Fiscal year 2013 will go down as a watershed year in San Antonio history. Where years of strict term limits forced previous administrations to think short-term, the City Council and I were fortunate to enter office in 2009 under a new system that allowed for long-term planning. We responded at City Hall by tackling challenges head-on that have for years slowed the City’s ability to reach its full potential. To achieve this, we’ve set a clear vision for San Antonio’s future: to create a brainpower community that is the liveliest city in the United States. We’ve focused on long-term issues like educational attainment, obesity, teen pregnancy and spurring redevelopment in the center city.
After four years, the evidence is rolling in—and the progress is exciting. This past July, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District announced that the obesity rate plunged from 35.1 percent to 28.5 percent between 2010 and 2012. That dramatic drop put San Antonio below the statewide rate of 29.3 percent for the first time in recent memory. In human terms, it means that within two years 70,000 adult men and women are no longer obese, and are now at reduced risk for diabetes, heart disease and other maladies. Just as importantly, the declining obesity rate in San Antonio also was paralleled by an increase in the healthy weight proportion of the population from 31.2 percent to 35.4 percent.
While there is still much work to do, the gains are the result of sustained efforts across the community, including the Mayor’s Fitness Council. Salad bars have been added to 108 local schools, $1.7 million has been invested in area parks to add fitness equipment, walking trails and other enhancements, and community-wide fitness events have been created to great success. Síclovía, a free event that periodically closes major city streets to create a safe place for people to exercise and play, has broken attendance records with each successive event. The last one, on September 29, 2013, attracted more than 73,000 runners, walkers and cyclists.
This year also marked the release of the first community report card by SA2020, the nonprofit charged with executing our community-wide vision for the rest of the decade. The data showed tremendous progress on many high-priority issues including:
- the community’s overall high school graduation rate rose to 92 percent (Texas Education Agency), exceeding the community’s original 85-percent goal for 2020;
- the teen birth rate declined by more than 15 percent, matching SA2020’s original end-of-decade goal;
- and, according to the most recent data available, college enrollment among graduating seniors increased from 38.1 percent to 49.7 percent.
That positive progress dovetailed with the doors opening on Pre-K 4 SA, the voter-approved program to invest in high-quality, full-day Pre-K for more than 22,000 four-year-olds over the next eight years. One of the proudest moments of my mayoral tenure came in late August as I greeted parents and students outside one of our two new centers of Pre-K excellence. The evidence tells us the bright-eyed four-year-olds that I saw that day will be more likely to read proficiently by third grade, more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to go to college. We know it’s a crucial investment because brainpower is the new currency of success in the 21st century global economy. The cities that cultivate it will thrive. The ones that don’t will fall further behind. And as state and federal budgets continue to shrink, cities like San Antonio are playing an increasingly essential role in boosting educational achievement.
San Antonio also sent a bold message in 2013 by passing a non-discrimination ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and military veteran status. In joining many Fortune 500 companies and other major American cities with similar policies, San Antonio proclaimed that there are no second-class citizens in our city.
On the economic front, the City of San Antonio is in sound financial shape. Under the leadership of City Manager Sheryl Sculley, the city’s AAA bond rating was reaffirmed in 2013. Today, San Antonio is the only city with a population of more than 1 million to receive a 'AAA' general obligation rating from all three major rating agencies. And we’ve done it while investing and encouraging development in our center city. In 2013, we kept the drumbeat of ribbon cuttings going, and are on track to add more than 2,400 downtown housing units by the end of 2014. At the same time, we turned dirt on a Convention Center expansion and the redevelopment of Hemisfair Park, the site of the 1968 World’s Fair.
When I look back on 2013, I see a city on the rise. We made significant progress on many fundamental issues that were once thought too tough to tackle. They are among the reasons why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named San Antonio as one of the nation’s seven “enterprising cities.” They are also the reasons why I love being Mayor of San Antonio. Watch us prosper even more in 2014.
Mayor Julián Castro
Visit Mayor Julián Castro's website
Visit the SA2020 website