When Houston is transformed

Houston's continued population growth despite the oil bust is a source of amazement. Transformation happens. We plan, it happens, seldom the way we planned. The changes are hard to follow and comprehend, but the key is to keep trying. If we keep thinking that Houston is the same as it was, or is changing the way we intended, we'll definitely lose sight of the way it really is. 

Offcite: The Houston Transformation and the Hubris of I-10, 2016-Mar-9, an interview by Raj Mankad of Andrew Albers and Ernesto Alfaro

Our new mayor, Sylvester Turner, has recognized that. He has called attention to the history of our I-10 corridor. We had a problem. We said I-10 inadequately handled the traffic load it had. How did we solve it? The Texas Department of Transportation spent billions of dollars to create the widest highway in the world. And within 10 years of spending all that money, you have recreated the same problem. An even bigger traffic jam. The planning addressed the problem they had and not the problem of the future. You need to address future problems. Designers, traffic engineers, landscape architects, architects, public officials, and citizens who understand this can work together. We need to address the problems of today and the problems of tomorrow.

Overgrown railroad trestles by Patrick Feller, nakrnsm on Flickr

Architect Richard Keating on Houston changes: more traffic on road, sidewalks

Kirby Drive in 2000 from Bill Jacobus on Flickr

Looking for something else, I stumbled across this interview I missed last year. Architect Richard Keating arrived in Houston in 1976 and worked on the Wells Fargo Tower, BMC Software headquarters and other major buildings before leaving for Los Angeles during the 80's oil bust. He's returned to work on the Kirby Collection, and believes Houston has progressed. 

Houston Chronicle: Q&A: Architect draws on city culture, 2015-Oct-9 by Nancy Sarnoff

Q: What's changed about Houston since you lived here?

A: The people that have always come to Houston, from the pre-A/C days to the current times, those people aren't the same people who went to LA. People went to LA because of the beach. They came to Houston to work hard. So that's why you have Gerry Hines and these oil entrepreneurs. There's an entrepreneurial culture that comes from that history. Those things haven't changed.

I think the only thing I've noticed that has changed is the traffic, obviously it's getting worse. And there was no significant high-rise housing when I lived here. If it builds around the bayou, it'll be lovely. All of a sudden you have a walkable city.

Finding the values we share with our customers

In building our brands we don't have to rely solely on our own brand. Customers were originally attracted to our business by certain values, and if we remember those values, we can tap into bigger issues, or even bigger brands, to remind them why they love us. Here's an example. IStock_000020000438XSmall

Lightspeed: 4 Steps to Join the Shop Local Movement and Get Exposure in Your Community, 2015-Sep-22 by Zoe Sadler of Snap Retail

Use hashtags like #ShopLocal or #SupportLocal with your messages.

Tag your fellow businesses in posts to promote the sense of community. Encourage your neighbors to host an event with you (Sidewalk Sale? Meet and Greet? Girls Night Out?) As you promote on social media, mention their stores to start the party early.

Lastly, incorporate Shop Local messaging in your email campaigns. Just as you would thank customers in store, thank them virtually too!

The “Shop Local Movement” is based on small businesses reaching out to their communities, educating their neighbors and talking to their customers about the benefits of shopping at locally-owned stores rather than supporting big box stores.

Remember, your store creates a distinctive shopping experience that consumers will not find at a big box. Are you maximizing this opportunity? Now that you’re equipped with these 4 tips, go out and spread the Shop Local love today!

If you say Houston is 4th-largest, be prepared to be disappointed by our influence

Yesterday I was talking with some friends who were trying to raise publicity for a project and they tossed out the "4th largest city" meme with regard to Houston. 

When we are trying to be influential, we have to understand our status. Houston city limits may provide the meaningless 4th-largest designation, but in terms of influence, Houston is the 10th largest metropolis in America. As a metropolitan area, we are smaller than Dallas, WashingtonDC, Boston, SF and (OMG) Detroit. (Okay, we may be able to displace Detroit soon. But not Dallas, and certainly NOT Chicago.) 

Houston's weight in controlling the destiny of people is in tune with being TENTH-largest city. FOURTH-largest makes people outside Houston frown with confusion... 

JUST STOP. 4 million residents is NOT a big deal. We are NOT about to displace Chicago. That's BS, and if you try to defend this idea outside the city limits, you'll be recognized as a FOOL. 


P.S. There is one way that "4th Largest" is not meaningless, and that's if you are Annise Parker. She can boast about managing the 4th largest city. But if you want to talk about the influence of Houston, you have to recognize it's only 10th largest U.S. metro area. City boundaries don't make that much difference. It's all about being a population center, and we're the 10th largest. 

Putting ourselves in the place to be creative

As a creative professional, I have struggled to find a place to work where my creativity is supported. If I had seen myself as a creative when I started my career, it might not have been so challenging. But I knew that I was not an artist, nor a writer, nor even a software developer, so the right career path was elusive. I have never fit into any pigeonhole. 

The turning point for my self-image was the birth of Fast Company magazine, which profiles professionals like myself who develop business ideas, not artistic ideas. In the 1990's I ran a local readers' club for Fast Company magazine, and through that club I met Durwin Sharp and Rolf Smith of the Virtual Thinking Expedition. They helped me understand my creative process and how I could work with other people to realize my ideas.  Tq-120910-dm

Over the last fifteen years I've gone back and forth trying to figure out if I can found my own company or find a place where I can contribute from my strengths. I still haven't figured it out but I am discovering more about what makes an environment that supports creativity. 

NoahBrier's Creativity Requires Networks points to this old Kevin Kelley article that I missed: Scenius, of Communal Genius, which reminds me of John Hagel's Creation Spaces. (The last one is a Harvard Business Review article, and in case you missed it they have a great new free membership program.) 

All these articles point out that creativity flourishes where people can share and support each others ideas, while friendly competition ensues and the outsiders (non-creatives) tolerate unusual behavior (like job-hopping). I hope we can build a "creation space" in Houston. We have a few companies, like Blinds.com, which make it happen for their employees, but we have a lot more companies wielding non-compete agreements and enforcing corporate conformity. The preference of Houstonians for doing business with buddies and scratching each other's backs is also a hindrance. But we have a core of wild-and-crazy types who are finding it easier and easier to get together. 

Houston Shared Vision Salon

Tq140807chThis morning I attended a meeting hosted by the Center for Houston's Future encouraging input for the upcoming Cultural Plan being written for the city. The Arts & Cultural Heritage Indicator Report from the Center was distributed.

Most of the people attending were arts organizers rather than just artists or citizens. These were the people with the most at stake in the Cultural Plan which will be written over the coming year.

As long as I've been following Houston's struggle to develop as a major art center and to change its image as an energy-focused center of commerce, most of the ideas proposed were very familiar.

I gained two new perspectives:

1) The cost of working for artists in Houston has been going up to the level where Los Angeles and Brooklyn seem just as affordable places. This news came from Joseph Havel, Director of the Glassell School of Art and one of our leading educator of artists launching their careers.

2) Suburban demand for arts organizations is surging, as well as a desire for higher visibility for their cultural institutions.

The desire for a better art market in Houston, with higher prices being offered for locally produced work, and more opportunities for selling work also resonated.

We also discussed whether the art market in Houston is depressed by a desire to avoid exceptionalism, a fear of singling out high talent and maybe snubbing other hardworking and popular artists. If we do want to keep artists in Houston (and I'm not sure we do), then we have to let their prices rise to the international level.