Houston ranks at No. 11 in the best cities in America — and No. 1 in Texas. Getty Images

Buoyed by diversity, fine food, and Fortune 500 companies, Houston ranks as the 11th best city in the country and the top city in Texas, according to a consulting firm's annual study.

"Smart, skilled, and soulful, Houston is the American city of the future," says the study, published by Vancouver, Canada-based Resonance Consultancy Ltd., which specializes in marketing, strategy, and research for the real estate, tourism, and economic development sectors.

In last year's study, Houston also held the No. 11 ranking.

The 2020 study praises Houston for its:

  • Ethnic diversity, with more than 145 languages spoken in Houston-area homes.
  • Highly regarded restaurants, rated fourth behind Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago.
  • Healthy concentration of Fortune 500 companies, representing the country's biggest businesses. Twenty-two companies based in the Houston area are listed on this year's Fortune 500.
  • Airport connectivity (No. 7 ranking).

The study further lauds the city for development of the Houston Spaceport, a hub for the region's space industry. However, the study notes that Houston ranks 47th for prosperity, 74th for employment, and 99th (next to last) for income equality.

"From medicine to space to energy, we are at the forefront of innovation. We are resilient problem-solvers who work together to find common solutions, no matter if we're facing Hurricane Harvey or a global pandemic," real estate developer David Mincberg, chairman of Houston First Corp., says in an August 6 release. "Houston continues to grow and get better, so we invite those who live here to rediscover our city and visitors to come as soon as it is safe and enjoy all that Houston has to offer."

Houston First promotes the city as a destination for leisure and business travelers.

Resonance Consultancy ranks large U.S. cities by relying on a mix of 26 performance and quality measures. This year, New York City tops the list, followed by Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; San Diego; Las Vegas; San Jose, California; Miami; and Boston.

Three spots behind Houston is Dallas, at No. 14. Austin comes in at No. 17 and San Antonio at No. 28. Fort Worth isn't included in the ranking.

Highlights for Dallas include:

  • No. 1 ranking for airport connectivity, thanks largely to the presence of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
  • Country's highest concentration of corporate headquarters (more than 10,000).
  • Country's third largest grouping of Fortune 500 companies (24 in Dallas-Fort Worth).
  • Sixth largest LGBTQ community in the U.S.
  • Dallas Arts District, the country's largest contiguous urban arts district.

"Dallas inspires big ideas. This big and bold approach has resulted in world-class arts, culture, architecture, dining, business, and more, which are changing the face of the city," VisitDallas, the city's convention and tourism arm, says on its website.

Sitting at No. 17, Austin boasts No. 8 rankings for educational attainment and nightlife, the study says, along with a vibrant cultural scene anchored by events such as SXSW and a flourishing tech landscape dotted by the likes of Apple, Dell, Facebook, Google, and Oracle.

Austin's showing in the Resonance Consultancy study comes on the heels of the city being hailed by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 place to live in the country, with particularly high marks for desirability, jobs, and quality of life.

"With a strong, continually growing tech-talent labor force and an overall lower cost of living and doing business, I think Austin could end up being a beneficiary market in the recovery of the pandemic as many tech users look to move out of more densely populated areas like New York City or San Francisco," Erin Morales, senior vice president of commercial real estate services company CBRE, said in a July news release.

At No. 28, San Antonio earns kudos from Resonance Consultancy for its plethora of attractions, including the River Walk, five colonial missions, San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio Museum of Art, and Texas Golf Hall of Fame. Alamo City shows up at No. 7 in the study's attractions category.

In addition, the study highlights San Antonio's popular mixed-use Pearl district, whose assets include a campus of the Culinary Institute of America. "Around the esteemed school, a host of grads and chefs have clustered, creating a smorgasbord of choices from Italian to 'cue to bakery to vegetarian cuisine," according to the study.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston First Corp. will sponsor the Aira technology at several venues across the city so that the blind and vision impaired can enjoy each area. Photo by Micahl Wycoff

Low-vision technology allow for the seeing impaired to have access to Houston venues

Eyes to see

A partnership between the Houston First Corporation and Aira, an app that helps blind and low-vision people gain independence by navigating tasks and public spaces, is now live at venues around the city.

Houston First will cover the costs of use for the app in its venues, including the George R. Brown Convention Center, Avenida Houston, Wortham Theater Center, and Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts. The organization has plans to expand to the Miller Outdoor Theatre, said John Gonzalez, senior vice president of operations and general manager for Houston First.

"Technology is changing the experiences users have at our events," Gonzalez said. "We want to make our venues as accessible as possible."

California-based Aira's role in offering a vessel for facilities to be more accessible to low-vision and blind Houstonians is groundbreaking, said Vince Morvillo, an account executive with Aira who is blind.

"This technology is as important to a blind person as it is to a sighted person," Morvillo said. "You, as a person with sight, have the opportunity to look, to see things, to interact with people. When you're blind, you're not out and about; you don't have too many people to interact with. The ability to be able to go and do something when you choose to do so is really important."

The app essentially creates sight on demand. Users can use the Aira app on their smartphones and be connected to a trained operator, who will help them navigate the scene around them using video being fed to the app through their phone. The operators will then guide the user to their destination or even help them with everyday necessities like grocery shopping.

"The blind world needs this," Morvillo said. "This technology gets blind people out in the world. Businesses know how successful they are by how many people support them. I just don't understand why blind people are an untapped resource. Nobody's out there trying to get the blind shopper."

In addition to the blind population, Morvillo says that this will also help the aging population, who may often struggle with their vision later in life, and will increase accessibility options around the city.

Aira and Houston First's efforts to increase accessibility for patrons are now being recognized nationally. The National Federation of the Blind recently announced it would be bringing its annual convention to Houston in 2020.

"We are thrilled to host the group and are committed to providing a safe and enjoyable experience for all visitors," Houston First said in an email to InnovationMap. "It is our goal that Houston First venues provide an entertaining and immersive experience for all guests, and our partnership with Aira puts us one step closer to achieving that goal."

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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The project is estimated to take two years to complete after construction starts and will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, reports Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Houston organization selected for program to explore future foods in space health

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.