Houston Sustainability Indicators

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Ongoing since 2011

Sustainability Performance tracking and analytics for Cities without comprehensive plans.

The Houston Sustainability Indicators Project (HSI) has developed a comprehensive community level indicators visualization platform for the City of Houston. HSI currently consists of 25 indicators that cover social, economic, and environmental aspects of local neighborhoods and communities. The indicators include such measures as citywide population forecasts, the locations of food deserts across the city, income inequality, affordability, economic performance, transportation measures, air quality, water use and flooding vulnerability. The indicators are designed to assist decision makers in the City of Houston, community leaders, and the public to become more aware of and take steps to enhance sustainability and resiliency in the city. 

HSI most recent report, “Sustainable Communities and Public Education,” can be found here:


Sustainable Development Goals

End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Houston, United States

Size and population development
The most recent statistics from The United Sates Census Bureau (July 2019) records the population of Houston as 2,320,268. At the time of the 2010 Census the number of citizens living in Houston was recorded at 2,099,451 which indicates a 10.7% increase. The city covers an area of 672 miles with a population density of 3,657 per square mile.

Population composition
The age breakdown of Houston’s population shows that 57% of residents are aged 18-64, 7.7% are 0-5, 25% are 6-17 and 10.3% are over 65 years of age. The median age in Houston is 32.9 years. 51.16% of Houston residents speak only English, while 48.84% speak other languages. The non-English language spoken by the largest group is Spanish, which is spoken by 38.76% of the population. The ACS 2020 census has been completed however data is unavailable at this time.

Main functions
Houston is the most populous city in Texas and the 4th largest city in the United States of America.

Main industries / business
Houston has a global economy and only New York City has more Fortune 500 headquarters. The immense resources of petroleum, natural gas, sulfur, lime, salt, and water in the region have created one of the world’s greatest concentrations of industries along the Houston Ship Channel. Houston remains a leading oil and petrochemical centre. Oil and gas exploration, refining, petrochemical production, and the manufacture of machinery for these industries are major factors, and the city is a focal point for networks of petroleum and natural gas pipelines. In recent years, the economy has become more diversified. High-technology industries, trade, and business and financial services have become important. Medical research and health care have a considerable economic impact; Engineering services, software production, aerospace research and development operations, and aerospace, electronics, and computer manufacturing are also economic strengths.

Sources for city budget
National and State government funding and City taxation revenue.

Administrative structure
The City of Houston has a mayor-government system. The Mayor, City Controller along with Sixteen Council Members are elected every four years. Council Members are limited to serving two terms of four years each, with each term beginning on January 2. Five Council Members are elected At-Large, or city-wide, while the other eleven are elected to geographic districts of roughly the same proportion of population. The Mayor serves as the city’s chief administrator, executive office and official representative and is responsible for the general management of the city and for seek that all laws and ordinances are enforced. The City Controller is elected independently of the mayor and council. The Controller’s duties are to certify available funds prior to committing such funds and processing disbursements.

The Houston Sustainability Indicators project (HSI) was developed for the Shell Center for Sustainability (SCS) at Rice University in 2011. HSI was developed to assist with the characterization of sustainable development in Houston. After several consultation workshops with experts and advisors representing several agencies in Houston, a Final Indicator Set was identified and reported. The sustainable development indicators in the program were defined and measured based on a review of best management practices; expert and advisory consultation; and identification of the ‘Big Issues’ representing the aspirations and values of Houstonians.

The project has the following objectives:

  1. Examine available data to prioritize those issues that will most directly impact the Complete Communities’ future growth and development.
  2. Consider indicator interrelatedness and develop strategies that allows prediction of future trends and specify actions to be taken in order to achieve a sustainable pathway into the future.
  3. Help to educate and engage local citizens and policy makers in building a better future for the city.

The Houston Sustainability Indicators Project (HSI). A robust community indicators program to monitor sustainable development in Houston, Texas and its communities. The project involves convening multiple focus groups and conducting surveys of key stakeholders to ensure regional participation. The HSI research focuses on topics such as Food Deserts, Health Disparities, Accessibility to Services and Amenities, Educational Quality and Housing Impacts, Economic Development and Environmental Impacts.

The HSI Model is designed as a model of integrative science for building a comprehensive urban community performance indicators dataset. The HSI database consists of different data including: raster data from the National Land Cover Database (NLCD); Greenhouse Gas emissions inventory; Continuous cover of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS); Business agglomeration analysis; Local and State administrative data on voting performance, waste management, parks development, and capital improvement projects; Census socio-economic data is also included. HSI consists of a web-based management tool, the Houston Sustainability Indicators Quality of Life Atlas, capable of monitoring key urban performance indicators for Houston, and analyzing trends and correlations between indicators.

Three standard reports will be produced on a rolling basis along with theme-based studies and publications. The rolling basis is expected to capture progress towards sustainability in Houston based on updated data, policies and programs. The three standard reports are as follows:

The project is led by Rice University and was initially financed by a grant from the Royal Dutch Foundation. The City of Houston supported the launch of the project by participating on several stakeholder engagement meetings. Additionally, Dr. Abraham integrated HSI research findings into the City’s signature neighborhood program, called the Complete Communities program, through his appointment on the initial Steering Committee for that project.

* Empowerment of community level groups to advocate for data driven decision making.

* Need to foster community support and strengthening communities through municipal programs.

 * Benefits of going beyond descriptive analytics for community performance and adopting more robust analysis for correlations across urban data science.

* Funding

* Data driven decision making versus normative policy making

* Need to foster community support and strengthening communities through municipal programs.

* Sustainability Indicators programs are best developed in third-sector organizations such as universities and NGOs. This is because these organizations do not have the political weight that governments tend to carry.

Abraham, D. 2020. Data-Driven Decision Making and Community Indicators: Towards an integration of DDDM in Community Development.  Ridzi, F., Davern, M., Stevens, C. (Eds.) Community Quality-of-Life Indicators: Best Cases VIII. Pp199-210. Springer.

King, L. 2017. Comprehensive Sustainability Indicators: The Houston Sustainability Indicators Program. In Holden, M., Phillips, R., Stevens, C. (Eds.) Community Quality-of-Life Indicators: Best Cases VII. Community Quality of Life and Well Being. Springer.

King, L. 2016. Functional sustainability indicators. Ecological Indicators. v(66), pp. 121-131.

King, L. 2016. The 6th Houston Sustainability Indicators Report: Sustainable Communities and Public Education.  https://issuu.com/sustainablehouston/docs/snbrreport2016final. Shell Center for Sustainability, Rice University. Houston, TX.

King, L. 2015. The 5th Houston Sustainability Indicators Report: Opportunity Among The Houston Districts.  https://issuu.com/sustainablehouston/docs/districtsreportpt12015. Shell Center for Sustainability, Rice University. Houston, TX.

King, L. 2014. Houston Community Sustainability: The Quality of Life Atlas, http://issuu.com/sustainablehouston/docs/snbreportqolatlas2014. Shell Center for Sustainability, Rice University. Houston, TX.

King, L. 2013. Sustainable Development of Houston Districts: A sustainability indicators study, http://issuu.com/sustainablehouston/docs/hsineighborhoodsreportfull. Shell Center for Sustainability, Rice University. Houston, TX.

King, L. 2012. Houston Sustainable Development Indicators: A comprehensive development review for citizens, analysts and decision makers, https://shellcenter.rice.edu/Content.aspx?id=2147483977. Shell Center for Sustainability, Rice University, Houston, TX

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David Abraham
Houston, United States

David Abraham

Individual | Research Scientist

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