In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it has become evident that we indeed “have a problem” in Houston. While the devastation wreaked by the storm was exceptional in its degree, flooding and its consequences have increasingly become the norm. We are facing a critical moment in the city’s history and now realize that we have been planning according to obsolete environmental standards and that our flood control infrastructures are near catastrophic failure, at a moment when storms are likely to worsen. What is also clear is that Houston is particularly prone to disenfranchising segments of its population in times of crisis. Nothing else suddenly seems to matter unless we understand, denounce, and change the city’s urban development culture and its vulnerabilities. It is high time to have a new conversation about the future, one that focuses not only on immediate recovery but also on long-term resiliency and sustainability. Such a conversation will require a major rethinking of how Houston approaches its urban problems and will necessarily involve collaboration with institutions, neighborhoods, and populations that suffered disproportionately from the storm or are located in especially exposed flood zones.
In order to advance these goals, the Rice Humanities Research Center has added a third thread to its public humanities initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In the 2018-19 academic year, the HRC, in collaboration with faculty and graduate students from the University of Houston will fund faculty research projects directly related to addressing the public humanities needs and possibilities surfaced by Harvey, to form a think thank on how the hymanities can contribute to plans for a resilient Houston, and to host a lecture series on this topic.