A Call for Innovation at City Hall
Leon casino, Mayor Turner and City Council Colleagues:
In my experience, given our huge municipal challenges, much more needs to have changed, since I first sat at the Council table 12 years ago. It’s been too much business-as-usual, too much of old think, not enough INNOVATION.
Yet we are surrounded by INNOVATION – at the Texas Medical Center, in corporate and non-profit think-tanks, in university research laboratories, and at the Houston Technology Center. Regrettably, two places INNOVATION has lagged behind are at HISD and at City Hall. Let’s consider City Hall.
INNOVATION at City Hall is about pro-active rather than re-active government. It is an on-going process, a continuum of coordinated, interrelated actions addressing larger goals, like polices and regulations needed to build a walkable city, or to reduce flooding, and traffic congestion. It’s not a series of one-shot fixes. It is an inspired on-going culture of positive change, committed to data-driven and outcomes-driven government.
INNOVATION involves much more than timid incrementalism, risk-averse ordinance updates, or more “studies” and “committee reports.” It requires rising above the limitations of city departmental “silos,” (disconnected, playing by their own rules, rather than collaborating), as we see for example at Public Works.
INNOVATION requires new levels of thinking, goal-setting and collaboration at the horseshoe. It means all departments guided by the same overall goals, playing by the same rule book. It is about defining desired outcomes, and pro-actively delivering RESULTS. This means doing things better and differently, in creative ways, breaking through the barriers of the status quo and business-as-usual.”
WHERE CITY HALL CAN INNOVATE? EXAMPLES:
- Solid Waste: Raise the recycling rate from a lowly 18% of our waste stream to above 50%, based on national best practices, as in Denver. Apartment complexes, compost kits, and FOG should be included.
- Parks: Within five years, every resident lives within a safe 5-minute walk of a public park, including smaller “pocket” parks, connected to Bayou Greenways.
- Overlay Districts: Major overhaul of our obsolete “Development Code” and related permitting procedures, providing for Special Planned Urban Districts (SPUDs), similar to the Old Sixth Ward Historic overlay District. Customized regulations, procedures and incentives should better balance neighborhood and developer interests. Recognize that “one-size-fits-all” regulations do not work in a city as diverse as Houston. Let’s provide for more useable green space, by removing incentives for overcrowding sites with unwarranted density, while allowing higher density for workforce housing.
- Neighborhood Revitalization: Adopt specific plans, projects and incentives, to facilitate mixed-income neighborhoods, providing for affordable housing choices, new jobs, and closing of the wealth gap. Recognize that severely distressed areas representing 60% of city land is just not acceptable.
Since cities are always changing and evolving, to keep up, Houston must innovate….. or just muddle along, or else stagnate. There is little room in-between! Innovative initiatives await a collaborative Mayor and City Council.
Clearly, the City of Houston has an “innovation problem.” This is also a lesson for our younger generation leaders, whether it’s with the City or in their personal lives, innovation can make life better. Our Mayor, Sylvester Turner has an initiative to promote walkable urbanism, which is important to our health and quality of life. Unless the City makes innovative changes, very little is likely to occur anytime soon. We will just be ‘stuck’ driving in our cars.
So, I will leave my readers with this: In a car dependent Houston most of us get around by driving alone. Encapsulated and isolated in a car, we don’t experience much of city life at all. In order to change this, we need innovation! Since cities are always changing and evolving, to keep up, Houston must innovate…..or just muddle along, or else stagnate. There is little room in-between!