Culture of Health Prize
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Many longtime San Antonio residents describe their hometown as one of the biggest cities that no one knows. They say this as a point of pride, and it speaks to the rapid transformation of this South Texas behemoth: In four decades, the home of the Alamo and Riverwalk has doubled in size to a current 1.5 million people, making it the seventh largest city by population in the United States and second in the state to Houston.
With a population that is 60 percent Hispanic, San Antonio offers reminders of its past, like the Mission San Juan Capistrano from 1731, and glimpses of its future, seen in the new shops and residences going up in the upscale Pearl District. But as the city adds an average of 25,000 people a year, partners in the public and private sectors are taking a hard look at entrenched problems to ensure that this 300-year-old community expands into the next century on solid footing and in a way that benefits everyone.
San Antonio is confronting a long history of income inequality and segregation along ethnic and racial lines, and responding to community needs by tackling some of the root causes of poor health that have plagued the city for generations.
Over the last 20 years, the community has made a strong commitment to sustainable change, with groups rallying around such challenges as reducing food insecurity; lowering teen pregnancy; improving mental health services; and facing the intertwined problems of homelessness, substance abuse and incarceration. The work extends to changing policies and entire systems in order to create the conditions for healthful living for the next generation of San Antonians.
The city has also revamped how it responds to people in a mental health crisis. It was the first city in Texas to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 years and successfully led a statewide effort to downgrade truancy from a criminal to civil offense. Residents have put early childhood education at the forefront, approving a sales tax increase in 2012 to fund pre-K classes for all children.
“Just like the city is going through an urban renaissance, we’re going through a thought renaissance,” says City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, an MIT-trained engineer whose family came to the city from Mexico. “We haven’t reached that point where we have all these great health outcomes. But we’ve reached the point of acknowledging that there is action we can take.”
John Bull, a fifth-generation San Antonioan who, as the presiding judge of the city’s municipal court, worked to change the way the judicial system interacts with young people, sees the Culture of Health Prize as recognition of San Antonio’s uniqueness—“finally.” “San Antonio’s got a lot of charm and it’s got a lot of challenges,” he says. “You have the right people in place now to address those challenges.”