A couple of weeks ago, about 3,000 urban real estate developers from around the country gathered in Houston for the spring meeting of the Urban Land Institute. It was a great opportunity to highlight the Kinder Institute before a national audience, and if you take a look at Rich Kinder’s keynote presentation you’ll get a good sense of the things that are happening in Houston to make it a better city.
Real estate developers are an important audience for the Kinder Institute because our job is to help make cities better places to live – especially Houston – and their job is to build those places. And helping Houston engage in better “placemaking” is one of the highest priorities emerging from our “Path Forward” plan for the next three years.
Houston is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States. And one of the challenges we face is how to accommodate more people while, at the same time, making the places where they spend their time a lot better. Coming from California, I can tell you that you can bring your city to a complete standstill if you try to fight over how much development should occur. But people can come together if instead they focus on the quality of that development and the places that emerge as a result of investment in private real estate and public infrastructure.
That’s why – in conjunction with the Rice School of Architecture, the Rice Design Alliance, the UT School of Public Health, and others – we’re beginning to focus more on small-scale questions of how to make places and neighborhoods better. We’ve already undertaken a pilot project in Rice Village, adjacent to campus, where we’re working with property owners, merchants, and the city to study the parking supply and investigate ways parking could be better managed.
Recently, we brought in “State of Place” founder Mariela Alfonzo to talk about how to maximize the financial return of both public and private investment in walkable places. With the UT School of Public Health we are looking at quantifying the “health ROI” for such investments.
In collaboration with the Rice Design Alliance and others, we also recently brought in the playful urbanist James Rojas to do some workshops around town – and we used his method to get people excited about citybuilding at the recent Sunday Streets event on Navigation Boulevard.
This is only the beginning. Houston is on the cusp of becoming a truly urban city – and that means we have to focus on creating great urban places that people will both use and love. Here at the Kinder Institute, we’re trying to work with anyone we can to make sure Houston’s great urban places are as good as the places you love in other cities across the globe.