Rice University logoShell Center for Sustainability
Top blue bar image
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
  • Shell Center for Sustainability
Facebook btnRSS


The Shell Center for Sustainability's mission is to foster an interdisciplinary program of research, outreach, and education to address actions that can be taken to ensure the sustainable development of communities' living standards, interpreted broadly, to encompass all factors affecting the overall quality of life.

Houston Sustainability Indicators (HSI)

Pathways to Urban Sustainability: A Focus on the Houston Metropolitan Region

A National Academies Workshop
January 18-19, 2012

Regional Projects and Plans Workshop 

Moderated by Lester King, Ph.D.
Shell Center for Sustainability, Rice University

hsi region 
Factors to define the region:

Geographic and topographic features | Political boundaries

Metropolitan Statistical Area – “… a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of social and economic integration with that core. Metropolitan areas comprise one or more entire counties...” (Census, 2010)


  • What is the ideal size of the Houston region: given that the HGAC definition is different from the MSA definition; which is different from the regional water planning definition; which is different from the regional air quality planning definition?
  • What are the initial motivations for collaboration at this scale? 
  • What are significant barriers to coordination and planning at a regional scale? 
  • What actor(s) is ultimately responsible for implementing a program/project?

Existing Functional Plans for the Houston region:

Regional Transportation Plan | Regional Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan | Regional Aviation System Plan | Regional Criminal Justice Community Plan | Solid Waste Management Plan | Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan | Water Quality Management Plan | Regional Water Plan | Air Quality Planning | Energy Plan

Are there any other existing regional functional plans?

“The regional comprehensive plan is intended to address facilities or resources that affect more than one jurisdiction and to provide economic, population, and land-use forecasts to guide local planning, so that local plans and planning decisions are made with a set of common assumptions.” (APA, 2006)

Typical Plan Elements: 
Plan assumptions and relation to state and local plans | Population trends and projections | Regional economy | Existing land use | Transportation system | Regional housing trends and needs | Community facilities and services | 

Natural features and cultural assets | Agricultural lands | Natural hazards | Regional density study | Public Involvement | Urban growth areas | Regional growth policy | Implementation strategies

Additional Plan Elements for Sustainability: 
Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies | Energy Plan | Natural Resources Management Plan | Systematic monitoring of Sustainability Indicators | Food Security (APA 2011)


  • What are the existing planning agencies or departments that should be responsible for producing the additional comprehensive plan elements for sustainability?
  • How are projects at this scale linked to community goals or projects, as well as state and federal goals? 
  • How are projects at this scale connected to research findings or specific policies (state or federal)? 


The map may include the following: 
Location of urban growth boundaries | Existing and proposed transportation | Public facilities and utilities of regional significance | Areas of critical concern | Natural hazard areas | Urban and rural growth centers.

Additional Map Components for Sustainability:
Digital / Virtual interactive version of map | Smart growth areas  


  • Should smart growth areas be identified? 
  • Should growth be encouraged in certain areas and not in others?
  • Are there stakeholder groups, or certain issues, that tend to be overlooked in projects at this scale?


The implementation strategies may consist of the following sections: 
An implementation schedule (short, mid and long term) | Development criteria (form based vs land based codes) | Monitoring and Evaluation (Performance metrics) | Coordination (Public private partnership, Vertical integration) | Legislative changes (local and state policy to support plan components)

Additional Implementation Elements for Sustainability: 
Plan Update policy | Sustainability Indicators | Continued public involvement | Digital / Virtual planning strategy | Heightened attention to influencing development decisions | Willingness to act on scientific evidence | Creativity and flexibility in implementing goals (APA 2011) 


  • What strategies should be used to compensate for lack of land use controls in the city of Houston?
  • Taking into account the discussions today, how might regional (multi-county, multi-state) projects contribute to ongoing effort to create a sustainable Houston metropolitan region? 
  • What does that look like?


  1. APA (2006). Planning and Urban Design Standards. J. Wiley & Sons, Inc.. Hoboken, NJ.
  2. APA (2011). Sustaining Places: The Role of the Comprehensive Plan, Draft. American Planning Association. Washington, DC.
  3. Census (2010). State and County Quickfacts. http://quickfacts.census.gov. accessed Tuesday, January 17, 2012.
  4. SANDAG (2008). Smart Growth Concept Map. www.sandag.org. accessed Tuesday, January 17, 2012.