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This paper addresses the role of both the private sector and the public sector in altering Houston’s current situation relative to flooding. There is a major role for the private sector in fixing the serious problems that all levels of government and the development community, as well as their engineers and lawyers, have created together. It is also worth noting that all residents of Houston and Harris County were complicit in the creation of these problems because we allowed them to happen. It is time for those of us affected by this action to take a role in our future—a role that we must conceive, create, and demand.
In thinking about private sector action, I am reminded of Jesse Jones, a key figure in Houston’s past. Jones is credited with pulling together Houston’s banks and bankers when bank failures were emerging as a key issue following the stock market crash of 1929. As the story goes, Jones became worried about the stability of a couple of local banks and convinced Houston bankers that they needed to set up reserves and not allow any of these financial institutions to fail. That effort kept Houston on stable financial ground during a time when many key regions of the United States suffered major financial losses, and laid the basis for Houston’s success. It was effective private action in the face of a major threat to long-term economic security.
The situation we are currently facing regarding Houston’s flooding is no less important and even more challenging. Clearly, if Houston does not develop an appropriate response to our flooding crisis, economic decline will follow. On the other hand, if we find approaches that help us become the model resilient city of the 21st century, long-term economic success will be ours. But it has to happen NOW. And I fear that our institutions are not up to the task without significant private sector assistance—much like when Jesse Jones came in to pull the community together.
Many actions need to be taken to address the flooding issues that are plaguing Houston. Some are legacy issues stemming from past policies that must be changed. From the outset, it is important to note that many of these policies have been developed over decades, and many of these problems have their origin in decisions made long ago. The important point is the need for concerted action to move forward rather than focusing on past failures or blame. However, we cannot move forward if we are chained to past policies and ideas. We must be open to reconsidering many aspects of the way we handle development and flooding issues in Houston and Harris County.
In order to fix these problems, action will need to taken by federal, state, or local governments or the private sector. This effort needs to be coordinated, swift, and effective. It needs resolve and vision. And swift action, resolve, and vision often arise from the private sector. That just seems to be how we are wired in this part of the world.
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