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25th Anniversary Issue

Current 25: Legacy of coal, sprawl, and asphalt giving way to a 'greener' way of planning in SA

2006-2011

 

The 1970s, ’80s, the big movement then was into the fringes. It was more profitable to develop outside the city proper.

Oh, yeah. And so many other cities did the same thing. We had cheap oil, land was cheap, and people wanted to spread out. You know in 1930 our city was basically six miles by six miles and we had something like 100 miles of electric streetcars. But most cities dismantled theirs. We were one of the first to do so (laughs). It was a 20th-century economy based on cheap oil and fossil fuels. Now we’re into what [international sustainability planner Jeremy] Rifkin calls the Third Industrial Revolution, what [U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven] Chu calls the next industrial revolution. It’s happening as we talk, and it’s going to be based on clean energy.

 

What were the signs during your time in politics that there was a new economy burgeoning?

Back in 2008 we had record gasoline prices. At the same time we were having an internal debate at CPS, a little bit at City Hall, about what we were going to do to produce electricity. At that time our demand was increasing at three-and-a-half percent per year. And if you looked out to 2020 we were going to have some real deficits. So where were we going to get that? We looked with nuclear and other things and it was enormously expensive. It was just billions, and billions, and billions of dollars. Then at the same time, clean technology was starting to be embraced around the world by developing nations like China. It was clear this was going to be the next big economic movement. And it was going to be driven by major global factors in the 21st century such as scarce resources, globalization, technological innovation, and climate change. And all these things were coming together to create this new industrial base. San Antonio had a history of missing those movements, it was evident in our GDP and our wealth (even compared to places like Houston and Dallas and Austin) and that we could not afford to do that again. That if we missed this movement we would fall behind as a city in this 21st-century global economy in a way we’d never be able to catch up.

 

Was there a lot of resistance to bringing Jeremy Rifkin and his round table here?

He was controversial, but his message was actually quite consistent with where we were going with Mission Verde. He was then an advisor to the European Union and we were the first U.S. city he was actually engaged with at this point.

 

How would you describe San Antonio today compared to, say, 1985, as far as its place within its own life cycle?

I think we’re starting a new life cycle. It could be a very exciting one for the city and one in which we take a lead in biotech and water. We’re in many ways a young city, so we have a lot of promise if we can now just realize it.

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