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FIGURE 5-1 Illustration depicting social, ecological, and economic components of sustainability as points of a triangle.
SOURCE: Jim Blackburn, presentation, January 18, 2012.

One indicator demonstrating that basic needs are not being met for some of Houston’s population is the number of individuals living below the poverty level; twenty percent of Houston’s population is below the poverty level. Some neighborhoods in Houston, added Mr. Blackburn, can have as many as 40 to 60 percent of its residents below the poverty level (Figure 5-2). Income disparity is another indicator. A report issued by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute stated that the income disparity between the top 5 percent and middle 20 percent in Texas is greater than in any other state in the United States (Bernstein et al., 2006). This is a sustainability issue for the entire nation, and not just for Houston, said Mr. Blackburn. Other social, economic, and environmental indicators he discussed included:

  • Air quality: Monitored Benzene levels in 2010 in Houston were 1.39 ppb relative to a standard of 1.40 ppb.
  • Environmental justice: Minority areas on the east side of Houston have high air pollution levels.
  • Education: In 2009 Harris County had a high school dropout rate of 35 percent, which draws in racial disparity issues.
  • Food supply: 143 square miles in total and 60 percent of the low-income area of Houston is a food desert, meaning there is not enough access to healthy food (Figure 5-3).


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