Background Information

Houston is the most populous city in Texas, with an estimated 2.3 million people in 2016. The metropolitan region is one of the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse metro-urban areas and contributed over $478.6 billion in economic output to national gross domestic product in 2016, the sixth-largest metro-region contribution. Covering 669 square miles on the upper Gulf Coast, the “Energy Capital of the World” is largely dominated by the fossil fuel industry. With its proximity to the gulf’s oil and gas resources and its position as a major coastal port, Houston is a global hub for energy and energy-related industries.

Communities in Greater Houston face climate-related risks from extreme heat, flooding, stormwater management, and increases in disease-borne vectors, such as the Zika and West Nile Viruses. Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston in August 2017, put a spotlight on the city’s resilience efforts. The third major flood event to hit the Houston area in three years, Harvey took over 80 lives and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage. Some 800 wastewater treatment plants and more than a dozen Superfund sites were flooded, spreading raw sewage and toxic chemicals throughout the affected areas. One month after Hurricane Harvey had made landfall, nearly 835,000 people in Texas had registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The City of Houston uses the STAR Communities program to track a variety of sustainability measures across the city. The city conducted its first analysis in 2015 and is in the process of updating its STAR profile in 2018.

Team Summary

The Houston team is collaborating on a comprehensive climate and adaptation plan that gives a holistic view of the climate-related issues facing the Greater Houston region. Team members hail from the City of Houston, the Houston Advanced Research Center, and Public Citizen. This team is also working to update the City of Houston’s STAR Communities profile and to introduce resilience strategies to the city’s Complete Communities program, a mayor-led initiative to improve neighborhood access to quality services and amenities while maintaining the character and affordability of these neighborhoods. Members of this Houston team attended the 2017 Innovations in Building Resilient Communities workshop hosted by the Institute for Sustainable Communities.

Promising Practices

  • The team formed the Upper Texas Gulf Coast Community Adaptation and Resilience Alliance (CARA) to help build capacity for climate adaptation and resilience efforts across an eight-state region along the Gulf Coast. CARA efforts include developing a resilience baseline for the region and creating and supporting emerging resilience networks.
  • The CARA initiative is convening and engaging a variety of groups, including networks related to the built environment and stormwater/flood management, as well a network of environmental community-based organizations. CARA supports these initiatives with technical assistance and ensures they are aware of each other’s activities and can self-identify opportunities for connectivity and alignment.
  • The city’s Complete Communities program identifies service and program gaps in underprivileged communities and begin to address problems, such as public health, education, and city services, through planning and public-private partnerships.
  • The team has been successful in driving a dialogue around resilience with the nonprofit, academic, public, and private sectors.

Key Challenges

  • Tunnel vision – After Hurricane Harvey, there is a narrow focus on flooding in Greater Houston, which can push other climate-related issues facing Houston’s communities to the wayside.
  • Strategies – With an intense focus on flooding, the team faces difficulty identifying appropriate strategies to implement a comprehensive resilience approach in communities.
  • Holistic view – The team is seeking to create a cohesive message that encourages communities to consider and address a more holistic view of community resilience.

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