Thursday, July 12, 2007

The many meanings Houston as an "Open City of Opportunity"

While I was at the Enterprise 2.0 Collaborative Technologies Conference in Boston last month, I got access to a white paper by Don Tapscott, a well-known author, speaker, and consultant on the "bigger picture" impacts of technology on business. His most recent book is Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, which I highly recommend. This paper is on Enterprise 2.0, which is how new Web 2.0 technologies are expected to impact large enterprises.

How does this relate to Houston, you might ask? Well, on page 8 it has a table on the many meanings of being "open," which I related to the "Open City of Opportunity" identity/brand that Mayor White, Joel Kotkin and I have been promoting for the city. The term really seems to sum up our friendliness, hospitality, entrepreneurial energy, minimal regulations (including no zoning), open-mindedness, diversity, social mobility, optimism, and charity. Reading the list, I was struck by how many of these really seem to describe the essence of Houston. See if you agree:

Being Open
Characteristic -> Vernacular Expression
  • Lack of restrictions -> “open market”, “open skies”, “open season”, “open shop”
  • Beginnings -> “opener”
  • Sincerity -> “open hearted”
  • Complexity -> “open ended”
  • Replenishment -> “open stock”
  • Expansiveness -> “open range”, “opening up”
  • Freedom -> “open society”
  • Access -> “open bar”
  • Sharing -> “open source”
  • Flexibility and agility -> “open to suggestion”
  • Engagement -> “open arms”
  • Listening -> “open ears”
  • Innovation -> “finding and opening”
  • Networking -> “open door policy”
  • Standards -> “open systems”
  • Candor, transparency -> “open book”
  • Possibilities -> “open for business”
Isn't that a great list? And what I love about it is not only that it does a great job describing Houston, but also creates a great aspiration for what it means to be a Houstonian. It clearly tells Houstonians what we want our community culture to be, in ways that "Bayou City", "Space City", and "Energy Capital" can't. That's what makes it a powerful identity for the city, and more than just another brand.



At 10:01 AM, July 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, if Houston is such an Open City, why does nothing stay "open" in downtown after like 4pm? If you want to grab a bite on the way home or when you're staying late everything is closed. It's crazy; Houston's the 4th biggest city in the country.

At 1:29 PM, July 13, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

You must not be in the right part of downtown. Try the nightlife/theater district.

At 2:19 PM, July 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not talking about bars or entertainment. I am talking about grabbing a sandwich for dinner before I head back to the office. I am talking about grabbing a haircut downtown or dropping/picking up dry cleaning. Services for people who work and live downtown. The tunnels are empty at 4pm along with most of the street level retail. About the only thing open is a McDonalds over by the police station. It's crazy.

At 4:52 PM, July 13, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps Houston Pavilions which help that situation.

At 10:33 AM, July 16, 2007, Blogger ian said...

I agree: whenever I'm downtown during the week, the streets are completely dead except for the occasional homeless transient. Which makes me wonder: how many people actually live downtown? If there were people living there, I have no doubt the streets would be more active, and shops and restaurants could have longer hours. I see a good number of lofts on the outskirts that give me hope, but the lack of life on the streets makes me wonder. . .and really, that goes for the theater district too. I go to the Angelika for cheap date night pretty frequently; occasionally the theater is busy because of all the students wowed by free popcorn and soda, but the rest of the vicinity tends to be lifeless. More frequently, the Angelika is only slightly more lively than everything else.

This is definitely a problem; I think a lively downtown is good for the urban soul. But I don't think it's so much of a problem that Houston can't be labeled "open." After all, though they may be scattered wide and far, there are a good number of high-quality bars, restaurants, museums, and stores open at all times of the day. If you don't have a car they might be inaccessible, but if you don't have a car in Houston, nothing is much accessible at ANY time of the day!

At 4:20 PM, July 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


In answer to your question about how many people live in the downtown area, I do not have an answer right off the top of my head, but a good clue as to how many people live in downtown can be gleaned by the observation that there are no full blown grocery stores located in the downtown CBD. The nearest ones are in Midtown as well as a few in Montrose. Instead the CBD is serviced by some convenience stores.

It seems that the generally accepted wisdom regarding full service grocery stores is that they require 4,000 - 5,000 households within a radius of 2 or so miles in order to achieve required economies of scale for successful operation. That would suggest that the population of downtown is under 10,000 residents.

The big problem for downtown Houston / CBD IMHO is that it is very expensive vis - a - vis other areas of town. Several weeks ago there was an ad in the Sunday Houston Chronicle for a downtown loft - it may have been at the St. Germain lofts on Main. The asking price was $165,000 for 704 square feet which works out to $235 per square foot. You'd really better want to live in downtown for that price!

Also, someone else might know what the current asking prices are for neighborhoods near downtown - i.e. the Heights, Montrose, the former Freedman's town area, not to mention the lower income areas of Northside. Something tells the economist in me that the housing price gradients climb pretty steeply as you get near to within 1-2 miles of downtown. If so, unless you really need or want to be in downtown, then you would be better off buying near to downtown and commuting in rather than being in downtown itself.

At 8:16 PM, July 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Bayou City' sounds authentic. 'Open City of Opportunity' sounds chamber of commerce-ish.

At 12:13 PM, July 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

random_thoughts said...
"I'm not talking about bars or entertainment. I am talking about grabbing a sandwich for dinner before I head back to the office"

Bring a sandwich with you. What's the problem?


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