San Antonio: A City on the Rise

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San Antonio skyline by Kevin G. Saunders.

San Antonio skyline by Kevin G. Saunders.

Lorenzo Gomez 80/20 Foundation

How do you tell your story or sell your idea in seven words or less? In the start-up world the ability to distill your idea into one sentence is an art that takes almost NBA-level practice at the free throw line. I’ve recently learned that in some marketing circles this is referred to as “micro-scripting.” Geekdom for example, is The Place Where Startups Are Born. Rackspace is The Open Cloud Company. But what about a city?

Over the last two years, I’ve been working to contribute to the already great momentum that San Antonio has established. I find myself in airports selling San Antonio to complete strangers. I talk to old friends, new friends and tourists, but usually I only have a few moments to launch the San Antonio story I want to plant in their minds. And so, I began to look for the perfect Micro-Script. And after months of trial and error, I think I’ve found it.

The 80/20 Foundation report. Click image or here to download.

The 80/20 Foundation report on San Antonio’s Top 10 rankings. Click image or here to download.

During one of our normal brainstorming sessions my mentor Graham Weston and I were trying to refine our San Antonio pitch. We obsessed for hours over the smallest word and concept. Then he said:

“When you and I travel and we tell people we are the seventh largest city in America it doesn’t really hit them. They think to themselves, ‘Why have I never heard of you?’ If you are in another country, a city with 1.3 million people is sometimes the size of one area of town. No, there is more to the city than stats like this. It is the notion that San Antonio is a City On The Rise.”

And there it was, a San Antonio Micro-Script I could sell: San Antonio: A City On The Rise.

So why did these four words hit me the way they did? I think it’s because ‘City on the Rise’ means that we are up and coming. It means we are going places and you need to keep one eye cocked for us because we’re gaining on you. When people ask, “Why haven’t I heard of you?” It’s because we are a City On The Rise, that’s why.

A list of reports and studies in which San Antonio ranks number one. Courtesy of the 8020 Foundation report.

A list of reports, studies, and articles in which San Antonio ranks number one. Courtesy of the 8020 Foundation report.

There is much more to it. I recently joined the board of SA2020 – the brainchild of Mayor Julian Castro, who boldly set the charge and unleashed the city to achieve greatness in less than a decade. As we sat in our various committees brainstorming and white boarding we realized that we needed a phrase to galvanize our efforts. City On the Rise is what it turned out to be.

You say, “Our early education indicators are not up to par?” We agree, but there is action happening. People are in motion. ‘The drop out rates unacceptable?’ We agree, but things are happening. Programs are underway and taking root. Mentors are stepping forward and signing up. Things are not perfect, but we are getting better. That is how a City on the Rise moves.

San Antonio skyline by Kevin G. Saunders.

San Antonio skyline by Kevin G. Saunders.

So who owns this initiative? Is it the Mayor’s job to make us continue to be a City on the Rise? Is it the city council’s? The SA2020 staff? The answer is that in a City On the Rise, it is everyone’s job. Have you started a neighborhood book club? Are you the entrepreneur that just started the new coffee shop near our house? Are you mentoring a young person with Big Brothers Big Sisters? Then you are an active member of the City on the Rise.

In my work at The 80/20 Foundation and in collaborating with the SA2020 team, people ask us every single day, “I want to be a part of this, what should I do?” The answer is that you need to follow your passions. You don’t need our permission, but if you’d like it, then here it is: You are now officially knighted to carry out the SA2020 mission of making us a “city on the rise!”

But let’s go back to our Micro-Script for a second. In the branding world, the only way a vision like City on the Rise works is if it’s believable. So when I tell someone that San Antonio is a City on the Rise and they shoot back something like, “Prove it.” Here is what I say:

Let’s play a little game called “Did you know…”

Did you know that San Antonio….

Enough of boring stats like that. You can see it with your own eyes. The 80/20 Foundation has done some of it’s own “micro research” and identified all the areas where SA has been cited in the top 10 over the last four years. If you want a self-esteem boost I will tell you the list is 135 items long. Click here to see.

So, if you ask me what SA2020 is, it’s a community-driven movement to make San Antonio the world-class city it’s already on its way to becoming. If you ask me what SA2020 does, we are the champions of the City on the Rise. We keep score, keep our finger on the pulse and connect people to more people. That is how we raise the city–by celebrating our successes, telling the stories both good and bad, and knighting people all over to take the charge back home with them and make it their own.

