Ideas to make Houston a better City – Tory Gattis Interview

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Ideas on how to cut down Houston’s traffic problem? Read Houston Strategies. Want an idea on what to do with the Astrodome? Hear what Tory Gattis has to say. Looking for reasons why Houston is such a great city to live in? Tory Gattis lists plenty on his HoustonStrategies blog.

I first came across Tory at 2011 Houston’s Tedx event where he spoke about Opportunity Urbanism. Since then, I have kept up with his latest posts and am always fascinated on what he has to say about Houston’s development, quality-of-life, city identity, and transportation issues. Here is the interview I had with Tory at BlackFinn restaurant June 2012.

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Me: Congrats on the 7th anniversary of Houston Strategies. What made you start blogging about transportation, quality of life, development, and other things about Houston?

Tory: I was traveling a lot for work and began comparing Houston to other cities. Soon I began trading emails with friends and colleagues on what is good about Houston as a city. Eventually, I was blasting emails to 10, 15, 20 different people and the list grew larger so I decided to start a blog. Now, there is a good mix of readers including City Officials.

Me: Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.

Tory: I run a technology startup. I also read a lot and one of my favorite blogs is The Urbanophile.

Me: Imagine you are a speaker at Tedx again, but this time, it is not just local. This time you are in London and your speech is being transmitted worldwide to hundreds of thousands of other attendees at other Tedx events across the globe. What would you talk about?

Tory: A variant of the Tedx Houston speech, but simplify it and just focus on Opportunity Urbanism.

Me: You recently put together a team looking to re-purpose the Astrodome as the world’s largest technology museum to inspire students into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. What was the hardest thing about this project?

Tory: (he laughs) – We still haven’t succeeded. The Commissioners want to know where would the money come from. Who will be the financial sponsor? This has been the biggest struggle, finding a champion to help finance this endeavor.

Me: In the past 7 years, what is a major decision that our city officials have made that has made you most angry?

Tory: Well it is not of the current administration, but extension of the Metro rail network. The budget is extraordinarily high and too ambitious, and Metro always comes back asking for more money. The Main street line was a good idea, but the other lines no. (with the possible exception of the Universities line).

Me:  You’ve pointed out that Houston is in great shape. We’ve got affordable housing, we are the most diverse city in America, tons of inexpensive international restaurants, top notch museums and major league sports, etc. Indeed there is lots to be excited about, but I see a grim future. I recently I saw a documentary by a Rice University Professor, Stephen Klineberg, called Interesting Times. The film was a look at Houston’s economic and demographic development for the past 30 years. One of the things I clearly remember, was that 89% of current HISD students are either Latin or Black. Now with that said, 1 out of 3 Latin students fail to graduate and the statistics are similar for blacks. Low high school graduation rates means higher unemployment and incarceration rates, increased dependence on social welfare and public assistance programs, and loss of millions of dollars in local tax revenue. How should the city address this issue?

Tory: Well low high school graduation rates are not unique to Houston. Every city is struggling with this issue. I would suggest that more school vouchers be given out to parents so they could send their kids to private schools.

Me: The Mayors Challenge is a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life – and that ultimately can be shared with cities across the nation. This challenge is all about identifying a need, solving a problem, and sharing your knowledge so that other cities and citizens can benefit from your insight and actions. The five boldest ideas with the greatest potential for impact will win funding as well as national and local recognition. In your opinion, what should the city of Houston bring to the table if it were to compete in the Mayors Challenge?

Tory: Open Source Government

Follow Eric on Twitter at @HoustonGreat :

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