Nearly 50 thought leaders from San Antonio, New York City, Washington, Charlotte, Dallas, and Austin will convene here Nov. 6-8 for the second annual San Antonio CityFest, the urban visioning and public policy festival organized by the Rivard Report.

“We have a great mix of local and visiting community leaders, elected officials, educators, anti-poverty and nonprofit leaders,  philanthropists, entrepreneurs, urbanists, performing arts administrators, public safety experts, and mobility advocates,” said Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard. “The programming will be rich and varied, addressing many of San Antonio’s challenges and opportunities – a mix of public policy with fun, food, drink, music, and great networking.”

Festival passes are $75 for non-members and $50 for Rivard Report members. Students can attend for $25 or purchase a half-day pass for $15. Click here for tickets and more information.

Confirmed speakers visiting San Antonio include Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition; Leah Shahum, founder and executive director of the Vision Zero Network; Robert Hammond, cofounder and executive director of New York’s High Line park; Munro Richardson, executive director of Read Charlotte; and Mark Williams, chair of Early Matters Greater Austin.

Dallas City Manager TC Broadnax and Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk will join San Antonio City Manager Erik Walsh to discuss how each city is meeting budget challenges in the wake of new state law capping municipal tax authority.

John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M University; Kerry H. Cook, geological sciences professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences; and Gerald Mulvey, an atmospheric scientist and weather and climate researcher at the University of Incarnate Word, will explore the science of measuring climate change in Texas.

In the wake of a recent U.S. Census Bureau report ranking San Antonio as having the highest poverty rate of the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas, a panel of local experts looking at how the city can better address the issue will include Mayor Ron Nirenberg;  Christine Drennon, director of Trinity University’s Urban Studies program; Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank; Janie Barrera, founder and CEO of LiftFund; and Frances Gonzalez, the San Antonio Area program officer for Asset Funders Network.

Following mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, another panel will explore how law enforcement and experts are working to safeguard people in the workplace,  schools, churches, and public places. Panelists include San Antonio police Chief William McManus, Jordan Ghawi of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, Dr. Lillian Liao of UT Health San Antonio, and Julie and Kris Workman, survivors of the Sutherland Springs mass shooting.

For a full program of speaker and panelists, and the Rivard Report journalists moderating the discussions, click here.

Staff at CityFest includes (from top left clockwise) Brendan Gibbons, environment and energy reporter, Jackie Wang, general assignments reporter, Emily Donaldson, education reporter, Roseanna Garza, health and wellness reporter, JJ Velasquez, technology reporter, and Iris Dimmick, city hall reporter.

CityFest will open on Wednesday, Nov. 6, with a ticketed luncheon at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts as the City of San Antonio and Bexar County celebrate the transformation of the former Municipal Auditorium on the Tobin’s fifth anniversary. Individual tickets are $99. Tables start at $2,500 and include 10 luncheon seats and two VIP passes. 

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff will deliver opening remarks about some of the biggest projects he has initiated or been involved in over the years, including the Tobin Center, and most recently, the San Pedro Creek Improvement Project and development of the Bibliotech digital libraries.

Hammond, a San Antonio native who led the effort to create the elevated High Line linear park on an abandoned railway line in New York City, will be the luncheon’s keynote speaker. 

On Thursday morning, Wolff, Rivard, and project leaders will take a small group of CityFest sponsors and VIP ticket holders on a downtown walking tour of San Pedro Creek, moving from the completed Phase I into the under-construction Phase II. 

Friday will feature a full day of 12 panel discussions with nearly 50 thought leaders coming together in venues in the St. Paul Square District.

The festival will wrap up with a Happy Hour and closing keynote by Geekdom Chairman Lorenzo Gomez, who will talk about his formative years in an inner-city neighborhood as he attended San Antonio’s Tafolla Middle School. Gomez’s new book, Tafolla Toro, is a memoir of those years, the trauma he suffered, and how as an adult he has found a path forward through storytelling. Gomez will be joined on stage by Tafolla Principal Jeff Price.

The recent launch of Early Matters San Antonio to expand the city’s early childhood education programs was the inspiration for the CityFest panel featuring Richardson; Williams; Peter J. Holt, co-chair of Early Matters San Antonio; Sarah Baray, CEO of Pre-K 4 SA; and Shari Albright, president of the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation.

“Across the state there’s been a heightened awareness because of the short-term immediate workforce needs,” Williams said. “We can’t hire enough people. There are a lot of people sitting on the sidelines because they can’t access affordable childcare, they may not have access to childcare of quality, or have access to childcare near where they work.”

Expanding access to full-day pre-K would help parents go back to work, Williams argued. And from an employer’s perspective, that’s good for business.

“We’re not trying to pretend we’re a bunch of childcare experts,” he said. “We’re a business voice. We can talk about why it’s important [from that viewpoint].”

The Early Matters initiative here will be one more undertaking whose success is dependent in part on charitable and philanthropic giving. 

San Antonio Area Foundation CEO Marjie French, philanthropist Harvey Najim, 80/20 Foundation Executive Director Alexandra Frey, and Charles Butt Foundation Director Kate Rogers will discuss how philanthropy can change a city, and how it can be concentrated to address education outcomes, poverty, housing, and other challenges.

“There are so many people or entities who are interested in helping the city and I think it’s great for our citizens to be able to hear more about what we’re trying to accomplish,” French said. “I’m looking forward to hearing from the audience about ways we can do a better job in communicating back to them what we’re doing, but also helping to solve problems and some of those serious challenges we have in our city.”

Atherton and Shahun will join VIA Metropolitan Transit President and CEO Jeff Arndt, and City of San Antonio Pedestrian Mobility Officer Tim Hayes to look at expanding mobility options and making streets safer in the city.

Atherton spends a lot of her time working with different communities to determine what a “complete street” means for them, she said. She appreciates having a conversation about San Antonio mobility where people who will be affected can help implement ideas, she said.

“I’m excited to hear what everyone’s up to on the ground in San Antonio,” Atherton said, noting this will be her first visit to the city. “I love ideas convening that bring interesting and different perspectives together. You walk in thinking you’re going to share something, and then you end up learning so much from others.”

Those interested in attending Wednesday’s keynote speech and luncheon, Thursday’s San Pedro Creek tour, and getting reserved seating for Friday’s programming may buy a VIP All Access pass for $165 that also grants access to CityFest’s VIP lounge. For information about purchasing tables, contact Laura Lopez.

Proceeds from CityFest will underwrite the work of journalists at the nonprofit Rivard Report.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is a general assignment reporter at the Rivard Report.