Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mayor White's last State of the City address (and what he should do next)

Mayor White delivered his final State of the City address at a packed GHP luncheon today (he's term-limited out this year). I can't say there was any breaking news (here's the Chronicle story), but it was a fine speech. He argued that, even with the economic crisis, Houston today is in good shape, with, among other things:
  • 380,000 new jobs in the last 5 years, the most of any metro in the nation and actually more than 47 states(!)
  • Lower crime
  • More parks, libraries, and health clinics than ever before
  • Declining electricity usage (-6%) in the face of tremendous growth from improved efficiency
  • Good city management
  • New housing in formerly run-down neighborhoods
Here are some other points from his speech that caught my attention:
  • He said we need to start a civic conversation on how we're going to weather the fiscal austerity ahead.
  • Our most important infrastructure is our people network as a community that works together.
  • He (and I) believe Houston has a unique sense of community in this country (for a city of our size).
  • "Teamwork over turf."
  • There are a whole lot of new projects for 2009, including zoo upgrades, Children's Museum expansion, a regional amateur sports complex, public art, historical building restorations, and more.
  • A big goal this year of diverting 20% of our solid waste to yard waste recycling.
  • "In Texas we believe in empowerment rather than entitlement, but people still need to help each other."
  • He called for a gracious welcoming back of W to Texas and prayers of success for Obama.
Near the end, he joked about the prolific profanity noted in Houston's early history and his keeping up the tradition with those idle Ike relief trucks. That one got a good laugh from the crowd.

He's been a great mayor and let's hope his final year is another good one.

I spent some time thinking about this: If I could ask him to focus on one big project in his last year, what would it be? The biggest problems - education, traffic, crime, economic development, etc. - can take years to make an impact. So what could he do in one year that would leave a great positive legacy for the city? I think this, with some energy policy sessions added to energy technology. Maybe keynote speeches from the new Secretary of Energy, or even President Obama himself? Energy is one of his top priorities: conservation, sustainability, independence, carbon reduction, etc. How great would that be for an inaugural event that redefines Houston's global identity for the 21st century?

What would you ask him to do in his final year? Comments are welcome.

Update: got some nice backing from Carrie Feibel over at the Chronicle Politics blog and I'm talking with the Partnership to see about expanding this event. Now just need buy-in from the Mayor...

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At 8:31 PM, January 15, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I am glad to see an expansion in solid waste recycling I would like to see an expansion of recycling in plastics, metals, paper, glass and cardboard. I do my own recycling but because there is no pick-up at my apartment building, I have to drive it to the Heights. Unfortunately, I know many, many people who live around me don't bother to do this.

If the city made it easier for people to recycle (or perhaps made it more difficult to throw away recyclables - like charging more for heavy trash or fines), more people would recycle.

Other cities do it and it works great. Houston can do it as well!

At 3:40 PM, January 16, 2009, Blogger Mike said...

1. Get the Universities line underway
2. Buffalo Bayou Master Plan
3. Permanent plan to reuse the Dome

Any of those three would leave a great permanent legacy. It is particularly atrocious that he came into office after an epochal vote on rail transit for Houston, and not one of those rail lines has been started in his six years.

At 10:05 AM, January 17, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has anyone proposed turning the Astrodome into a facility that could host the kinds of activities you're proposing? Why not create the world's most comprehensive energy museum/conference center site/green tech center/think tank?
The complex could even include what could become Houston's future icon (y'know, a la Eiffel Tower but our own unique concept).

At 3:50 PM, January 17, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Interesting idea. But this is really a once a year event for maybe a week at most, and everything that would happen would be better served by newer facilities better focused on the needs of conferences: Reliant Center and Stadium, as well as the GRB.

The 3 current Astrodome proposals:
1) hotel - $ problem and problems getting agreement of Rodeo and Texans
2) giant film stage
3) my concept: weather-protected festival marketplace on non-football and non-rodeo weekends (Google search this blog for Astrodome)


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