Houston as a Vision for the Future of American Cities

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Welcoming attendees to the ULI Spring Meeting in Houston, Mayor Annise Parker said that the lessons learned by Houstonians have resonance across the United States. “One of the things that I very quickly discovered when I became mayor,” she said, “is that Houston was better known across the borders of the United States than it was across the state lines. When you consider the makeup of Houston today and the fact that one in five Houstonians are foreign born, you begin to understand that. “

Mayor Parker, who was a ULI Rose Center fellow in 2010–2011, said that Houston has learned from other cities, and that it also has something to teach: “I know that Houston is a little bit different, but every city has its own unique character and flavor and the things that are touchstones for its population. But I also know that the one thing in government that makes it fun is that when we steal from each other the best ideas, it’s not called stealing—it’s called best practices.” Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge awarded Parker’s office a prize for innovation in 2013.

“There’s so much going on in downtown, so even if you don’t really get the idea of the entirety of Houston, you can see the dynamism of this city right outside the doors of this hotel,” said Parker. “We are at a time of unparalleled growth in Houston, but we’re not just growing in terms of the physical layout of Houston—the number of high-rise buildings going up across Houston—we’re also growing and changing in terms of the demographics of Houston and even how we view ourselves as a city.”

“Every language of business that’s spoken somewhere in the world is spoken in Houston by a native speaker,” said Parker. “A lot of what’s driving the current growth in development of Houston is that international connection. We have expats, we have immigrants, and we have refugees. We’re also one of the largest refugee resettlement areas in America, largely because we have pretty good quality of life, fairly tolerant people, and low cost of living.

“But it doesn’t just happen that you put a lot of people together and they get along. There’s something about the mind-set of Houstonians and the fact that we continue to attract some of the best and brightest from across the globe and across the United States to Houston that fuels that [mind-set]. We believe, and it’s almost in our DNA here, if you are willing to prepare yourself, work hard, work hard, work hard, that you can succeed in Houston—that we’ve always been a place where dreamers have been able to put their dreams into reality. If you can imagine the concept of dreams that are rooted in common sense and hard work, Houston is that place.”

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