Director’s Address: July 2015

Bill Fulton | @BillFultonvta | July 28, 2015

Not long ago, our Senior Editor Ryan Holeywell was house hunting, and he checked out Avenue Place on the Near North Side. He liked it because it’s new, colorful, and affordable for the Inner Loop and part of a great emerging location in urban Houston.

Ryan didn’t get a house out of the visit – but he got a great blog titled “The Most Interesting Affordable Housing in Houston.”  And the Kinder Institute got some great visibility out of it. Not only did a lot of people visit our Urban Edge blog  to read it, but thousands of people also read it on the Houston Chronicle’s website. In fact, on the day it ran, it got more readers on the Chronicle’s website than most of the articles written by the Chronicle’s own staff.

I’m never quite sure why any particular blog gets a lot of readers. Maybe in this case the whole idea of affordable housing in Houston was a “man bites dog” story – a counterintuitive take on things that’s the opposite of what you would expect. But the important thing is that the Urban Edge blog, along with a lot of other appearances in the media around the country, is helping the Kinder Institute establish a footprint as one of the major urban think tanks in the country.

When the national website NextCity.org decided to write about Houston Metro’s bus system “re-imagining,” they turned for perspective to the Kinder post-doctoral fellow Kyle Shelton, who’s writing a book about Houston’s transportation history. When our other post-doctoral fellow Heather O’Connell published a piece about the enduring legacy of slavery in Southern education, it got national publicity as well.  And when Content Editor Andrew Keatts wrote a piece about how Houston is about to pass Chicago as the nation’s third-largest city, readership went through the roof – both on our website and on the Houston Chronicle website.

Publicity is not the same as results, of course. Our goal at the Kinder Institute is not just to research things or talk about them. We strive to actually work with our civic, political, and philanthropic leadership to make Houston a better city for everybody who lives and works here. But getting the word out about the Kinder Institute – and, indeed, about Houston’s emerging urban profile – is an important part of our job.

The Urban Edge blog is only one aspect of our outreach, of course. We continue to hold public events on important urban issues. For example, Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City gave a great public lecture in late June about the role of urban design in improving the people’s health in his city (and in helping him with his own weight-loss regime). We’re also working on podcasts and other types of events, which you’ll learn about in the months ahead.

Our Urban Edge blog is emerging at a time when national media outlets are providing increasingly specialized coverage of cities. Publications like CityLab, Next City, and Governing, among others, all fall into this category. At the same time, media outlets with a broader audience are doubling down on coverage of cities, keenly aware of the importance of this topic.

The Urban Edge is rapidly becoming a brand name in the discussions about cities too, both in Houston and nationally. We expect the Urban Edge to play a valuable role in this field, highlighting in particular the innovation happening within America’s Sunbelt cities.

Since last fall, the Urban Edge blog’s web readership has increased twelve-fold – that’s right, twelve-fold. We’re proud of Ryan, Kyle, Heather, Andy, and everybody else who is helping to put us on the map. And we hope to leverage this growing recognition into a major discussion how to make Houston a better city in the months and years ahead.

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