The city of Houston and its business community offered an amazing package of incentives and our collective resources to secure Amazon’s HQ2. Now that the city has lost the bid, where do we go from here?
I don’t ask this question as a postmortem, or to lay blame or point fingers over the loss. Houston needs to leave Amazon behind. But there’s no reason we can’t pursue our own path for making the proposed “Houston Innovation Corridor” – the core of our city’s pitch – into a reality.
Let’s reignite the enthusiasm once reserved for some outside corporation and invest the same incentives and resources we offered Amazon but, this time, turn inward to create Houston’s version of the next generation of technological juggernauts.
First, let us resolve to further diversify our economy by focusing on education, entrepreneurship and technological innovation. Instead of attempting to attract some outside “creative class” – and the harmful gentrification they’ll bring to our neighborhoods – we should concentrate on growing our own high-tech economy. This means creating a new education paradigm for the 21st century that can propel us into the 22nd century. Our immediate task is to educate a homegrown creative class that is sensitive to increasing inequality, racial or economic segregation and the hollowing out of the middle class that now plagues other high-tech cities. We’re not San Francisco, and we don’t want to be.
Second, sustainable community and economic development cannot be achieved without factoring in resilience. Hurricane Harvey should have profoundly altered our view of our relationship with the natural environment. Our city won’t thrive if every storm risks a devastating flood. It is past time we build and develop our city’s infrastructure, industrial base and multimodal transportation network with a profound respect for nature.
There are three types of “resilience” to consider.
Engineered resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance or change while maintaining its identity, structure or function.
Ecosystem resilience is a system’s capacity to adapt and transform to a higher stable state equilibrium during a disturbance or change.
Evolutionary resilience is a system’s capacity to transform on its own without a linear cause, disturbance or change.
Houston should combine all of these into a forward-thinking evolutionary methodology that anticipates the inevitable future disasters – whether floods, hurricanes or even economic storms.
How much longer until the oil and gas industry has its own version of Harvey?
We can’t return to business as usual or we’ll end up bequeathing to our children a future that is unsustainable and vulnerable to catastrophic disturbances and unpredictable change. We must ensure that, as Houston continues to grow, we do so with equity – distributing the benefits and burdens appropriately and fairly. For any effort to be resilient, it must be green, profitable, safe, secure and fair to our generation and the next, regardless of creed, class or color.
We must focus on education, entrepreneurship, technological innovation and resilient development if we desire to create favorable outcomes.
California has its Silicon Valley. Austin is now the Silicon Hills. Let’s make Houston into the Silicon Bayou.
We’ll only get there by investing in ourselves. So whatever the city leaders and the business community were willing to give Amazon, let’s repackage it and give it to Houston.
Muhammad is the student minister of Muhammad Mosque No.45, an urban planner and radio talk show host. He can be reached at AHaleemMuhammad@outlook.com or @nteplanning on Twitter.