Exploring San Antonio Parks with the Help of New Media, Colleen Pence, and SA2020

Colleen PenceColleen Pence

As a freelance writer, I sometimes have articles that fit within the spirit of RW&G. This is one of those instances–a piece that I wrote for a March 2014 neighborhood publication produced by the Boerne Star here in Texas.

As communities nationwide develop strategies to sustain and grow their local economies while enriching the quality of life, leaders are increasingly resorting to utilizing social media as a tool to highlight and celebrate community assets while creating a public dialogue around specific issues.

Take for instance the SA2020 initiative here in San Antonio. The non-profit created to advance the goals laid out in the SA2020 community vision document recently tapped social media consultant Colleen Pence to serve as the “Outdoorsy Resolutions Leaders for 2014.”

“She was a good pick because we needed people who were already leaders within the community. I would see Colleen online, with her blog, and she was outside with her kids all the time. She was perfect to pair with the parks and green spaces,” said Molly Cox, chief of engagement for SA2020. “This year, we have 19 ‘resolutions leaders’ who are all directly connected to a specific SA2020 goal that they seek to advance. Colleen is one of them.”

In her new role, Pence’s task over the course of the next year is to educate people about the city’s public open spaces. She’ll be using her social media accounts to share her experiences with an eye to encouraging residents to visit the parks.

“I’ll post on SanAntonioMomBlogs.com after visiting each of the 20 parks we’ll go to this year. The posts will include our experiences, descriptions of the parks, photos, and sometimes video to showcase the parks and everything that’s great (and even not so great) about them. Occasionally, my posts will appear on the SA2020.org site too,” said Pence.

Friedrich Park in NW Bexar County, as seen through the eyes of an 8-year-old boy and his mom's DSLR camera.A shot of Friedrich Park by my 8 year-old son using my DSLR camera.
(And inspired by Colleen’s work.)

At press time Pence and her family had visited 5 parks, including Eisenhower. “Our goal is to visit 20 parks this year, but I bet we can beat that number,” said Pence. ”Since our kids were born, we’ve been a family of park-goers and we’ve developed a few favorites. Part of this challenge, for us, is to visit parks we’ve never experienced before.”

For many people the idea of pairing social media and nature time may seem antithetical. Isn’t the point of getting our families outside to cut us off from the distractions of the Internet and email?

Pence suggested that there’s a healthy middle ground, one that makes the best of both new technology and green spaces. The bridge between the two worlds is rooted in life-long learning, the kind of open-ended, all-ages, discovery-based education that takes place outside the confines of schoolrooms.

“When we’re at the parks, my kids love to climb, run, jump, and create their own fantasy worlds and characters. But they also enjoy bringing technology into the mix. Often, I’ll hand my iPhone camera to them, or bring along an extra point-and-shoot camera, and let them photograph their own outdoors experiences. Sometimes we work together to create videos that are fun and educational about the parks too. And, if we spot a flower or insect and we want to learn more about it, we’ll snap a photo and Google it at home to learn more. Some parks, like Walker Ranch Park on West Avenue, use QR codes to give information about the flora and fauna found at the park. My kids love to scan the code and read about the plant while it’s right in front of them.”

While Pence and her family are visiting the parks over the next 10 months, she’ll be sharing photos and stories via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with the #SA2020Resolutions and #SATXparks hashtags.

Leon Springs-area families are invited to follow suit.

“All of the 2014 resolutions at SA2020 are online at SA2020.org/resolutions,” said Cox. “We’re hoping people will visit the website and sign up to support the resolutions that interest them. The more people we have sign up, the better we can show our community commitment [to issues like green space access.] We say here in San Antonio that we are a city on the rise—and we can prove it now, through data tied to participation.”