Editorial by Ennis Davis, AICP

Next City is a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities by creating media and events around the world. The annual Vanguard conference is one event I’ve become quite fond of. It was held in Houston this month, bringing together top urban innovators aged 40 and younger, all working to see change in their respective cities.

Traveling to downtown Houston on I-45 after arriving at Hobby Airport.

Since my selection to the Cleveland, I’ve made it a point to attend other conferences in Chattanooga and Reno, for the opportunity to build relationships with Vanguard alumni and to connect with new Vanguard members. After all, there’s something to be said about the ability to spend time with a close network of some of the smartest individuals across the country, involved in improving the quality of life in their respective cities. One essential element for me, is the opportunity to engage in deep conversation concerning city and social issues, which simply is not possible in my everyday life.

Vanguard alumni group photograph taken at the BRC in Texas Medical Center. Front row from left to right: Alison Joe (Sacramento), Kate Didech (Oakland), Emily Sadigh (Berkeley), Kareeshma Ali Merchant (Chicago), Ennis Davis (Jacksonville), Sara Mokuria (Dallas), Lou Huang (New York City) and Ariella Cohen (Next City Editor-in-Chief). Back row from left to right: Alex Feldman (Philadelphia), Jay Wall (Toronto), Guillaume Lavoie (Montreal), Carlos Moreno (Tulsa) and Bryan Lee, Jr (New Orleans).

This year I got to do that in Houston, the country’s fourth largest city by population, which is compelling in its own right. It’s a major southern port city, circled by multiple highways with a humid climate, an AFC South NFL franchise, a recently overhauled transit system, and one of the largest municipalities in the country by land area. Writing this down, I’ve just described another city served by Interstate 10. It’s the city I reside in – Jacksonville.

However, what really makes Houston a unique urban setting is its lack of zoning regulations. So a quick (1.5 hours to be exact) flight to this Texas metropolis was definitely in order.

CLICK HERE</b> for full editorial and imagery of the Houston Next City trip

Tale of the Tape


Houston City Population 2014: 2,239,558 (City 2014); 6,656,947 (Metro 2015) - (incorporated in 1837)

Jacksonville City Population 2014: 853,382 (City); 1,449,481 (Metro 2015) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Houston (596,163)

City Land Area

Houston: 627.8 square miles Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2015)

Houston: +12.44% Jacksonville: +7.72%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Houston: 4,944,332 (ranked 7 nationwide) Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Houston: 2,978.5 people per square mile Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2010 to 2014

Houston: +139,295 Jacksonville: +31,598

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Houston: George R. Brown Convention Center (1987) - 853,500 square feet Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Tallest Building:

Houston: JPMorgan Chase Tower - 1,002 feet Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Who's Downtown Is More Walkable?

Houston: 72 out of 100, according to 2015 walkscore.com Jacksonville: 72 out of 100, according to 2015 walkscore.com

Next Page: Downtown Houston Photo Tour

Downtown Houston Photo Tour Downtown district captions courtesy of https://www.downtownhouston.org/

Historic District

Houston’s original town center! With its 1800’s-era architecture, tree-lined streets, eclectic mix of sidewalk cafes, pubs and nighttime hotspots, the Historic District fuses culture and commerce. This area of downtown boasts many points of interest with considerable historic significance blending the old with the new.

At the heart of the Historic District is Market Square Park which is the neighborhood gathering place. Surrounding the park are many of downtown’s coolest lofts as well as the University of Houston Downtown.

Skyline District

Downtown Houston is at the heart of this business community with a workforce of 140,000 and 11 of Houston’s 26 Fortune 500 companies. Powerhouses such as Chevron, Shell, Continental Airlines, JPMorgan Chase and TOTAL and creative minds such as PageSoutherlandPage and Morris Architects are just a few that call downtown and the Syline District home.

One of the largest skylines in the country, downtown is very proud of its world-renown architecture by I.M. Pei and Philip Johnson, a diverse mix of post-modern, art deco and Italian renaissance.

Shopping District

ANCHORING Downtown Houston’s Shopping District is GreenStreet which is a mixed-use shopping, entertainment and dining hub and is home to Forever XXI, BCBGMAXAZRIA, House of Blues, Lucky Strike Lanes & Lounge and much, much more. A short two-blocks away is The Shops at Houston Center with Jos. A Banks, Dress Barn, Radio Shack and dozens of other retail, dining and fast food options.

Convention District

Houston’s premier meeting place, the George R. Brown Convention Center Center draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. The convention center is conveniently connected to Houston’s largest hotel, the Hilton Americas, and is equal walking distance to Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center.

Discovery Green park is immediately outside the Brown’s front doors hosting a variety of daily free events and the new dining/entertainment/shopping hub Houston Pavilions is only 4-blocks away. METRORail is close by and with that access to Midtown, the Museum District, Texas Medical Center and Reliant Park.

Theater District

The Theater District is an impressive cultural and entertainment center. The district features nine world renowned performing arts organizations, and many smaller ones, in four venues – Jones Hall, Wortham Theater Center, Alley Theatre and Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

You’ll also find Bayou Place just around the corner which includes Sundance Cinemas, Revention Music Center, Hardrock Cafe and a variety of other restaurants. Family-favorite, Landry’s Downtown Aquarium, is also located within a few blocks of each of the major theaters.

Warehouse District

You’ll find Houston’s funky alternative art scene in the Warehouse District on downtown’s northeast side. Secluded retreats, unique dining options, live music, artists’ studios and downtown’s first lofts are all here to explore. Last Concert Café, an old brothel, is now a Mexican food café and margarita haven with one of the best backyards in Houston. Sporting an outdoor stage, there’s weekly live music and dancing in the sand. Or you might find an artist showing in one of the many galleries.

Harris County District

With more than 4 million residents, Harris County is the most populous county in Texas and the third most populous county in the United States. Its county seat is Houston and the core of the Harris County government reside in the Harris County Campus in downtown Houston. Thousands of Houstonians come to the downtown campus daily for jury duty or other legal reasons.

Text courtesy of Houston Downtown Management District ( https://www.downtownhouston.org/ )

Article courtesy of Moderncities.com. Article and photographs by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com