Four Days in February Show Kinder Institute’s Impact

Bill Fulton | @BillFultonVta | February 28, 2017

Kelsey Walker, a staff researcher at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, explains her research on Houston construction patterns at the launch of the Urban Data Platform Feb. 16. Image via Ryan Holeywell/Kinder Institute.

I want to tell you about four days in February. They’ll give you a pretty good idea about how things are going at the Kinder Institute.

On Wednesday, February 15, we hosted a KI Forum lecture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, by Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland. Although Gov. O’Malley is a former Democratic presidential candidate, it wasn’t a political speech. It was an eloquent and compelling lecture on how cities can use “big data” to solve problems – to reduce crime, to improve traffic, to help people live better lives.

The following morning at Anderson Commons in McNair Hall on the Rice University campus, we formally unveiled the Kinder Institute’s Urban Data Platform. Under the direction of Rice Statistics Professors Kathy Ensor and Rudy Guerra, a large staff at the Kinder Institute has spent the last year building this cross-disciplinary computer platform to house dozens – and eventually hundreds – of datasets about all aspects of Houston. This rollout was an enormous step forward toward making the UDP an important asset the Kinder Institute is providing to researchers at Rice and in the greater Houston community. (Oh, and Gov. O’Malley stayed for the whole thing and loved it!)

The next day – Friday, February 17 – the Kinder Institute co-sponsored a major symposium on affordable housing that played a major role in furthering the conversation about one of the most important topics facing the city. Held at the Houston Food Bank, this housing symposium was co-sponsored by Houston Endowment, the Local Initiative Support Corp., and the Coalition for Supportive Housing. More than 300 people attended, listening to speakers from around the country. The symposium set the table for a serious discussion about affordable housing policy in Houston as federal policy begins to change under the Trump administration. We’ll be hosting a follow-up policy discussion at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on March 21.

That was the end of the workweek. But it wasn’t the end of the Kinder Institute’s important activity for the week. On Saturday night at Rice Cinema, Kinder Scholar Yehuda Sharim screened his compelling film about refugees in Houston, We Are In It. If you haven’t heard about Yehuda’s efforts, take a look at his website, www.houstoninmotion.org. Houston has welcomed more refugees than any other American city – many from the Horn of Africa – and Yehuda’s film provides an unusual glimpse into the lives they lead and the struggles they face. It’s especially timely given the political controversy around refugees right now. (If you missed the Rice Cinema screening, you can check out We Are In It when it’s screened at the Holocaust Museum on March 30.

Okay, so not every week at Rice Kinder is like this. But look at what we accomplished that week: We raised awareness about one of the most important ways cities can deal with urban issues – big data – at two different events. And we highlighted two of the most controversial urban issues facing Houston and most other cities – affordable housing and refugees. I’d say it was a pretty good week. And it gives you an indication of how Rice Kinder is having a major impact on urban life here in Houston.

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