Bud Kennedy

How Facebook is changing Fort Worth

Facebook’s Fort Worth Data Center opens

Facebook held a Grand Opening VIP and media tour for its massive new Fort Worth Data Center Thursday.
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Facebook held a Grand Opening VIP and media tour for its massive new Fort Worth Data Center Thursday.

Amazon nearly made Fort Worth a $6 million delivery, and with the help of Facebook.

Young professionals pointing to Amazon’s expansion plan convinced City Council to think a few days about a larger tax increase and buying an extra $6 million in better city bus service.

Two council opponents eventually sank the idea. But it was last-minute anyway.

It was another example of civic activism fostered on Facebook.

“Please don’t look down on us because of our youth,” Rice University alumna Sadie Murray, 25, told the council, saying young people will “take action about the things that we care about.”

Last week, that meant better public transit, a requirement to contend for Amazon’s new corporate headquarters and other relocations.

Last month, young residents of all colors had organized on Facebook and lobbied City Council to challenge a new Texas immigration law.

Facebook has become a Fort Worth gathering place to rally civic support for neglected children of the Las Vegas Trail neighborhood (“LVT Love”), for better public schools and for marches such as one last month for “love, not hate.”

The United Fort Worth campaign opposing a city role in immigration enforcement “was 100 percent Facebook,” organizer Daniel García Rodríguez, 22, said last week.

“Our first meeting was small, but the next meeting we got so many people we had to add more chairs,” he said.

“I feel like it’s a huge opportunity for people to communicate. When you click on an event and see that 75 people are going, it makes more people want to go.”

The group supporting better bus service, the Tarrant Transit Alliance, had been helped along by Fort Worth Transportation Authority board member Jeff Davis, a lawyer and former councilman.

But in only days, the alliance’s Facebook following grew to 350.

“I think these advocacy groups have been formed out of frustration and isolation, to help get a message across to boards, councils and school boards,” Davis said.

We brag about how many people we get [to move] to Fort Worth, but when we get you here, you are stuck. You’ve got to have a car.

Council member Gyna Bivens

He was surprised at the response and the velocity.

“I’m blown away by the response at all levels,” he said, “by people who are remarkable, thoughtful, sustained, passionate.”

The council voted 6-1 to delay passing a new budget and consider taxing residents an average of an extra $13 per year for better bus service. (Update: But when the council met Sept. 22 to consider the revised budget, two council members who opposed the transit spending didn’t show up and the proposal failed for lack of a quorum.)

“We brag about how many people we get [to move] to Fort Worth,” east side Councilwoman Gyna Bivens told council — “but when we get you here, you are stuck. You’ve got to have a car.”

Fort Worth spends less than half what Austin or San Antonio spend per resident on transit, and barely one-tenth of what Dallas or Houston spend.

“This is not an under-40 issue, it’s an economic development issue,” developer Ryan Dwiggins, 31, told the council.

The Fort Worth City Council will hold hearings Sept. 22 and Sept. 26 and vote Sept. 29 on reducing the tax rate by 2 cents. (The average taxes would still go up.)

“Do we want companies to relocate here, or do we want to become a bedroom community?”

More than one speaker said Fort Worth needs to keep young professionals and college graduates here, and how that’s tougher if they need cars instead of relying on transit and ridesharing.

For 11 years, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce has reached out to young professionals through its Vision Fort Worth program.

“This generation is way more civic-minded, more community-minded, than any other generation,” Vision director Brittany Brookens said last week.

“Young groups look up and say, ‘Hey! We want to fix this!’ I see so much passion among young professionals. … We want them to stay here. We want them to live here.”

At the council meeting, Murray, the former Rice student, showed photos from a video she posted of the city’s forlorn, overgrown, inaccessible bus stops.

“You’re just going to see more of us here talking about what matters,” she said.

Today, those conversations start on Facebook.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, @BudKennedy.

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