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Long-term planning: An open letter to Mayor Hardberger

Chuck Kerr

 

Dear Mayor Hardberger,

First off, congratulations on Luminaria. Iíll be honest, I had low expectations, but I think it really came together. It was a huge hit with everyone I talked to. With a year to plan, I will be shocked if next yearís event isnít exponentially better.

The reason I write is that you seem like a man of vision who isnít afraid to step outside the box to get stuff done. What follows are some thoughts for San Antonio to succeed in the coming years. Without wasting any more words I want to draw your attention to some serious news that just hit the country last week. Evidently, weíre all going to become cannibals at some point between the years 2038 and 2048. I was shocked to hear this, too. But before I go into detail, some brief history is needed.

In 1893 at the Chicago Worldís Fair, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner gave a speech that described and defined American exceptionalism. He stated that the interaction between the ďsavage frontierĒ and civilization created a unique American identity that was different from our European tradition. This has been called the Turner Thesis. Well, just last week a new Turner Thesis was written. Thatís right, Iím talking about Ted Turner and I think you see where Iím headed.

In a recent interview about Global Warming, the media magnate prophesied, ďWeíll be eight degrees hotter in 30 or 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow Ö civilization will have broken down. The few people left will be living in a failed state Ö and living conditions will be intolerable. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals.Ē I may have rearranged a few of his sentences but I think his point is still pretty clear.

What follows is a call to action, a plan for San Antonio exceptionalism amid the chaos, and a survival guide for the next century. Sure, Ted Turner is probably blind and crazy, but so were all those oracles in William Shakespeareís plays.

1) Hype it and they will come

The word tourism is practically synonymous with San Antonio. It has been the lifeblood of our economy. As we head towards cannibalism, I suspect some tough times are going to be in our future. Put another way, that family of four from Oklahoma might have more pressing issues than visiting the Alamo. And with the price of gasoline at around $10 per gallon, it just wonít be affordable (more on that later.)

Our dollar is shrinking and the euro on the rise, not to mention the Chinese yuan. Gone are the days when we could travel to Europe and live like kings. However, if we flip the situation, we just might have gold in our hands. If we successfully advertise in Europe and China, we should be able to get their tourist money! A total switcheroo.

They wonít want to come to our ďnewĒ cities like Dallas and Los Angeles, because as Ted Turner warned us, those cities will be a shell of their former selves. But a city like San Antonio? Itís full of Old-World charm. What city better than ours to capture Americaís old and new wild west. And I think thatís how we should advertise it: ďVisit San Antonio Ė Gateway to the New Wild West and Beyond!Ē

We shouldnít have to do anything except stay true to our roots, which means donít change. Now, Iím not saying we shouldnít have a few amenities for our European tourists, such as recognizable plumbing fixtures (the bidet), but basically weíre in pretty good shape. I think it will be much cheaper to spend our money on advertising than on building more structures to create the illusion of importance. If Bush can use advertising to sell the Iraq War, I donít see why we canít sell San Antonio to European tourists. And if youíre worried about keeping our new tourists safe from the cannibalistic hordes, all we need to do is convert our local military personnel into full-time tourist Green Zone patrol. That might mean losing the North Side as a result, but thatís probably a good thing anyway.

2) Energy crisis (redux)

So, letís assume that we maintain our tourism industry through creative diversification. But what about the locals? How are they going to get by? For a city of its population, San Antonio has some of the worst sprawl in the nation. Ten-dollars-per-
gallon gasoline will cripple our transportation ability. I think the smart thing to do is look to the 1974 OPEC crisis for ideas. What did we do back then? Thatís right, Iím talking about mopeds.

It seems crazy now, but mopeds completely took America by storm during the lean years of the 1970s. As China and India start driving all of our SUVs, weíll turn it around and drive all of their cool mopeds. And to be clear, Iím not talking about Vespas. Iím referring to the mopeds with bicycle pedals and the 50cc engines. They get 100mpg. They can legally travel in bike lanes. They donít require a license to drive. Letís face it, the streets are going to become libertarian dystopias. The DOT probably wonít exist. No one will be following any traffic lanes or laws. Mopeds are extremely fun, and with civilization falling apart, people should at least have some diversion left to enjoy. If we jump on this early, we should be able to corner the entire U.S. moped market while everyone else is trying to live out of their Escalades.

3) Urban gardens

Ted Turner tells us that in 30-40 years no crops will grow. What heís not telling us is that long before that point the remaining crops will be too expensive for us to buy with our shrinking dollar. What to do? This will be a bitter pill for many to swallow but we should follow the model of Cuba and its urban-garden movement of the early 1990s. After the Soviet Union fell, Cuba had no money coming in and little exports going out. To survive, they consulted 19th-century American almanacs on how to grow food. Luckily, we wonít have to translate those almanacs, but we will have get our hands in the dirt and plant some seeds. The last time we had to do something like this was in World War II with the Victory Gardens. Apocalypse Gardens might not sound like an exciting PR pitch, but with gas at $10/gallon, Iím sure weíll all have gallows humor.

Of course Ted and the new Turner Thesis could be wrong and everything will work out. If thatís the case then Iíll be the first to happily say so. But if heís right? The rest of the country could invade Texas in a cannibalistic frenzy. Those San Antonio-size waists would become someone elseís well-marbled brisket. And where would that leave us? Holed up in the Alamo once again, outnumbered by an invading foreign army. Iím sure no one is excited about that scenario. If thatís the case, and these ideas didnít work out, then so be it. But at least no one can say San Antonio wasnít looking to the future.

Best regards,
Mark Jones
San Antonio Current

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