In the last 10 years, Houston grew into its now global reputation as a remarkably diverse, economically blessed, foodie-forward, hidden-in-plain-sight capital of cultural cool. What will the new decade bring? At the dawn of the 2020s, we asked 20 Houstonians from all walks of life and areas of expertise for their predictions. The city will face an array of challenges, from improving education to transitioning the energy sector into a clean, climate-friendly industry. But, according to experts, Houston will rise to occasion and boldly meet its future. Starting now.
Philanthropist whose foundation makes transformational grants to improve education and quality of life
My husband Rich and I hope that by the end of this decade, every child in every Houston neighborhood excels in a world-class public school. In 2020, more than one-third of Harris County’s 900,000 children learn in schools with C, D or F ratings. We need to continue to dramatically increase the number of highly ranked K-12 schools, and we are encouraged by the school districts, research institutes and nonprofits collaborating to meet this goal.
By 2030, we expect that hundreds of acres of new greenspace will not only help protect our city from flooding, but also provide better connectivity for all through many miles of contiguous trails. City leaders and fellow philanthropic organizations will continue to recognize that an investment in our green spaces is an investment in quality of life. We also expect to see the continued flourishing of Houston’s cultural and arts institutions. When it is completed later this year, the redeveloped MFA Houston campus will be one of the greatest museums in America, a springboard for further significant urban and cultural development.
Rich and I approach every opportunity with one question: Are we thinking big enough? We believe we all will continue to meet our city’s biggest challenges, with even bigger solutions.
18-year-old UH student, political organizer and popular Twitter prognosticator
Houston is a city of contrasts. River Oaks is minutes from Third Ward. Rice is a top university, while HISD has been taken over by the state. The oil money fueling our billionaires is creating our climate crisis. But activists and educators are at work. In 2030, I may have children. If I do, they’ll have clean water, safe streets and good schools. Things are changing. Poverty rates are falling, and people are standing up for their neighbors. Young people are striking for climate action — and winning real policy concessions from the government. Houston is a city of contrasts — and one of promise.
Photo by Julie Soefer
Lead singer of Houston’s beloved Gulf Coast soul band The Suffers
Ten years from now, I envision a music scene in which artists can feel safe and free to express themselves without fear of harassment or marginalization by industry leaders and gatekeepers. I imagine one in which being “paid in exposure” is laughable. (By the way, if you’re still paying people in exposure in 2030, I kindly ask that you stop.) I wonder who will be the next ZZ Top, Destiny’s Child, Lizzo, Khruangbin or Robert Glasper. I think about how many records I’ll have finished with The Suffers, and on my own, by 2030. And I’m working on multiple projects to help Houston acquire resources like those in industry cities like New York, Los Angeles, Austin and Nashville. Will it work? Only time will tell, but I know first-hand how far a young hustling artist in Houston can get with just a little advice and encouragement from another.
CEO of the Texas Medical Center
The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical city in the world, and its clinical and research programs are already acknowledged as the best and most innovative. But in 2030, I predict it will be difficult to recognize the Texas Medical Center as it is known today.
By then, we will have forged a new path, creating a space that communicated our bold ambitions to the rest of the world. We will have imagined a new, nearly 40-acre center for our medical city — TMC3, the “third coast” for life science. It will be the largest and most innovative platform for translational research in medicine, a walkable campus rich with green space, to inspire people and encourage the kinds of connections that lead to discovery.
In 2030, TMC3 is yet another jewel in Houston’s crown, and the Texas Medical Center is a beacon to both tech and life sciences industries around the world.
Sheila Jackson Lee
13-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Houston
We’re beginning to see the benefits of diversity by way of our newly elected County Judge Lina Hidalgo and our newly elected majority-women city council. But in the ’20s, we need more female CEOs, and need to provide women with leadership opportunities in corporations, arts associations and organizations.
I expect that in the ’20s we will see a focus on a clean city — a city concerned about the climate and quality of life. I frankly believe that our energy industry can be compatible with a clean environment, and that they can utilize some of their research and finance on the question of the environment. And I hope, whatever we do, that we will do it together.
David G. Eller
CEO of Celltex, Houston’s pioneering stem cell company
By 2030, Houston will be the city revolutionizing stem cell therapy.