Now that we have planted the flag, we want you to tell us your story. The “I Am SA2020” blog is about how people like you are helping to make this city rise more than ever. We’d love to hear from you.


Lorenzo Gomez works for The 80/20 Foundation. He is also an SA2020 board member, the founder of the nonprofit technology blog eSamaritan, and former ten-year Rackspace employee. You can follow him on Twitter at @lgomez123.


Related Stories:

Why I’m Stubborn About San Antonio

SA2020: Moving from Aspiration to Accountability

SA2020 Then and Now: Brainstorm to Reality to Report Card

Conversation: Renting in San Antonio’s Urban Core

Why San Antonio’s Future is Bright

Atlantic Cities’ Focus on San Antonio

Mayor Castro: “It’s an Exciting Time to be in San Antonio”

The Key to Continued Brain Gain: Specialized Higher Education

San Antonio Makes the Lists, Which Makes Us Happy


20 thoughts on “San Antonio: A City on the Rise

  1. I think that “City on the Rise” is an appropriate way to describe San Antonio, however, it might be a slogan that works better for locals rather than outsiders. The reason being is that by definition the slogan implies that our city is “sub-standard” at the moment. You would not be on the “rise” if you didn’t have the ability to get better, which I think it lends itself to the non-local questioning, “Well if you are on the way up, where are you now?”

    Yes, I understand that even the best can get better (think of all the hours MJ spent in the gym even when he was at the pinnacle of being the best basketball player to ever grace the court), but would be apprehensive of the perception the statement gives to an outsider. While there are a subset of people who want to be part of that shift and are the enablers of the change, I imagine that a majority of people simply desire the end state. I agree that SA is certainly doing great things, and I don’t want to risk marginalizing people who would be interested in the city by implying that “we aren’t quite there yet,” when in actuality there are a lot of great things available at the present.

  2. Good points Heath. I dont think it is bad to say that the city is good but not where we want it to be ultimately. That is the whole point of the city on the rise. I don’t think it says you are crappy now either. Also, from a branding perspective most people immediately have a positive connotation with this phrase because its an up and to the right phrase. It does exactly what you want a good microscipt to do. I don’t think I have encountered a person yet that has taken the phrase to mean anything negative and I have used it with quite a few people.

  3. I remember when I first moved here as an active soldier I use to tell myself, “Well it’s no Austin but it will due.” Little did I know that benchmarking everything against Austin was out of pure ignorance, I’ve sincerely absorbed this city to the core. From being a member of Geekdom, to seeing the political-social awareness shown by citizens of this great city – it’s awe inspiring. Now whenever I do travel to Austin, it’s ironic because I get a sense that they try too hard to be unique (or weird) whereas there’s a balance of sincere culture, historical value, and innovation that San Antonio adds to Texas.

  4. Bob, some of these articles are way over the top. A cheerleading paper for San Antonio, no matter true or false?


    Rackspace is not #1. In fact, they reported horrible numbers and continue to loose market share to other host companies, specifically in cloud computing.

    Many inside Geekdom have complained. If they do not receive better companies, and such growth opportunities, the leaders have publicly stated they will move to Austin, etc. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

    i could go on, like all the fluff in that brochure from different “expert” articles.

    But please, I AGREE, San Antonio is on the rise. But is the Rivard Report a cheerleader outfit or going to tell us the truth???

    Right now, its pure pom-poms.

    (not to mention 200 jobs were laid off to counter a 50 million dollar shortfall. Meanwhile, CPS seeks to sell its highest performing assets. I would not exactly say all is well in Oz).

    So, Again, Bob, is this a ‘magazine’ for cheerleading Mayor Castro and his compatriots, or is this going to be a place for honest delivery?

  5. San Antonio has about 2.4 million people in the metro and the metro is what is a better indicator of size versus city proper population. I would say San Antonio is known worldwide. The Spurs, Riveralk and the large military presence put San Antonio on the world map.

