Kinder Institute announces three new urban research projects

RESEARCH :  Dec. 8, 2015

Studies will focus on refugees, Latino voters, and Houston development.

Houston skyline

Studies will focus on refugees, Latino voters, and Houston development.

Thanks to support from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, three teams of Rice researchers will address important urban issues during the 2015-16 academic year: the challenges facing Houston’s refugee communities, the problem of low Latino political participation in the Houston region and the role that private development has played in Houston’s growth.

“The Kinder Institute is thrilled to support these researchers from across the campus,” said Bill Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute. “Rice has so much knowledge and talent on urban issues, and we are excited to take advantage of that to make Houston a better city.”

The Kinder Institute is dedicated to conducting research on urban issues in Houston and elsewhere and translating that knowledge into action that will improve Houston and other cities. This is the first time since 2012 that the Kinder Institute has funded research from across campus.

Empowering Houston's migrant and refugee communities

The renewed focus on the plight of Syrian refugees highlights the important role the U.S. plays in hosting refugees, and in particular, the fact that Houston hosts more refugees than any other American city.

"Houston in Motion: Empowering Houston Migrant and Refugee Communities," which includes team members Elizabeth Long, a professor emerita of sociology; Yehuda Sharim, a postdoctoral fellow of Jewish studies; and Yan Digilov, a strategist for The Firestarter Group, is a multimedia project that documents the lives and experiences of refugee and migrant communities in Houston.

By collecting oral narratives, surveying local resettlement organizations and creating digital archives of movement across and within national and local boundaries, the researchers will address the pressing need to engage local communities in the process of refugee resettlement. The researchers will combine data from surveys and film interviews of refugees and migrants in Houston. The project aims to elevate local community organizations, voice personal narratives and identify the shared challenges facing migrants and refugees Houston.

This work intends to reflect on the multicolored journey of refugee and migrant integration, helping students and the broader Houston community to understand its own commitment toward supporting communities fleeing the most horrific scenes of human tragedy," the researchers said.

Latino political participation

More than 40 percent of metropolitan Houston’s residents are Latino, and that population is growing rapidly every year. But political participation among Latinos in Houston is still lagging. Mark Jones, the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies, a political science fellow at Rice's Baker Institute for Public Policy, director of Rice's Master of Global Affairs Program and a professor of political science, will work with political science graduate students Santiago Alles and Carolina Tchintian to better understand this dynamic. Their project, titled “Latino Political Participation and Representation in Metropolitan Houston,” will do the following:

  • Provide the most comprehensive empirical evidence to date of the limited extent of Latino political participation in the Houston area among citizens and elected officials.
  • Highlight potential policy consequences and representational shortcomings that result from this limited participation.
  • Recommend potential remedies to improve Latino political participation among citizens and elected officials in the Houston metro area.

On a reduced scale, the researchers will also answer questions about the region’s smaller but growing Asian-American population.

Development and suburban growth

The Houston metropolitan area is one of the nation's fastest growing metropolitan areas -- and no other city has relied so heavily on the private sector, as opposed to public policy, to guide its growth.

Gordon Wittenberg, a professor and director of graduate studies in the School of Architecture, and Christof Spieler, a senior lecturer in the School of Architecture and a lecturer in civil and environmental engineering, will map the growth of Houston and the role of the private sector in their project titled “Houston: The Role of Private Development in Suburban Growth.”

Wittenberg and Spieler will bring together a variety of spatial data from subdivision plans, municipal utility districts and other nontraditional sources for the first time to map the history of Houston’s growth.

“The project is relevant to the Kinder Institute in a general sense to establish a more complete context for the many studies the institute undertakes,” the researchers wrote. “It is also critical to address the city’s most important future development issue: the sustainability of this model of growth.”

For more information on the proposals, contact the Kinder Institute at 713-348-4132 or visit

Amy McCaig
Mailing Address

6100 Main St. MS-208
Houston, TX 77005-1892


Physical Address

Rice University
Kraft Hall
6100 Main Street, Suite 305
Houston, TX 77005-1892

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