A Numbers Game

Cerebrality Stephen Klineberg: America's future will be decided in Houston

Cerebrality Stephen Klineberg: America's future will be decided in Houston

News_Stephen Klineberg_head shot
Stephen Klineberg Photo by Tommy LaVergne

Houston may not quite be the center of the universe (NASA's probably checking on that in its new Obama mission), but it's where America's fate will be determined.

Of that, preeminent urban sociologist Stephen Klineberg is sure.

"More than any other American metropolis, Houston will be the most iconic city of the 21st century," Klineberg said today at the Greater Houston Partnership's luncheon at the Omni Hotel. "The city's balanced racial diversity is singular among other bustling ports — LA doesn't have the African-American contingent, Miami lacks the Asian population and San Francisco's Latino community pales in comparison to Houston's. 

Just as Chicago was considered the American city of the 20th century, the American future will be worked out in Houston in this century's remaining nine decades."

Stephen Klineberg spoke at the unveiling of "The Houston Area Survey — 2010: Perspectives on a City in Transition." The survey represents the culmination of almost three decades of systematic research and celebrates the launch of Rice University's Institute for Urban Research, an initiative to provide an permanent home for the survey, push more metropolitan research and reach out beyond Rice's hedges to make Houston more humane and sustainable.

Some social policy issues showed steep switches. The preference for federal health-care coverage slipped from 74 percent in 2006 to 52 percent this year — now that federal health care is finally becoming a reality. And more than ever before, the survey took the temperature of green lifestyles in Houston. Disappointingly, over 20 percent fewer people support requiring utilities to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, even if that means higher utility rates.

Worse, the number who believe that global warming is a serious problem dipped from 51 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2010. However, residents are more cognizant of their grocery goods' footprint: 42 percent said it was "very important" that they buy locally grown food.

The issue of education rose to the top of the list of citizens' concerns: 79 percent prefer spending large sums of money to keep young people in school rather than spending the same money on prisons.

This year's most publicized data: 67 percent of those surveyed identify with the statement, "People who work hard and live by the rules are not getting a fair break these days." The same number agree that "there are very few good jobs in today's economy without a college education." Looks like an enduring recession has put Houstonians' morale at a near all-time low.

The interviews for the survey, conducted by the University of Houston's Center for Public Policy only a month ago, were revolutionized this year by including 100 cell phone numbers to the roster of computer-generated phone numbers.

"How Houston approaches this melting pot will determine our success in the upcoming decades," Klineberg said. "It can be our greatest asset, or it can tear us apart."

The survey indicates a teetering economy's unstabilizing effect on our city, but Houston's position as the focal point of urban evolution in the United States stands on solid ground.

Full Houston Area Survey results are available at iur.rice.edu.