  6. After living in San Antonio for the past 27 years there are many things about this city/town that I like. However, I find that there are still problems involving civil rights for all citizens. Yes, on the surface everything looks beautiful, but the element of corruption and Jim Crow still prevail within Law Enforcement and the Justice system. These aspects of government are crucial for a ‘ city on the rise’. As long as a small majority, the ‘in crowd’ maintain control of what happens in San Antonio and Bexar County, civil rights will continue to be abused and the general population will never know since the media is not capable of reporting negative news. It is just a matter of time before San Antonio will really be known throughout the world for it’s corruption, apathy, nepotism, greed, and small town ignorance.

  7. The most succinct way I describe it: “It’s the largest small-town on Earth.” That conveys all the plusses and minuses in one point.

  8. For me, ‘a city on the rise’ suggests some ‘deficit’ (demographic or otherwise) to be overcome or improvement based on recent trends . . . as others have pointed out, what appears to be on the rise in San Antonio is economic inequality and segregation by income following historic patterns of racial segregation in the city.

    Too many current local planning initiatives, I think, encourage people to ‘get on board’ with the latest planning and development agenda (‘learn our lingo’, etc) and are aimed at courting an imagined demographic of more ‘desirable’ residents (high disposable income, high density, highly transient dwellers) rather than truly engaging with or serving the interests of the majority of current residents – who in San Antonio happen to be lower income and Mexican American.

    From my perspective, there appears to be quite a bit of defacto racism and elitism in much of this discourse, aiding the minoritization of the majority of San Antonio residents. If San Antonio is a ‘city on the rise’, where is it rising from, where is it headed and how does this change benefit, prioritize and involve the majority of current residents?

  9. I always describe San Antonio as “a city on the rise”, and am always very happy to tell new people I meet in NY the things to do and places to go that are beyond the realm of the Downtown Riverwalk. I find that people are also intrigued and willing to listen about this far-off, culturally unique place.

    I will forever be thankful for the two years I spent in San Antonio during a time of such catalyzed and passionate growth. You are right, Lorenzo. Follow your passion. Speaking of which, have you seen Darryl Byrd’s TED Talk from 2012? He spoke about that exact thing.

    San Antonio will be the next big city that people flock to. In the meantime, I will continue to be an unofficial spokeswoman for the wonderful things to be found there.

  10. Sadly the number of homeless dogs and cats is also on the rise. I moved here in 2005. There were an estimated 150,000 homeless dogs and the same number of homeless cats at that time. In 2013 those numbers have increased to 200,000 dogs and 200,000 cats. It is very third world on the streets with pregnant and starving mother dogs, packs of intact dogs roaming the streets. The irresponsible pet owners do not take advantage of the low cost no cost spay and neuter clinics. There are no litter permit laws or intact dog laws or enforcement of any laws to help with this problem.

  11. I went thru all my education, military, marriage, kids,divorce and so on right here my home town.
    In 1997 I moved to Austin and was there until moving back to S.A. to retire this year (2015).
    I have to say moving back from Austin, a city I though had become to “greedy” with the tax revenue gained by all the urban expansion it had been allowing by not spending out in front of all the congestion it will cause, they seem to wait till it’s simply unbearable and then find a way by bonds or toll roads to pay for what should have come out of all the type of taxes a city gains by what can only be called “unregulated over expansion”.

    Now we come to S.A and I am amazed at the violent crime here daily, the corruption in law enforcement is palatable, the nepotism across all the city services and this goes all the way to the top managers of the city, the welfare state is completely out of control and all the programs that keep illegal aliens here and employed as subcontractors to the new home industry in all the high growth areas…did I mention the out of control dog problem city wide? we have pet bull attacks on family pets and humans daily…this is the start of gang crime lifestyle we see on the nightly news on the west and east side of town.
    If you want to feel safe you have to move out north to all the gated community’s outside loop 1604 or the “hillcountry” area and deal with very high prices and congestion that type of “gentrification” brings.
    So to close if S.A continues down the same path what your seeing is now how Los Angels started back in the 60s when the illegal element took control of parts of the city were police do not go for fear of being killed! so in another 20 years expect the type of gang crime like the watts riots and very high violent crime and the only safe l pace in S.A. is the hillcountry and all the urban areas keep spiraling downward into decay.
    One last thought: I understand because the difficulty finding good police the city has moved from allowing only one drug crime on a policeman in order to join to three, the city feels it will help ?…this is already the case in Austin were they had to add a police monitor to look over the shoulder internal affairs department

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