I founded Celltex to focus on a particular type of mesenchymal stem cell, or MSC, found in fat. We developed a technology that allows us to isolate, multiply and produce hundreds of millions of a person’s own MSCs, which can be banked today and used in the future to provide relief from conditions such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, Parkinson’s and more. The results are amazing. Some 82 percent of our clients with multiple sclerosis, for example, indicated an improvement in symptoms.
What’s next? Celltex has partnered with A&M to investigate potential therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, and we’ll soon begin a clinical trial focusing on rheumatoid arthritis.
CEO of the conservancy for Memorial Park, one of America’s largest urban parks
Within the next decade, Memorial Park Conservancy will deliver its Ten-Year Plan, an ambitious and transformational set of projects. We’re reconnecting Memorial Park to itself, to the stories the land tells, and to Houston’s expanding network of greenspace. From new opportunities for nature-based recreation offered by the visionary Land Bridge and Prairie to picnicking and wildlife observation in the 100-acre Eastern Glades to additional hike-and-bike paths parkwide, Memorial Park will be better equipped to serve the needs of Park users, reclaim native ecologies, manage stormwater, and connect Houston’s largest urban wilderness to the region’s interrelated narratives, ensuring they aren’t lost to time.
Photo by Steven Visneau
Founded the Drunk Elephant clean beauty company in 2012, which she sold to global player Shiseido for $845 million in October
By 2030, the world will have woken up to Houston. As it stands, the perception of our city does not measure up to its reality. I learned this when Drunk Elephant launched in different global markets; when people found out that I had started the company from Houston, their response was disbelief. But Houston is home to the fourth-largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies and has a relatively low cost of living. I’m surprised that people don’t know that we have one of the fastest growing start-up ecosystems in the world — home to a growing number of female entrepreneurs. By 2030, the people who somehow didn’t realize that this is one of the best places on the planet to start a business, a family and a life will feel crazy for not having recognized it earlier.
Exec Director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas
I have high hopes that by 2030, we will see the employment market realize what an asset the transgender community is to the marketplace, and that trans people will no longer be turned away from homeless shelters and housing due to their gender identity, just when they need help most. And while I entertain no fantasies that transphobia will have been stamped out by 2030, my hope is that trans people will no longer simply be planning to survive in Houston, but instead will be able to thrive in this beautiful city we all share.
Nella Garcia Urban
Office at YES Prep charter schools
In the next decade, Houston’s educators have a deep and fundamental choice: Will we work relentlessly in the pursuit of equity for all students? Or will we perpetuate systems that predict student opportunity based on race, zip code and poverty? In 10 years, let’s struggle to find racial equity gaps. Let’s be able to say that all students have access to rigorous post-secondary options because our systems have minimized barriers, rather than exacerbated them.
Children of color in Houston who deserve an excellent education do not have 10 years to wait. Let’s get there before the next decade arrives.
Photo by John Davidson
James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur, known for telling the story of Houston through food
In 10 years, I predict we’ll see more West African influence in our food, since it’s already the fastest growing population in Houston. I hope a lot of cooks that work for me now are running their own restaurants. By 2030, I hope Southern Smoke, my nonprofit that supports food industry professionals in crisis, has donated many more millions of dollars, and I hope our dream of launching a 24-hour hotline has come to fruition. I hope people in our business are healthier, physically and mentally, and can find a bit more balance than restaurant employees have today. Most of all, I hope Houston remains the best city in the world — diverse, progressive, delicious.
Journalist and co-host of TV’s daily ‘Houston Life’
One of the things I love about my job is meeting Houstonians from different walks of life: the single mom working several jobs to support her family, the cancer patient who traveled here for treatment, the immigrant entrepreneurs planting economic seeds in our city. Diversity means new ideas and challenging the status quo, both of which are critical for a thriving community. Whether it’s transit expansion, the development of more green space or the evolution of our energy portfolio, we have big challenges ahead. But we’ll rise above rancorous political discourse and collectively move forward as the dynamic, global city we have become.
Rice sociologist tracking demographics, economic outlooks, experiences and beliefs
Houston will face three central challenges. The first is the rise of the knowledge economy. The city needs to drastically improve its public schools, nurture a far more educated workforce, and reduce the growing inequalities. The second is the importance of quality of place. To attract new talent, Houston must continue to improve its air and water quality, parks and bayous; its mobility and transit systems; its venues for sports and the arts; and its resilience to future storms. The third is the demographic transformation. Houston needs to grow into a more united, equitable and inclusive multiethnic society, prepared to capitalize fully on its remarkable cultural diversity.
