Director’s Address – November 2015

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Bill Fulton | @BillFultonvta | November 24, 2015

Last week, eight mayors and eight experts in urban planning and design gathered at our office to discuss how the mayors can help their cities work better. The mayors were from all over Texas and the West – everywhere from Sugar Land to Oregon – while the experts hailed from across the nation.

This regional gathering of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design — co-sponsored by the Rice School of Architecture — is a good example of how the Kinder Institute for Urban Research is establishing itself as a leader in thinking on urban issues across the Sun Belt and, in fact, across the nation. Not only did the assembled folks talk about problems from their own cities, they also gathered at the Texas Medical Center to discuss the design and financing of TMC’s new innovation campus, designed by Gensler’s Houston office.

Making a city “work” requires the ability to line up knowledge and innovation on a vast array of topics — architecture, green space, education, health, transportation, medicine, energy business, and social services, to name just a few — and then understand how to knit them all together. What I loved about the Mayors’ Institute on City Design is that it focused on this “knitting.” For example, Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. of Waco led a fascinating discussion about how to bring different parts of town together — across a river — by encouraging more use of a bridge over the Brazos River that was originally built to help move cattle to market.

Here In Houston, we’re at a critical juncture in our history. Houston is still largely suburban by nature, but it is daily becoming more “urban” — more crowded, more active, more congested, more exciting, more diverse, more prosperous; I could go on and on. But moving a city from suburban to urban successfully doesn’t just happen. It requires real thought and planning — by business and civic leaders, by government and political leaders, by neighborhood leaders, and by philanthropists.

By assembling experts from around the country in Houston, we can learn from their experiences to help make Houston a better place. And we can also help people elsewhere in the country understand Houston — a remarkable and vibrant city but one that is often underestimated and misunderstood by people elsewhere in the country. In combination with the Rice School of Architecture and other partners, the Kinder Institute will continue to make connections across the country and highlight both the opportunities and challenges in Houston so we can help this city realize its potential in the 21st century.

 

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