Downtown Adventures | "Rockport's Future is in our Hands" by Vicki Totten

"When disasters happen, our present is shattered and we must re-envision tomorrow." From Bob Stilger's book about Japan's three disasters in 2011, "After Now: When We Can't See the Future, Where Do We Begin?"
On the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, Rockport mourned all that was lost and celebrated all we have recovered since the hurricane chose Rockport as the place it would land last August. As I attended the various events in the harbor area and downtown, I was aware that while Harvey took away so much from so many people, what it left behind was a stronger community.

First Responders Sharing Their Stories on the One Year Anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.
One of the many capsized or destroyed boats in the harbors.

I found myself in tears as I viewed the beautiful yet tragic slideshow John Martell had put together at the Women's Club showing before and after pictures of downtown buildings that are no longer there, of mangled boats in the harbor, and of piles and piles of hurricane debris as we began cleaning up after so much destruction.

Inside the old Rockport Center for the Arts.

At least the sculptures are still standing after the Rockport Center for the Arts was demolished.

I felt grateful as I listened to the first responders talking about their experiences during and after the storm, and marveled at the steady stream of people at the many events, which culminated for me with the block party downtown. It was certainly evident that this town still knows how to party. I watched, listened to live music, enjoyed dinner from the food trucks, and danced along with the hundreds of other people there to celebrate our recovery and our community.

So many stories that have come out of our shared experience of the hurricane. 

But as we settle back into our normal routines, I find myself wondering about Rockport's future. Earlier in the week, several hundred people gathered for a public meeting to share their thoughts about plans to rebuild and expand the Rockport Center for the Arts. While support for the art center's efforts to rebuild was certainly evident, some people had also come because they feared that the new building would result in the historic Kline Diner being demolished, signifying yet another loss.

The temporary Rockport Center for the Arts in the old Kline Diner.

While it was announced that the art deco building wasn't going to be torn down, the meeting was a reminder that there are more changes on the horizon for Rockport. At the end of the meeting, I found myself wondering if people will be as willing to engage in future discussions about what the "new" Rockport will look and feel like. 

Hundreds of people came out to hear about the Rockport Center for the Arts plans. 

These musings caused me to reflect on what I often hear from people about what makes Rockport special to them.  Certainly the strong art community, the year round fishing and boating, and birding are things many people point to.  But as we rebuild, is this also an opportunity to create a Rockport that is more accessible and more reflective of what we value most? What would that "new" Rockport look like if it enabled us to keep our young people here instead of them going elsewhere to find careers?  Or, for that matter, what will continue to keep us here?

"The more we can be present to each other without being overwhelmed by our own fear and anxiety, and the more we can embrace curiosity, respect and generosity, the more likely we will be able to do the work we need to do, together." Bob Stigler

If we can stay in touch with what makes Rockport special, whether we live here full or part-time, or just vacation here, we have a chance to create something that is even better than what we had before. But if we don't stay involved, those decisions may be made without us.  For example, will the developments planned along the downtown waterfront serve people who live in Rockport, or just visitors?  Will they reflect what is important to us?

Downtown and Water front area.

We desperately need and welcome this new growth.  However, since some of these new developments will involve our tax dollars, and all of them will require city approval, we have an opportunity to offer our vision of what will serve Rockport best.  Besides, if we don't ask to be included in some of these decisions, we can be sure that others will be happy to make them for us.  And in addition to us adding to the conversation, it will be important for the people making these decisions to not be doing so in silos, and that they are also talking to each other. 

So, my hope is that we will continue to work together and use our voices, not to protest or to create barriers, but as a positive force in shaping Rockport as the place people want to come to and to stay.  And, while the Rockport we had may be gone, I would like to believe that the "future" Rockport really is still ours to create. 

Together we can make "Rockport Stronger." (photo from the San Antonio Express News)

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