A recent essay in The Houston Chronicle by Brett Perlman, CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future, prompted me to revisit a few previous posts on the characteristics and distinctiveness of my hometown. Perlman is rightly proud of the fact that Houston was recently added to the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program, the members of which are “prepared to deal with both acute shocks (such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks) and chronic stresses (such as mobility and affordable housing), the sort of ills that over time corrode our day-to-day quality of life”. The potential of such an affiliation, according to him, is “that it is this broad work on resilience that could transform our community into a region that competes globally with places as diverse and powerful as New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and London”.
I’m all for working with those urban areas around the world that have unique perspective on resiliency from which we can learn. But I would caution–some of our would be peers have models and are pursuing ideas that are not to be emulated, so we should be careful what we wish for–there are good and bad strategies even among these elite cities. And I also think that Houston has a lot to offer others in this regard and it has much to do with characteristics I have noted many times that highlight our city’s organic culture as well as some cautions about how not to mess it up, as follows:
- The future belongs to those regions like the Houston area that are attractive to capital and where it is well-treated, so those attributes, particularly those that are friendly to enterprise and opportunity and that have made Houston attractive to capital should be emphasized.
- A large part of Houston’s attractiveness is that there is “no price of entry” in terms of class, origin, race, or family wealth. Houston is a place where people come from all over the world to pursue whatever version of the American dream they bring with them.
- Our city’s accessibility and openness should be celebrated. We don’t need “image” campaigns or consultants, which are often fronts for transforming our image to one of “urbanity” or “globalism” and the commensurate lifestyle that fits the preference of many so-called “smart growth” advocates.
- Houston can continue to be what The Wall Street Journal once called “the Hong Kong of the Western hemisphere” only if it can avoid the tendency to embrace “progressive” ideas such as zoning and its cousins, land use planning and smart growth theories, along with publicly-financed hotels and transit plans that are insufficiently user-financed.
- It will be of increasing importance to take a critical look at the role and proper functions of government at every level and to be receptive to marketization opportunities wherever they present themselves. The competition for capital will demand this.
- Race- and ethnic-based contract set asides and other group preferences, whether to correct perceived past injustices or promote race or gender “diversity”, will have a long-term negative impact on social relations.
- The most threatening area of risk to our success at resiliency is the performance of our institutions of public education and Houston’s top priority should be a model elementary and secondary education system. This will not be possible until a declaration of war is declared on childhood illiteracy and when competition and post-secondary readiness accountability become fully integrated into education delivery.
So let’s work with our peers to improve our response to pressing needs, but remember—Houston is unique in many ways and if we didn’t have a Houston, we’d want to build one, so let’s take care of the one we have, and I believe that our response to the Harvey disaster is plenty of evidence that we will.