Kinder Institute At Rice Becomes Think Tank With Urban Focus

Dec. 29, 2014Houston Public Media

The Kinder Institute of Urban Research at Rice University is being spun out of the School of Social Sciences and given new status as a stand-alone think tank. Much like the Baker Institute for Public Policy, it will aim to use research to tackle modern problems, with a focus on urban life.

The timing makes sense because Houston has become the prototypical American city, said sociologist Stephen Klineberg, the Institute’s founding director.

“Maybe Chicago was the city of the 20th century, but Houston is the epitome, the city of the 21st century, the place where much of the American future is going to be worked out,” Klineberg said.

Downtown Houston skyline

The Institute’s most famous intellectual product is theHouston Area Survey, which has come out every year for 33 years. It’s the longest-running study in the country of its kind.

It has tracked Houston economically and demographically, revealing our region’s ethnic diversity and the challenges of moving from a blue-collar to a white-collar economy.

“Houston is where all of America will be in 25-30 years,” Klineberg said. “The ethnic diversity, the dealing with the collapse of the oil-based industrial economy and the movement into this new knowledge based economy in the 21st century, the critical importance of quality of life issues, all of that makes Houston an enormously interesting and consequential city.”

Urban planner Bill Fulton is the new director. He’s taking over from Klineberg.

Fulton says the move will help with fundraising, but will also allow the Institute to be more aggressive in fixing urban problems, not just identifying them.

“What we’re going to do now is step up, add more researchers, engage the community, and work with political and civic players out in Houston to actually bring about change on the ground,” Fulton said.

For example, the Institute already has a partnership with the Houston Independent School District to analyze some of the more experimental schools.

Fulton says he’ll announce a new list of priorities this spring. And Klineberg says, for his part, he would love to write a book summing up everything he’s learned about Houston in the past three decades.