SA Tomorrow Sustainability Forum

In looking toward managing future growth, the City of San Antonio has instituted 2020-SA, “a vision for the future of San Antonio created by the community.” This past June, MVHA Board Member, Diane Fuqua, attended a meeting on sustainability which is part of the SA-2020 initiative. The following is Mrs. Fuqua’s report on this meeting.

Sustainability means that a community’s available resources are distributed so that each person’s basic economic, social, and environmental needs are met. Basic environmental needs include access to clean water, garbage disposal, and an environment free of toxic waste. Food, access to adequate education, and health care are basic social needs. Affordable housing and jobs that reward workers with a living wage are basic economic needs. One may see that there is a lot of overlap in these three areas: social, economic, and environmental. For example, housing and jobs are economic issues, but are also social issues. Access to transportation is a social issue, but also economic, as the number of options a person has for transportation is limited by income. Education is a social issue, but, as with transportation and housing, options are often determined by income, as a family with a lower income has fewer options for a child’s education. Access to water and electricity is a basic social needs, but also overlap with environmental and economic concerns and priorities.

When people are living in poverty, the community is not sustainable, because not all people’s basic needs are being adequately met. The problem is not that resources aren’t available, but that they are not accessible to all. For example, there are plenty of dentists in San Antonio, but not all San Antonians receive basic preventative dental care. There is plenty of fresh produce in San Antonio, but not all can afford it. As one forum speaker pointed out, the best indicator of a family’s health status is a single number, its zip code, which is number determined by income.

Meeting each person’s needs is already a challenge, but San Antonio is growing rapidly, adding to these demands. It is expected that the population of San Antonio will increase by 1.1 million by 2020 and estimates are that 500,000 new homes will be needed. How is the City to keep pace with this rapid growth and provide all individuals and families basic necessities?

As the City develops a comprehensive plan, SA 2020, to accommodate this extraordinary growth, one approach being considered is a “multimodal transportation” model. Multimodal transportation includes not only highway construction and maintenance, but also public transportation upgrades, bike paths and lanes, and more sidewalks to create walkable neighborhoods--a variety of transportation options that make getting where one needs to go easier and more affordable for everyone.

The City is also looking at under-utilized buildings and land within the current city “footprint.” So, instead of continuing to build out, farther from services, businesses and homes would “fill in,” making it possible to tap into current infrastructure. More people’s needs could be met at a much lower cost to the City.

These ideas are a part of the City’s long term sustainability plan. But, not all changes have to wait. One immediate plan targets how the City handles trash, a major issue in sustainability. It costs money to get rid of trash, and landfills take up a lot of space. Landfill space is not very appealing for further development. Who wants their business or home next to the landfill? San Antonio is already addressing this issue through recycling. But, right now, only about 30% of our trash is recycled. The City wants to increase this to 60% by 2020.

A first step in this effort is to provide each household with three, rather than two, trash containers—brown for trash, blue for recycling, and green for organic materials such as leaves, lawn cuttings, fruit and vegetable peelings. Each of these cans will also come in three sizes. As a household increases the amount of trash it puts into the blue and green bins, a smaller brown bin will be needed, creating less trash for the landfill. There is also incentive to encourage all to get on board. Customers will pay depending on the size of the brown, blue and green bins. When a household has a smaller brown bin and larger blue and green bins, it pays less. This strategy allows everyone to participate regardless of income, and it saves everyone money: a win-win situation.

So as the City moves forward, each of us can do his or her part by supporting and participating in new initiatives and being responsible with resources, even if we could afford to be a bit irresponsible. San Antonio’s sustainability depends on it.

Diane Fuqua

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Monte Vista Historical Association
PO Box 12386
San Antonio, Texas 78212