela. Powell drove home how difficult owning a home has become and yet, “Owning a home is a founding way to build wealth,” Carmona said. Adequate, permanent shelter is more cost effective too, Estrada said, particularly for the unhoused.
While the class started the day honoring San Antonio’s past, David Robinson Jr., Development Manager, Weston Urban, talked about the future of San Antonio and how as a member of the South Texas Triangle, we truly are where “the world comes together – a confluence of civilizations in the Americas.” By better connecting with neighbors and by investing in their infrastructure efforts, San Antonio can build a more equitable future for all.