Monday, November 28, 2011

A targeted tourism strategy for Houston

I recently got engaged on an interesting discussion thread on HAIF about making Houston more of a tourism magnet, an area where we are sadly lacking compared to other global cities of our stature.  In that thread I reposted my July post on attracting national and international tourists to Houston, where I talked about converting the Astrodome and empty land nearby into the world's largest engineering and technology museum.  But the more interesting thing to come out of the HAIF conversation was a bigger picture tourism strategy for Houston.  It starts with this list from the post of areas where we really can't compete:
  • Out family-fun Orlando?
  • Out weather California?
  • Out beach Florida or Hawaii?
  • Out culture New York?
  • Out museum DC or New York?
  • Out gamble/adult-fun Las Vegas? (or South Beach?)
  • Out ski Denver or Salt Lake City?
  • Out history New Orleans, Boston, Savannah or Charleston? (or even San Antonio)
See what I mean? People choose vacation locations for specific reasons, and the winners are pretty damn dominant. We're stuck as a local/regional "big city" tourism destination like Chicago is for the midwest and Atlanta is for the southeast, with our share of great museums, restaurants, shopping, and a few attractions - but not enough to pull people from across the country - much less the world - to vacation here.
And here's my new insight that came out of the discussion:

From a marketing analysis, there is an unfilled niche, and here's my articulation of it: parents plan family trips, and they often want to educate their kids as well as have fun. There are plenty of opportunities to do this with history - Colonial Williamsburg, Boston, New Orleans, San Antonio and the Alamo, etc. - not to mention Europe. DC is where you learn about our great country's history and political system. The national parks for learning about nature and the environment. San Diego for every type of animal in the mega-zoo (and SeaWorld for aquatic animals).

But there's bit of a hole in the tourism market when it comes to teaching kids about and inspiring them into STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). On a national level there's the Air and Space Museum in DC and a couple of NASA sites (inc. Houston JSC), but it's pretty limited. On a local level it's pretty small science and children's museums. We could aspire to be one of those "must-do" vacations for all families that want to broadly educate their kids. "A DC/Smithsonian of STEM" might be a way to think of it. Maybe that's one mega-museum, or a collection of medium-sized ones. The Astrodome is a huge opportunity, as is the giant empty field to the south of it and the easy rail connection to our Museum District. And we already have a starting pull with Space Center Houston. Build on that, and we can create a differentiated niche from other tourist destinations.

By creating a very future-oriented, big challenge-focused, STEM-based tech/engi/science museum complex (including energy) as a compliment to NASA, we become one of those destinations families will want to visit for the benefit of their kids. I'm not saying they won't also have some fun when they get here (Kemah, Galveston, shopping, eating, etc.), but the core reason they will add it to their vacation plans will be to inspire their kids into STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) - just like I'm sure plenty of DC trips have inspired kids into public service careers.

The short description would be like the National Air and Space museum (the 2nd most popular museum in the world after Paris' Louvre), but covering a broader range of STEM subject areas and giving not just history, but articulate the big challenges facing those fields going forward. The goal is to not just look backward, but inspire kids to study hard so they can contribute to working on the big problems of the future in their careers. The original vision of Epcot might be another example. Include lots of interactivity and summer camps, with school field trip groups on multi-day visits.  It should address the Grand Challenges of Engineering, with maybe a wing for each.

I think most of the museum would be the history of engineering and technology, maybe grouped into themes like "transportation", "computing", "health/medicine" (link to the world's largest medical center, anyone?), "energy", etc. but then shifting at the end of their timelines to broad, long-term challenges. The goal is for the kid to get swept up in the great people and innovations of the past and then get them excited about being contributors to future progress.

I wonder if a better name might be "The Museum of Progress", showing how human civilization has advanced with science, engineering, and technology and the great challenges we face going forward.

Definitely take some time to browse the thread - there are some good ideas and graphics from others in there.  And I'd love to hear your thoughts on the strategy, the specific museum concept, and potential names in the comments.  And if you're one of Houston's political or financial power-players interested in supporting something like this, please drop me an email (tgattis (at)

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Tops for global connections, shale gas, new map, regs vs. density, and more

Since it's a short week where people usually don't have a whole lot going on in the office, I thought it'd make sense to do a misc items post this week since people might have more time to follow the links.  So here they are:
From the Houston Digital Ambassador emails:
Finally, to end on a lighter note, here are my favorites from the Houston Press' "50 Reasons Texas is the Best State in America"
42. No state income tax, suckaz. 
39. "Failure is not an option." Yeah, it was never actually said by Gene Kranz, but it summed up generations of work at NASA that hopefully will not end with the shuttle era. 
37. Tex-Mex. Comfort food, hangover cure, drunken latenight scarfing: It has many purposes, all of them delicious. 
34. When you say you're from Texas, no one in the world needs to ask where that is. 
26. If there's an ethnic food that's not available in Houston, it involves a very, very small ethnicity. 
14. Few states have legislatures that meet less often than Texas's, and we like to keep it that way.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I'll see ya next week.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

My TEDx Houston talk, mostly about Houston

Sorry for the post delay this week - got back midweek from California and ran right into a giant pile of work.  Back in June I had the opportunity to speak at TEDx Houston on the UH campus.  It was a fantastic (and yet nerve-wracking) experience I really enjoyed.  Well, the professionally edited video of my talk is finally available: "What is Social Systems Architecture and why does it matter?"  It covers kind of a wide range of topics over 20 minutes (the first 14 mins are all Houston):
  • The Opportunity Urbanism philosophy of cities and how Houston is an exemplar of that model
  • Branding Houston
  • A transportation/transit solution for Houston and other decentralized cities
  • Organization 2.0 and the Bossless Organization model (winner of the Management Innovation Prize)
  • Reforming K-12 education with empowerment
And yes, if you're wondering, I broke all the TED talk rules by packing way too much into my 20 minutes (and apologies in advance for the frequent throat clearing; lesson learned: no ice water before speaking).  But I got some very positive feedback from the audience, so at least some people appreciated the difference from the usual TED talk model.  The video does a decent job of capturing the slides too (use the bottom right-side arrows to make it full screen), but you can also download a pdf of the slides here.  I know 20 minutes is a lot of commitment in the web/blog world, but it really does capture a lot of the key themes from this blog, so if you're a loyal reader, it's probably worth your time (Facebook will still be there for you tomorrow, right? ;-)

Enjoy.  As always, thoughts and feedback are welcome in the comments.

UPDATE: The Urbanophile comments and summarizes his key takeaways.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Montrose LRT, 290 rail vs. bus, #1 income growth, #1 diversity, housing, IT

Time to catch up on the smaller misc items:
"Metro service today has 5-minute intervals between buses and goes nonstop to downtown. The proposed commuter rail line would have 20-minute intervals and stop at 10 stations, then require a transfer to a bus to get downtown."
Finally we'll end with a little humor: how many things can you find wrong with this picture?  That is some mighty impressive photoshopping, although I can't figure out *why* somebody went to all the trouble?...

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