Following the 2009 workshop, STS convened the first of a series of place-based urban sustainability workshops. The first workshop was held in 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia, which provided a compelling case study as the region’s rapid growth has had significant implications for water, land use, and transportation. The region’s economy boomed in the 1980s as it developed into a hub for southern commerce. Today, it is the headquarters of six Fortune 100 companies, including Coca-Cola and UPS, and is a major transportation hub, with the world’s busiest airport. This growth has taken a toll on the city’s environment. Atlanta today faces major traffic congestion and increasingly scarce water supplies. The Atlanta workshop featured presentations and discussions with local, state, and federal officials, academics, and the private sector to examine how the challenges the still-growing region will face in coming years can be addressed within the context of sustainability.
This report is a summary of the second place-based workshop held in Houston, Texas in January 2012. Houston is the nation’s fourth-largest city, and is home to strong oil and gas industries, which helped to make it one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. But as in Atlanta, growth has come at a cost to the region’s environment. Air pollution, especially ozone and particulate matter, has been a persistent threat to human health for decades. And land-use decisions, such as the lack of a formal zoning code in the region, have resulted in a high degree of automobile dependency, traffic congestion, polluted sites (brownfields) close to residential areas, and a heat island effect. Additionally, Houston’s low-lying location near the Gulf of Mexico makes it vulnerable to hurricanes and major flooding.
Recently, Houston has begun to promote some promising sustainability initiatives. It is now one of the country’s largest municipal purchasers of wind-generated power, and has a light rail system that connects downtown with the Texas Medical Center and surrounding neighborhoods. In addition, all new city buildings must be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. These new and promising initiatives were the starting point for workshop participants to explore additional pathways to urban sustainability.