By Gregory Moore
Over the years I’ve been known to espouse my love affair of the Sim City game platform.
After all where else but on a computer or game console can you be the master developer of your very own city and deal with all the ups and downs that come from being an urban planner.
I’ve also been known to actually challenge adults who are urban planners to see if their skills make them cyber urban developers.
In many instances, whenever I used this reference of the computer game, it has usually been in context to economic development in a city. In this case, it is the Alamo City and particularly the East side itself.
Over the past few days since the last economic re-investment summit, part three, that was held at Sam Houston High School concluded, I’ve had to really ask myself what has anyone learned over the past twenty some odd years of development on that particular side of town.
My conclusion came to a woeful, “not much”.
Let me explain.
For as long as I have been back in San Antonio and been affiliated with the family businesses on that side of town, there has always been this type of summit.
Whether it was a summit proposed by then City Councilman Frank Pierce, Joel Williams or even the current City Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, it has been pretty much all ‘talk’ and little action.
Some of these summits were put together by the county and spearheaded by my good friend Renee Watson and while great ideas may have sprung forth from those sessions, again very little progress in the community took place.
Why is that, you may ask?
I think it comes from the lack or non education of what true economic development is; especially in urban sprawls like San Antonio.
The beginning of understanding what this part of town needs is to truly understand the basics of economics and its principles. In the simpliest of terms, that means the supply and demand concept which is the basis of every economy in the world. The trick for the East side is to figure out what the demand is and then find a way to supply it.
For this part of the community it is a complex animal to dissect because so many different variables are in place at this moment. From the high drop out rate of SAISD students to absentee ownership of property to the fact that the median income in the area is below $50,000 a year, to say that this part of town needs development is an understatement.
But these issues are never tackled in a real world continuum.
There is more rhetoric spilled about what is perceived to be the problem than actual talk about what can be done to solve the problems at hand. [See barrier sheet]
Before a true discussion of economic development can even come to the forefront, the residency in this area needs to tackle those listed barriers and come to grips that unless certain things are taken care of, this part of town will continue to suffer from a lack of growth.
That means that economic development growth needs to follow basic economic structures and principles with or without the barriers being solved.
A good example of this model would be the BRAC expansion project that is taking place now.
There may be some 12,000 jobs coming to Ft. Sam Houston but of those 12,000 jobs, how many of them are actually going to impact the East side by having their paychecks spent in this area?
I’m not talking about the occasional fill up on gas or hair cut but a true economic infusion because many of those families live over here, shop over here and pay taxes over here.
In realistic terms let’s say less than 1% of 1% of the total jobs coming in?
Sounds pretty harsh but let’s be honest about what the problem is on this part of town; lack of economic vision and pre-existing development.
For years this community has been knowing that consolidation at BAMC was going to take place and yet no community leaders or elected officials at any level really took that to heart. There was no vision of that in the past but now there is a hurry up gait to push something through.
Because that has been how things got done on this part of town.
And when there were visionaries telling the masses to do this or that, those visionaries were shouted down by the ‘old guard’ and never heard from again.
That can be seen in a lot of projects that never got off the ground or projects that do not have a good conceptual focus.
But the bottom line is that once again a summit has come and gone and there is still no short term plan for developing anything that may draw higher educational levels, bigger incomes and continual growth. The end result is that a lot of people walked out of that school with guarded optimism and still there is no true plan as to what can be done in the next 90 days to spur on construction growth, job creation and positive financial growth of the area.
Yes the Eastside needs to be developed but those who are talking about wanting to truly be a part of the solution need to be the educators who educate the rest of the community as to what is needed to make this happen.
It’s needed because the same result that happened this past Saturday happened five, ten, fifteen and even twenty years ago with all of those past summits.
It is time for this community to understand the economic princples for growth in order to get the growth it would like to develop.