Welcome to our soft launch. We’re just getting started here at Folo Media, and still building our team and breaking ground on key initiatives. But we’ve decided to start sharing some our early work on this blog.
A few words are in order as we begin.
When I tell people that San Antonio leads the United States in inequality, I tend to get one of two initial responses. One: “Yes, I know. I hear that all the time.” Two: “No way. I have never heard that before.”
The first response usually comes from nonprofit leaders, community activists, or politicians who represent the poorest districts. San Antonio’s top rank in economic and social segregation is unsurprising to people who work on the front lines—or even just to faithful readers of the local paper, which has spilled considerable ink on the city’s wealth gap.
The second response, which I hear far more often, comes from most everyone else, including local leaders in the business, education, and faith communities. One of the most pressing facts of our city—the waking reality for hundreds of thousands of our neighbors—is something many of us hardly ever have a chance to notice. Not because we’re blind, and not because we’re indifferent; it’s because we’re segregated.
According to a 2012 Pew study and the 2016 Distressed Communities Index, the gap in median income between San Antonio’s poorest and richest zip code is wider than that within any other two metro zip codes in the country. What this data means, exactly, is something we can debate (and we will). Other data in other studies ranks Atlanta or Houston or Boston as the national leader in inequality. And the numbers fluctuate as more and more people move to San Antonio and the city experiences internal churn.
But whatever our ranking, it’s indisputable that San Antonio has a wide, worrying, and seemingly intractable social and economic gap between its neighborhoods. Call it an opportunity gap, because as research by Raj Chetty and others has shown, what we’re really talking about is neighborhoods where opportunities to thrive—or even just to get by—are severely limited. Parts of the city are flourishing. Other parts have been stuck but are in rapid transition with developments that are by turns promising and vexing. Still other parts remain stagnant.
If you never venture far out of your zip code or off the interstates and main thoroughfares, maybe you have barely noticed what’s happening, and what isn’t. It’s easy to escape San Antonio’s reality even if you’re not looking for escape—our separations almost feel natural, like an aquifer, and just as invisible.
What are the consequences of such gaps? Are they bad for everyone, or just a few people? What does the horizon of possibility look like for children living in the poorer parts of San Antonio? What can families in better neighborhoods do about this problem? What about businesses? Faith communities? What should we expect of a city whose concentrated poverty ranks with the worst in the nation? What should we ask of politicians? What should we expect of ourselves, the citizens of San Antonio?
Last year, a few of us were asking these questions, and we decided we wanted to push for better answers. We wanted a sustained conversation supported by continual news-gathering, ongoing research, consultation with experts, public dialogue, and, most of all, the stories and voices of people throughout San Antonio.
Folo Media (pronounced “follow”) exists to report on the challenges and opportunities facing San Antonio’s most vulnerable communities. We intend to develop an audience of people who appreciate the urgency and importance of the city’s ongoing and everyday crisis—the crisis of social and economic segregation, the gulf between the haves and have-nots, and all that it portends for the lives of the least fortunate in San Antonio. We plan to do this in a variety of ways: this website and its social channels, radio programs, public events, and much more.
As for this “we” I keep speaking of—our current team consists of Alice Rhee and Ben Olivo, two deeply experienced journalists, along with myself and a network of colleagues and stalwart interns, including Victoria Uribe and Darcy Sprague. To get an early taste of our work, drop us your email address for regular updates, and stay tuned in on Facebook and Twitter. This blog will be our key channel for local reporting, led especially by Ben Olivo, who has been covering San Antonio for nearly two decades.
You can also read our About page, which offers another, more general overview entitled “What we are up to.” But, again: we’re in the early days of Folo, so what we are up to is going to shift as we create, experiment, learn, and hear from the likes of you. We are breaking ground on several important projects over these next few months, including this blog, but things will look and feel very different a few months from now.
Thanks for tuning in while we’re getting started.