The City of Houston

Houston's Resilience Strategy

The Challenge

On Aug. 25, 2017, the Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas causing widespread damage and flooding. According to the Harris County Flood Control District, 4.7 million people in the county were impacted directly or indirectly by the flooding. Just one day after the storm made landfall, parts of all the 22 major freeways in the Houston metro area were flooded and impassable.

In a period of five years, Houston experienced devastation and loss from six federally declared flooding disasters. The city also faces ongoing challenges from stresses such as inequalities in health and wealth, access to affordable housing and transportation choices, and urban sprawl. While the future is uncertain, we can expect that Houston will only face increasing challenges over the next 30 years. But the city can create opportunity for all Houstonians in how it tackles these challenges—at the individual, neighborhood, bayou, city, and regional scale. The steps Houston takes today can begin to shape the future for the next generation of Houstonians.

The Approach

To prepare for future extreme events and adapt to chronic stresses, the City of Houston (City), 100 Resilient Cities (now the Global Resilient Cities Network), The Rockefeller Foundation, Shell, and The Water Institute of the Gulf (Institute) announced a partnership to produce a Resilient Houston Strategy. The strategy, which was released by Mayor Sylvester Turner and Chief Resilience Officer, Marissa Aho on Feb. 12, 2020, is the product of an 18-month effort to develop a comprehensive, long-term approach to build more resilience into the city.

The Water Institute worked with the City and other partners to create a vision for what resilience means in Houston: A healthy place to live; an equitable, inclusive, and affordable city; a leader in climate adaptation; a city that grows up, not out; and a transformative economy that builds forward.

The Resilient Houston Strategy is an implementation-focused document with goals, actions, and sub-actions needed to implement this vision. A companion document, Living with Water Houston, was developed concurrently with Resilient Houston, bringing together Dutch, Louisiana, national and local experts to develop flood risk reduction recommendations at the regional, city, bayou, and neighborhood scales. Houston is the first place where these two planning processes have occurred concurrently and informed each other.

As Lead Strategy Partner, The Water Institute directly advised the Houston’s Chief Resilience Officer in researching and prioritize the city’s shocks (such as extreme weather events) and stresses (such health and mobility), crafting a customized approach to the city’s resilience, convening multidisciplinary stakeholder workshops, designing resilience-building projects and programs, providing guidance on multi-benefit flood mitigation planning, and developing the Resilient Houston Strategy document to guide this work into the future.

The Water Institute helped the City shape the Resilient Houston Strategy vision and the specific projects and programs for how Houston can manage future shocks and stresses through a comprehensive resilience lens.

As part of this effort, The Water Institute worked with the City to convene hundreds of stakeholders during an agenda-setting workshop, Living with Water design workshops, and strategy working group meetings. The report was released in February 2020 and is available here