The Ultimate Houston Strategy
First, let's look at where we are currently. Our foundation is in great shape. Houston has started the 21st-century with a set of rankings and amenities 99% of the planet’s cities would kill for: a vibrant core with several hundred thousand jobs; a profitable and growing set of major industry clusters (Energy, the Texas Medical Center, the Port); the second-most Fortune 500 headquarters in the country; top-notch museums, festivals, theater, arts and cultural organizations; major league sports and stadiums; a revitalized downtown; astonishing affordability (especially housing); a culture of openness, friendliness, opportunity, and charity (reinforced by Katrina); the most diverse major city in America; a young and growing population (fastest in the country); progressiveness; entrepreneurial energy and optimism; efficient and business-friendly local government; regional unity; a smorgasbord of tasty and inexpensive international restaurants; and tremendous mobility infrastructure (including the freeway and transit networks, railroads, the port, and a set of truly world-class hub airports).
To those I'd add:
- A philosophy of Opportunity Urbanism, with the highest standard of living among major metros in the country and probably the world (i.e. how well the median income household lives)
- A great competitive advantage in free market land-use regulation
- We're mostly following the ten principles for developing a great city
- We offer a "best of both worlds" between a big, multi-ethnic, international city with great amenities, culture, and opportunities, while also being affordable and fast-growing with a feeling of community (the "big small town").
- Fits our existing industries and those we're targeting for the future
- A unifying umbrella over energy, health care, aerospace, and education
- Matches our engineering competencies while also differentiating us from other cities
- It fits our brand
- It provides metrics we can measure to track our progress, like STEM degrees, jobs, tourists, and students
- There seems to be a broad consensus across the community about its importance
- Our diverse set of ethnic and national communities means all cultures can be comfortable here, attracting both talented students and foreign subsidiaries from around the globe
- Addressing the 14 Grand Challenges of Engineering and inspiring our kids into STEM careers through those challenges.
- Building on two of the most famous Houston quotes from the Apollo 13 mission: "Houston, we have a problem" and "Failure is not an option" - the greatest single instance of problem solving in Houston's history.
- What aspirational message would we be sending our citizens? (vs. other cities): "You should be solving bigger problems."
The cost, you ask? Easily in the hundreds of millions. But if LA can come up with $1.2 billion to build the Getty Museum, I have no doubt that Houston can muster the needed resources. It's a tiny fraction of the wealth of Houston's 14 philanthropic billionaires, much less the broader base of wealth in this booming city. We can come together to make this happen before the Astrodome's 50th birthday in 2015, and it can put us on a path to greatness for our bicentennial in 2036 that Houston's and Texas' founding fathers could never have imagined.
We, the citizens of Houston, aren't the types to get complacent and rest on our laurels. That's not the legacy previous generations left us. It's time to step forward and tackle our next great challenge. Are you in?