Photo by Phoebe Rourke
Second-generation Houston developer and hotelier whose storied La Colombe d’Or will soon reopen after massive renovation and expansion
As Houston thrives as a world-class city, developments that cater to the local neighborhood and community they belong to will thrive. Population growth will continue, which will inevitably reduce the distance Houstonians are willing to commute. Thoughtfully building or redeveloping city blocks into mixed-use environments that combine office and living with retail and hospitality will be extremely successful if designed with intent and creativity. Redeveloping La Colombe d’Or Hotel and adding residences is a prime example of the future of how Houstonians will live. We’ve integrated a variety of amenities and experiences for our guests and residents including common areas like a coffee bar that will also provide a gathering spot for our Montrose neighborhood.
Lanecia Rouse Tinsley
Artist, speaker and arts activist
Over the next decade, I envision exciting opportunities for artists to be engaged and supported. I hope there will be more intention given to the art adorning walls and spaces, public and private, and that it will be more representative of the rich diversity of artists that are making good work in our city. I see more collaborations among artists, cultural heritage institutions, faith-based organizations, universities and art spaces, in ways that will inspire more innovative experiences and opportunities for engagement with the arts. Art has a way of surprising you, and I hope most of all that Houston is welcoming to all of its surprises.
Real estate sales agent with Compass, consistently listed among the city’s top producers
The 2020s are off to a great start, with a strong local economy, historically low interest rates and high buyer confidence. We’re coming off a record-breaking year for the greater Houston area overall in 2019, and the luxury market is back after a stumble in last year’s second half.
The next decade should see fairly steady sales growth across all price points. The trend of people wanting to live in the city rather than the suburbs will continue, especially as traffic worsens. The high-rise market will continue to grow, as we have a shortage of land in town. Neighborhoods with stronger deed restrictions on minimum lot sizes are ones to buy into.
Samira B. Ali
AIDS researcher at UH
Right now, about 25,000 Houstonians live with HIV/AIDS. Encouraging advances have marked their lives in recent years, thanks to new funding initiatives like Project CORE, which provides housing and economic security for vulnerable patients. And End HIV Houston, a broad coalition of groups and people, has shed light on the need for policies in tune with goals of social and racial justice — such as the need to dismantle anti-black practices and systems. But we still have a long way ahead. Biomedical advances, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the medication to prevent HIV, will certainly change the transmission factors over the next 10 years — but only if PrEP is affordable and accessible to all. So we need to be change agents who ensure people are treated with dignity, and that all have rights in our society.
CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, which champions economic development
I envision a city that has used its cutting-edge industry know-how to establish an innovation and digital tech ecosystem that competes for the best companies and creative talent around the world. I also see a city leading the global energy transition, solving the dual challenge of meeting increasing global energy demand while lowering the world’s carbon footprint. The coming years will be a test of our resolve to be a true global leader — a dynamic, inclusive city that provides pathways to success for all Houstonians.
Houston Public Media news anchor and sports reporter
I anticipate more new niche leagues in soccer, rugby, cricket and MMA gaining momentum, like the upstart football-expansion XFL is now. Diversity in sports will appeal to a Houstonian hoping to cleanse his or her palate of an Astros sign-stealing scandal, or a Texans fan who can’t stomach a team whose head coach and GM are the same person.
Sport has the power to change the world and inspire, regardless of the athlete’s race or nationality. A home-team victory may help residents recover from a flood, or encourage a young gay kid in the Third Ward to dream of becoming the next MMA champion. I want a Houston in which diversity in sports encourages an environment of inclusion, despite political and cultural differences. Houston should continue to root for our own and support each other. That’s when everyone wins, regardless of the score.
Oncologist and cancer researcher at M.D. Anderson
Houston is world-renowned for its major advances in cancer treatment. In the coming decade, I expect even more breakthroughs — from using blood samples to detect minute levels of tumor DNA for early diagnosis, to understanding how the bacteria in our bodies affect how we respond to various cancer therapies, and utilizing Artificial Intelligence to diagnose and treat cancers. Houston is ready and capable of leading the conversation in how we fight a terrible and increasingly complex disease.