Silicon Bayou

Houston, Texas is a dynamic, vibrant city with a diverse population. It is connected to the continental United States by freight rail lines, interstate highways and to the world via two international airports and a bustling sea port. This city, built aside bayous, has been dubbed “The Energy Capital of the World.” It houses the world’s largest medical center and NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Recently, 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?

The purpose of this article is not to offer a postmortem, lay blame, or point fingers for losing the bid, but simply to offer a way to achieve the stated purpose of the proposed “Houston Innovation Corridor” without selling our collective soul to Amazon or any other outside entity. What is proposed here is that we reignite our enthusiasm 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. But instead of attempting to attract the “creative class” as identified in Richard Florida’s book The Rise of The Creative Class, (which has been characterized as a blueprint for gentrification), we should concentrate on growing our own creative class and high tech economy by accepting this challenge: create a new educational paradigm for the 21st century to propel us into the 22nd century. Our immediate task is to educate a diverse 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. These are the unintended consequences of the rise of the creative class and tech economy addressed, in part, in Richard Florida’s follow up book The New Urban Crisis.

It is also proposed that we take a hard look at the University Of Texas McCombs School Of Business Professor John Sibley Butler’s lecture: How to Tap Into the “Austin Model” for Wealth and Job Creation delivered May 7, 2015. While we recommend replicating parts of the “Austin Model,” Houston should do so without the gentrifying displacement of poor communities of color that Austin is experiencing.

Second, sustainable community and economic development cannot be achieved without factoring in resilience thinking and practice. Hurricane Harvey should have profoundly altered our view of our relationship with the natural environment. In other words, it is past time we build and develop our city’s infrastructure, surface structures, industrial base, and multimodal transportation network with a profound respect for nature in order to actually make our city and region resilient. Truthfully, most who use the term resilience do not know that there are at least three types of resilience: engineered, ecosystem, and evolutionary. 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; and evolutionary resilience is a system’s capacity to transform on its own without a linear cause, disturbance, or change. Question: when you hear or read the word resilience, which of these delineations comes to mind?

We propose pursuing a forward thinking evolutionary methodology that combines elements of both engineered and ecosystem resilience in anticipation of future natural-manmade disasters or economic downturns. Note: Neither sustainability nor resilience, by any definition, is attainable without the consideration of equity which is defined as “[T]he outcome of a process of the appropriate distribution of benefits and burdens, within and across generations…” For any sustainable community or economic development or redevelopment to be resilient, it must be green, profitable, safe, secure and fair to our generation and the next regardless to creed, class, or color. To return to “business as usual” in this hour is to bequeath to our children a future that is unsustainable and vulnerable to catastrophic disturbances and unpredictable change.

In conclusion, we can and must focus on education, entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and resilient development if we desire to create favorable outcomes. As California has its “Silicon Valley;” and Austin, Texas is now referred to as “The Silicon Hills;” we propose that Houston become “The Silicon Bayou” by transforming part of the city and region’s economy for the 22nd century. Let us invest in Houston and our region during this century by leveraging the shrinking economic advantage the current oil and gas economic model now affords us. To become “The Silicon Bayou,” Houston must have more than an “out of the box” mentality. To be successful, the “Houston Strong” mindset, now and in the future, must believe and act as if there is no box at all!

Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad is a Student in the Ministry, urban planner and radio talk show host. He can be reached at AHaleemMuhammad@Outlook.com or @nteplanning on Twitter

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