Evaluating Houston’s Future

A new report from researchers at Rice University evaluates the health and sustainability of the Houston region.  The report doesn't give Houston a grade or ranking — but instead looks at how the city is doing in 25 categories.

The 25 indicators include things you’d expect to see on a sustainability study like cost of living, air quality and transportation.  But researchers also included factors like urban gardens, water usage, dropout rates and how much debt Houstonians incur.

Image from the sustainability report.  Click to view the PDF.Image from the sustainability report. Click to view the PDF.

Jim Blackburn is a professor of environmental law at Rice University and is the sustainability project director.  He says they wanted to examine how a range of economic, environmental and societal issues affect the health of the region.

“Over time the goal is that we would report back on these metrics year after year.  And after a period of years we think we’ll begin to have a series of trends that will indicate are we making progress, or are we moving backwards, toward sustainability.”

Blackburn says Houston predictably performs well on cost of living issues and falls short when it comes to ozone and air quality factors.  But by looking at a variety of other issues, he says the report gives a more complete picture of Houston’s performance.

“We have a dropout rate in Texas – we’re 49th out of 50 states in terms of high school dropouts.  So I guess thank goodness for Mississippi in that at least we’re not number 50.  But I mean there’s certain of these statistics that just jump off the page at you and say if we’re going to make it successfully into the future, we’ve got to change some things.”

Rice’s Shell Center for Sustainability will hold a conference in October on how to accurately measure the city’s sustainability.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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