Pronouncing the city in strong shape on Wednesday, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told a gathering of hundreds of business and civic leaders during her sixth annual State of the City address that the fast-growing city faces a lot of opportunities as well as significant challenges.
Mayor Price focused her remarks on the city she envisions in 2025: a healthy, prosperous place, with more public transit, including a rail line that goes directly to D-FW International Airport. New skyscrapers will populate the city’s skyline, and Fort Worth’s downtown will be doubled in size with the completion of the Trinity River Vision Project.
Today, Price said Fort Worth is physically healthier than it was when she took office. The self-described "crazy bike lady" has made health a priority during her tenure as mayor, and holds regular walking and bicycling town hall events. It’s the youngest big city in Texas, and increasingly diverse.
More than anything, though, Price said Fort Worth is growing, and fast. One new resident moves in every 24 minutes.
“The growth is a blessing, but it’s also the challenge that we face today that will define our tomorrows,” Price said.
Fort Worth struggles with poverty
While parts of Fort Worth are booming, the mayor said other neighborhoods are struggling with low graduation rates, high crime, and high unemployment. Now, nearly one in five Fort Worth residents lives below the poverty line, an increase from 1990.
“I know there are lots and lots of factors involved in this,” the mayor said, “but we must find the starting point and look at them, and we must unite and put our collective energies behind improving them.”
Price says she the city is looking for solutions in struggling neighborhoods. She pointed to a $2.5 million pilot program to improve infrastructure and reduce crime in the city’s impoverished Stop Six neighborhood on the city’s east side.
The area's 18,000 residents face a 21 percent unemployment rate, and only a 51 percent high school graduation rate.
“It’s my expectation that this focus on Stop Six is the beginning of a renewed focus on all of east Fort Worth,” she said.
Fort Worth is looking into ways to improve the city's struggling neighborhoods, the mayor said, including how to leverage tax incentives to bring in businesses and jobs. Much of those incentives have focused on the outer edges of the city, in places like Far North Fort Worth.
Education is another priority
Education and literacy, the mayor said, are also crucial to building a more prosperous city.
“Education is economic development,” Price said told the who’s who of the city’s business leaders that made up her audience. She stressed that education matters for more than just the students in the school system, and challenged them get involved in literacy efforts, saying that the majority of jobs in the near future will require some post-secondary education.
“How are you going to fill your jobs of tomorrow if you don’t have an educated workforce?” she asked.
Last year, Price launched an initiative last year to get all third-graders in the city to read at grade level by 2025. Research has shown that that’s a crucial age in determining who will drop out and who will complete high school.
The mayor called on the city’s police force to continue building ties to Fort Worth’s diverse communities. That follows a high profile video that showed a white officer wrestling a black woman to the ground that sparked tensions in the African American community.
In a question and answer session after her speech, the mayor said the city is focused on adding public transit, preparing the city for new technologies like driverless cars, and auditing its own departments to figure out where it can find efficiencies to curb government growth as the city’s population increases. She said the city may also cut the city's property rate to ameliorate an expected spike in property values.