This Trib story about Houston Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian and her efforts to make our fair city a greener place, which also appeared in the Sunday New York Times, can be considered a companion piece to the earlier CultureMap story about her. Since it was in the Times, it’s geared towards a national audience:
The nation’s fourth-largest city, the sprawling capital of the oil industry, has recently embarked on a variety of green initiatives in an effort to keep up with the times and, it hopes, save money.
The local-food craze is the most visible of these efforts, with the opening of the weekly farmers market in October and the planting of nearby Michelle Obama-style vegetable gardens tended by city hall staff members. But Houston is also transforming itself into an electric-car hub, a national leader in wind-power investment and an advocate for energy efficiency.
“It’s a city rethinking what it needs to be successful,” says Stephen Klineberg, co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.
In recent decades, Klineberg says, as Houston’s economy has diversified beyond oil, the city has realized that it needs to pay attention to quality-of-life issues if it wants to attract talented people.
“Our problem,” he says, “is that people who don’t live in Houston say, ‘Yuck, why would you want to live in Houston?’”
I’m a fan of the goals here, but I don’t know how much effect Spanjian’s efforts can have on the problem Klineberg identifies. Can’t hurt, but it’s my opinion that the best antidote Houston has to this is good word of mouth from those of us who do live here, and especially those of us who move here.
Being on the cutting edge of green technology will help, too.
Perhaps Houston’s most publicized initiative involves electric cars. Starting early next year, the city — which already has plenty of hybrids among its fleet — will become among the first recipients of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf. The city government is expecting to buy 30 of the cars next year with financial help from the federal government. Earlier this month, the electric company NRG Energy rolled out an initiative to put in 50 public charging stations around the city by mid-2011.
Of course, electric cars will do nothing to ease Houston’s infamous traffic and sprawl.
“If you’re going to be a car city, you might as well acknowledge that and help people get into cars that don’t pollute as much,” Parker says.
The city is also considering California-style incentives that would allow electric cars into the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes or reduce their tolls. The city also wants more light-rail lines.
The article doesn’t go into any detail about that last sentence, which at this point is just as well. As far as the electric cars goes, I’m hopeful. I’m also curious if anyone will be tracking electric car ownership in Houston going forward, to see if there are more of them per capita than in cities that don’t have any charging amenities. Seems like something you’d want to do. Anyway, it’s a good story, so check it out.