On March 19, I was invited to share my vision of Houston 2040 with the My Houston 2040 folks, a group of visionaries from Houston Tomorrow, Air Alliance Houston, Better Houston, Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), and the Citizen’s Transportation Coalition. After dinner with friends at Piola, and a preview of the play at The Ensemble Theater, I got home to put my vision on paper.
I began with how I arrived in Houston 22 years ago. Here’s my story:
In 1992, I came to Houston as a consolation prize. My family and I were moving to San Antonio to be close to family. His in Michigan, mine in Mexico, and siblings in SA.
We arrived in the evening and decided to stay at an economy motel to rest and freshen up before going to see the family. With four kids and a trailer each in tow, we were glad to park, grab a quick happy meal, give everyone a bath and hit the sack.
In the morning the main vehicle and trailer were gone and after 30 days of searching and coming up empty- handed, we decided to take a second option … Dad lived in Clear Lake … and the coordinates were not too different from SA so we made Houston our home.
Having lived in Mexico, Illinois, Michigan California and Arizona, I came to Houston with the understanding that Houston was an industrial town with many freeways. And it had a medical center too.
We discovered Bellaire, the loneliness of downtown after 5pm, and the people-swallowing tunnel system. And there was a pretty cool express bus to Memorial that took 45 minutes to get there and allowed me to read a novel a month while commuting to work.
Working downtown I saw the run-down housing west of the main square give way to change. I saw an initial attempt to bring new residents to downtown without much thought to support services to satisfy their living needs. People were also saying they wanted better services in their own neighborhoods.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered there were other things to Houston that seemed to have greater value. The great outdoors.
I began to discover that Houston had a tremendous assortment of natural ecosystems that could be enjoyed within a day’s drive. There were swamps, prairies, woods, marshes and of course the coast. I reconnected with nature and remembered the peace it gives freely.
In 22 years, I’ve seen downtown become a more livable core. I have seen freeways expand and still not satisfy traffic congestion. I’ve seen people grow in their understanding of what quality of life means to them. And I have seen how more people question what success of an economy looks like.
But the most exciting thing I see is that many more people are stepping up to make a difference. These people along with all the other dedicated people I have seen along the years, are where I was 22 years ago, and they are hitting the ground running.
The tipping point is before us and these young and high energy people understand that we must join together and create change from the individual level. They realize that this change must ripple out to build momentum and allow others to join in and build the synergy necessary to create a force for change.
I’m going to make a request. Sit comfortably. I invite you to close your eyes and breath in, slowly and deeply. Hold your breath for a few seconds and slowly exhale, and as you exhale, with your eyes still closed, follow me and begin to see this picture in your mind:
We move foreward in time. It is now 26 years later. It is the year 2040.
We are high above the ground and we can see below us. The Houston region appears to be made up of core islands of dense development surrounded by wooded green space, prairie grasslands, and marshlands all the way to the coast.
We see arteries of water, our bayous, like fingers reaching across the city coated by lush green gloves.
We see that the core islands are interconnected by a principal shared roadway with public transit, smart cars, people-powered vehicles and people-movers. There are mayor highways capturing freight vehicles anchored by public speed trains connecting to other major cities.
Within the core islands are meandering paths with rail, smart mini buses, smart cars, people-powered vehicles and pedestrians. Public and private transportation run on superconducting energy, solar cells and hydrogen.
We now begin to notice the architecture. It blends into the surroundings, so well that it is difficult to tell where nature ends and structures begin. The design is organic, it works with the elements, and the aesthetics present some artistic features that appear to be landmarks.
On closer observation we see that these landmarks are community structures. Within these structures we see shared space for learning, professional, and social activities. The structures, as with the residential structures, are adaptable. The public structures contain activities that take place 24-7.
Each building, private or social, is independently powered using solar, wind and water. They regenerate waste for reuse.
Learning and professional activities take place via eCommunication, in groups and individually. Many of these activities take place in residential space.
Education is tailored to the individual and is ongoing throughout life. Sharing of knowledge takes a special meaning in the social space where ideas are shared to expand interaction, creativity and innovation. Because education is free people seek learning and job satisfaction creating a workforce that satisfies the needs of the community. Education is repaid through social service and professional practice.
Leaders are elected electronically. There are no political parties. And candidates run on measured accomplishments and vision. Positions are unpaid and part of the social service so opportunities are open to anyone with the right skills and ideas.
Income is determined by the amount and level of education each individual achieves. Positions are assigned using a sophisticated system based on the old Myers-Briggs personality evaluation. And these evaluations take place upon request of the candidate and after life-changing conditions occur.
Because careers are determined by innate and developed skills, and education is unlimited, people can determine their social level through their merit and initiative so poverty is non-existent.
Health care is based on holistic natural health maintenance that includes natural modalities coupled with spiritual and energy practices. These activities are taught within the public learning system and coaches can be accessed for assessment and guidance. Emergency care is provided in public trauma centers that count on sophisticated and low intervention methods that allow for minimum tissue damage and high precision repair. Both systems work interconnectedly to maintain, restore, and manage health.
The connection to the natural environment is tied to quality food, water and air, wellness, learning, and well-being. It provides for high quality of life.
Each residential and social structure includes food gardens. The value of local organic farming is recognized and industrial farming is a forgotten industry. The higher quality food provides greater seasonal and nutritional value. It enhances overall wellness at the physical and emotional level.
Because the use of resources is measured there is little true waste. Resources are captured, modified, and recaptured. The community has adopted minimalist living and believes in quality versus quantity. This causes a resurgence in craftsmanship and natural materials that are consciously retained, particularly in the personal living space reducing indoor emissions and exposure.
Efficiency and innovation provide clean industry that satisfies local needs. We are a model of independent and resilient living utilizing minimal resources and maximizing natural systems.
Communities are naturally resilient through design and use technology and innovation to improve and advance the quality of life without sacrificing the same. The living environment works with nature and can better withstand changes because it allows nature itself to maintain the primary balance.
As we observe this vision of 2040, we sit down in one of the many public gardens off one of the multiple hidden paths within one of the wooded green spaces. We can hear the birds and feel the sunshine on our skin. We breathe and smell the fresh aroma of spring, of soil, of nature.
We breathe slowly and deeply, and gently, we begin to open our eyes.