Houston is an attractive, vibrant and entrepreneurial city of many notable characteristics. It is the fourth largest city in the United States, known for its port, international trade, oil and health industries and sturdy economy in tough times. We are the home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and world class arts institutions. As an international gateway to the world, Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation – a sprawling urban metropolis that opens its arms to immigrants and newcomers. It is a friendly city with its own cosmopolitan brand of Texas-style hospitality. The team of IBM experts that recently was here to guide Houston’s IBM Smarter Cities Challenge and assess our strengths and challenges surely and readily made note of these signature attributes that make our Bayou City so distinctive.
Houston is also one of the most generous cities in the country, ranking fourth nationwide
in gift-giving. It is a community that values civic duty, leadership, philanthropy and volunteerism. In exploring the City of Houston’s outreach to communities (a constituency of 2.1 million residents), the IBM team noted the high level of community participation in City affairs. Indeed, the City diligently seizes opportunities to enlist the leadership, talents and expertise of this vibrant, diverse and giving citizenry as it assesses and finds solutions to community issues and needs.
The five-member Smarter Cities Challenge team spent three weeks in Houston on a project aimed at defining ways in which the City can work “smarter” to meet the “challenge” of improving services for its residents. The team members, who hailed from different parts of the U.S. and from as far away as Japan, provided a wide scope of expertise for the project, from analytics-driven marketing, IT architecture and software and hardware assets management to the design and implementation of business and human services solutions.
The project focused on how the City can improve public services available online by making them more comprehensive and easier for residents to access. Centered on the work of the Department of Neighborhoods, the project specifically explored how we can more effectively connect school-aged students and their families to health and social services, educational programs, outreach programs for at-risk youth and support services for low-income residents. The team’s “discovery” phase consisted of research and information-gathering, conducted through a series of meetings with numerous community stakeholders and partners, including our Super Neighborhood Council, followed by consultations with City experts from key departments. The project culminated with the team’s formal presentation of a report to the City on August 24, 2012. The project findings stress the importance of community partnerships. The recommendations point to four actions:
- Engage the community
- Increase awareness
- Improve processes
- Develop an analytics-driven culture
We are committed to constantly searching for new ways of working in synergy with our community partners and stakeholders to better serve Houstonians. We know from experience and measured success that the dynamic process of community engagement is vital. It is the mechanism that taps the City’s impressive spirit of civic duty. It is a method through which we ensure that our decisions are informed by and vested in the citizens we serve. It is a means for ascertaining, through input from citizens themselves, where our strengths lie and where improvement is needed as we work to enhance our quality of life.
As Houstonians, we’re all in this together, working as a team to make our city the best in the world.
We extend our gratitude to IBM for its generosity and to the IBM team for its guidance and expertise. We look forward to receiving the complete road map to working “smarter” in the coming weeks.
Currently serving her second term, The Honorable Annise Parker is Houston’s 61st mayor and one of only two women to hold the City’s highest elected office. As the City’s chief executive officer, Mayor Parker is responsible for all aspects of the general management of the City and for enforcement of all laws and ordinances. Mayor Parker has spent many years in service to the people of Houston, with six years as a City Council member and six years as City Controller. She is the only person in Houston history to have held the offices of council member, controller and mayor.