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Houston2035: A Tech-Savvy Leadership Would Boost City’s Prospects

Opinion

Xconomy Texas — 

In 20 years, Houston’s technology sector will be a critical part of our region’s ability to survive and thrive. Xconomy’s Houston 2035 event brings together some of the best voices to speak about this future. When these people talk, I listen.

Houston 2035 is a daylong conference on May 21 that convenes all sorts of interesting entrepreneurs, investors, and community leaders. The agenda covers technology in our traditional industries like healthcare, life sciences, and energy. But it also draws upon experts in education, design and architecture.

I don’t expect to hear anyone trot out the “next tech hub” trope. We’re beyond that kind of fluff. These experts know that Houston’s economy depends on energy, healthcare, aerospace, and trade. And they know that’s not changing anytime soon.

But technology, too, runs through our veins. This is the city that gave the world the space shuttle and the artificial heart. I’m excited to learn how people in traditional industries are using technology to re-think big, intractable problems.

I’m particularly interested in how technology will modernize municipal government. Here in Houston 2015, we’re about to elect a new mayor. Whoever we elect will have a lot of power over policy-making, spending, and municipal operations. Technology has never been much of a campaign issue, but it should be. Houston faces a perennial budget shortfall, crushing pension debt, and mounting infrastructure costs. Modern technology can blunt the impact of these challenges on society and offer new ways of thinking about old problems.

We need a mayor who understands technology and how to use it. Because Houston’s voter turnout is abysmal (only 19% of registered voters show up to the polls), the difference between winner and loser can be as close as 1,000 votes. The technology community should speak up in this election. The influence would be profound.

Houston 2035 is a great place to start. Among the discussions I’m looking forward to is a chat between Andrew Salkin, at the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, and Laura Spanjian, director of the City of Houston’s Office of Sustainability. Their conversation will show how technology intertwines with various aspects of government, such as planning, service, and emergency management. As they lay out a vision for what comes next, the next mayor should be in the audience taking notes.