Imagine Houston's Future
Anticipating Houston's future takes planning right now
What a perfect time to be imagining Houston’s future and figuring out how we get there. It is exactly what all of us do at the beginning of each year: we assess our current life and we think about the positive, concrete steps we can take to create the best future possible for ourselves. And we do it with boundless optimism.
When we wish someone a “Happy New Year!” we’re hoping they are healthy, prosperous, safe and contented for the next dozen months. And when we make our list of resolutions, we’re mapping out a real work plan for creating our own happy year. That’s pretty much what we do at the Center for Houston’s Future, although the wish and the work applies to millions of people across our region, covering decades rather than months.
What CultureMap is doing with this series of articles is essentially what we’ve been doing for the last 10 years as the “Region’s Think Tank”: looking closely and thoughtfully at where we are right now as a full, complex community, and using that as a prism through which we view our future. We’ve also built a network of intellectually curious people and engaged them in the process so you and your neighbors can take an active role in your future rather than just let it happen.
One of the things we’ve spent the last couple of years creating is several research-based yet imaginative stories of what greater Houston region might be in three decades as part of our Scenarios 2040 project. Although we’re not slated to unveil the full project until later this spring, there are some key elements of the stories that I can share here, along with some “how we get there” ideas.
Just to be clear: scenarios are not forecasting nor are they painting a world that we’d like to see happen. Scenario planning is a serious strategic tool that creates plausible stories of our future, based on current mindsets, driving global forces and possible events. The strength of scenarios is not about providing definitive answers, but rather in posing compelling questions that we hope will act a little like a burr under your saddle, ultimately provoking response and positive action.
- What would happen if we keep the same educational structure and apply it to the hugely different demographics of our 2040 school-age population? What would finally cause a new model of education to emerge?
- What if regional government becomes more relevant and more powerful than state or national government? Will the governance structure change or will the way we communicate become more important than just the structure?
- How will we adapt to the inevitable changes in the power base brought on by the shifting demographics of aging baby-boomers and a majority-minority population?
- How will we relate to each other and the environment we live in? Will we dig in our heels and be fearful of the change and of each other? Will we take a leap of faith and embrace that change?
- How will rapidly advancing technology provide yet unimagined opportunity? What will the unintended consequences be?
- With the natural and manmade disasters we’ve seen in the last decade – how will similar future events disrupt our best-laid plans?
- How do we capitalize on the intellectual wealth in the region? What happens if we don’t capitalize on it and it goes elsewhere?
Along with imagining Houston in 2040 through the Scenarios 2040 project, we’ve also been doing concrete work on the “how we get there” side of things.
Leadership is changing
We don’t need to wait until 2040 to realize that the face of leadership is changing in the region. The days of “what’s good for your business is good for the community” is no longer automatically true. Leaders who head up the multi-national corporations based in this region may have no previous connection with Houston, and their tenure here may not last very long.
So how do we make sure they become vested in the success of our community as well as their business? For the last 10 years, we’ve involved more than 600 individuals in our Leadership Forums designed to widen the circle and deepen the bench of civic leadership in the region. We’ve taken them on learning journeys through some of our thorniest community challenges, developing a heightened sense of personal accountability for the future of the region and resulting in dozens of life-changing and effective spin-off projects.
We also know we can’t chart a course for a successful future without first knowing exactly where we are right now, so for the last five years we’ve been systematically constructing, with the help of experts from across the region, a report card on our natural and built environment, and other measurable aspects that make up a great community. We’ve just now published our Community Indicator Report on water quality, green buildings, and water supply, and for the next report, we’ll focus on all segments of education, from pre-K to post-secondary as well as lifelong learning related to workforce training.
Whether it’s our individual new year’s resolutions, or the over-the-horizon plans for our region’s future, it’s important to remember that we achieve them first through long-range thinking and then through our day-to-day actions. The future is a choice, not a fate, and you have an important role to play.
Mosbacher is president and CEO of Center for Houston’s Future, The Region’s Think Tank.