Director’s Address – June 2015

Director's-Address-skyline

Bill Fulton | @BillFultonVta | June 23, 2015

As befits the director of an urban research institute, I now have a very urban view out my office window. It’s a view across Main Street from our new offices on the 10th floor of the Biosciences Research Collaborative on the corner of University Boulevard.

Residents of Manhattan don’t have anything on me when it comes to urban

I can see a 10-story parking garage, a gigantic air-conditioning system, Houston Methodist Hospital, the Texas Medical Center Marriott, the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and maybe a dozen other buildings in the TMC. There’s not a single tree or blade of grass to be seen.  Oh, and every afternoon I hear the constant shrill whistle blasts from the TMC traffic cops making sure that cars on Main Street move along during rush hour.

It’s not a view that most people would associate with sprawling Houston, but increasingly it’s a view that reflects the reality of the nation’s fourth – and, by the way, soon to be third – largest city.

Yes, Houston is sprawling. But it’s also big, tall, crowded and congested – in a word, urban. And increasingly, this transition from suburban to urban is what the Kinder Institute’s work is all about.

Last spring, we rolled out our “Path Forward” and the program areas we hope to focus on. But our job at Kinder is more than just doing the research. Increasingly, we are trying to call attention to the way Houston is growing, maturing, and urbanizing. And we are trying to connect Houston with the people and resources needed to help manage that transition.

That’s why we’ve hired two major writing talents – Senior Editor Ryan Holeywell and Content Editor Andrew Keatts – who are tasked with looking at trends in Houston and elsewhere in the Sunbelt and describing what’s going on with this urbanization process.

Ryan, for example, recently penned a piece about how segregation can persist in neighborhoods that, on paper, appear to be racially diverse. Andy just wrote a blog post about how the college town of San Marcos became the fastest-growing city in America.

It’s why our post-doctoral fellows – transportation expert Kyle Shelton and inequality expert Heather O’Connell – are not only conducting rigorous scholarly research on Houston but also blogging themselves about what’s going on.  Kyle just examined “transit deserts” in Houston that are underserved by bus routes.  Heather just wrote about the link between 311 calls and the interactions between racial groups in different neighborhoods.

And that’s why we are adding more horsepower to our staff and advisory board as we strive to broaden our work. On the staff side, we are thrilled that next month John Bradshaw Jr. will join us as the Kinder Institute’s new Director of Development. John’s done a fabulous job over the past four years strengthening the Asia Society of Texas through outstanding fundraising efforts, and we know he will do the same for us. On the advisory board, we are also excited that Hasty Johnson, the chief investment officer of Gerald Hines Interests, has agreed to join us as well. Hasty has both an intense interest in cities and real-world experience in how they change, grow and urbanize.

We’re going to need this additional horsepower in the months and years ahead. The metropolitan juggernaut known as Houston is only going to get bigger, denser and more urban. Our job is to ensure that transition results in not just a bigger Houston but a better one – a city that can be a model for the Sunbelt and beyond in the 21st  Century.

 

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