The Honorable Sylvester Turner, Mayor of the City of the Future
Houston is known as the Culinary and Cultural Capital of the South. A diverse city where more than 145 languages are spoken, home to NASA, Fortune 500 companies, and the largest medical center in the world, Houston has grown into the fourth-largest city in the U. S. It has an exciting and vibrant art and music community which has been created by a fusion of cultures that is unlike any other city in the world. A city filled with opportunity, excitement, culture, art, and history, Houston continues to push forward in all sectors of business and innovation. I was honored to get a moment with the CEO of Houston, the Honorable Sylvester Turner, at his office in City Hall just after his trade mission to India.
HeidiPP: You have always served the community in some capacity: 27 years in the Texas House as the representative for District 139, on the House Appropriations Committee for 21 years, as Speaker Pro-Tem for three terms, and more with a stellar record. What inspired you to serve as Mayor of Houston?
Mayor Turner: First, I am a native Houstonian. Second, I grew up in a community underrepresented and underserved for decades. You want to see improvements? One of the ways is to become a part of the municipal government and address the communities that have been under-resourced for decades like the 5th Ward, 3rd Ward, Denver Harbor, Sunnyside, and even out in Ft. Bend, to make sure that they are not overlooked. There are many ways to do it. One of the many ways is to be the manager and CEO, the Mayor of the City of Houston. The policies come through the Mayor’s office; the implementation comes through the Mayor’s office; and ultimately, the appointments of department heads are made by the Mayor; and the budget is set by the Mayor with the approval of the City Council.This gives you a front row seat for a limited period of time. You try to be as impactful as you can in the time you have been allotted.
HeidiPP: So, your advice to someone who wants to effect change in their community would be to?
Mayor Turner: To become a part of the solution. You can be on the outside looking in, or you can be on the inside working from within to make a change. But my advice to people is to get involved and to participate from wherever they are. You do not have to be Mayor. You don’t even have to be a council member to be effective. You can be a community leader, a community organizer, or a neighborhood helper. From wherever you sit, you can effect change.
HeidiPP: You have hosted many missions representing Houston abroad, I heard that you just recently returned from a trade mission in India. What was it that you and your team did during this trade mission?
Mayor Turner: It was a group of 35 people on a business and trade mission. It was my first time in India. We worked to enhance the relationship between the two communities. We are a significant trade partner for India and there is a significant Indian population in Houston. More than 82,000 Houstonians were born in India, and another 200,000 are of Indian descent. They are a vibrant community within the City of Houston. India has the fastest growing economy in the world. They consume a lot of energy and the U.S. is a principal exporter of energy. With India as a consumer, the two go hand in hand. So that was one area. There was synergy there. Also, there are doctors and researchers. That was another area of interest. Then there are scholars, technology, and innovation. We are creating technology and innovation here. They are creating technology and innovation there. The two go hand in hand. There are culture and student exchange opportunities. When you are talking about the fastest growing economy in the world and a country of 1.2 billion people, I think there are many areas where we can partner and benefit each other.
HeidiPP: True, the exchange is mutually beneficial. There is so much we can learn from them — and them, from us.
Mayor Turner: Yes. And you know, we are pushing for a direct flight. Did you know there are no direct flights from Houston to New Delhi or Mumbai? You go to Newark and over to India. Or you go to Istanbul and over to India. Or you go to Frankfurt, Germany and over to India. That is a 24- to 25-hour trip. A direct flight would help to enhance the relationship between the two countries by shortening the travel time between us.
HeidiPP: In 2018 you also traveled to Argentina, Chile, and Peru. What are your thoughts on Central and South America?
Mayor Turner: You know Houston is like the “Gateway to the Americas”. It just makes a lot of sense to be focused on Central and South America.
HeidiPP: So when was the mission to China?
Mayor Turner: That was in December 2017. Our largest delegation to date, it was about 74 delegates.
HeidiPP: What are your plans for 2019?
Mayor Turner: In terms of 2019, we are starting to put together that itinerary now. There could be a South Korean trip in there. They are working to get a trip to Europe. I try to do only three a year.
HeidiPP: You are a part of the Global Covenant for Mayors for Climate and Energy and the head of the energy capital of the world. What is your vision for Houston’s future in the Global Energy industry?
Mayor Turner: I co-chair the United States Congress on Climate Change. You know we have 500-year weather records broken world wide. That is related to climate change. You know about the Paris Accord? Over 400 United States mayors signed on that, we will adhere to the Paris Accord when it comes to climate change, Houston being one of them. We are the energy capital of the world, but for us too, our focus is on renewables. The City of Houston purchases more green power than any other city in the U.S. We are about 82% wind power and 12% solar. That is 92% renewable energy for the City of Houston.
HeidiPP: I did not know those details, thank you. I am proud of our city’s diversity and vision.
Mayor Turner: We are the energy capital of the world — but at the same time, we recognize the importance of green energy. We are doing that by leading and by being an example. Then the focus is on electric vehicles. The announcement is coming soon about electric charge stations. Then there are areas like Sunnyside. There are 300 acres of contaminated property. We are looking at how we can take and turn that around to make it useful soil. Then we can revitalize that whole community. So, let’s look and see how we take those 300 acres and turn them into a solar farm. All of this works hand in hand with the United States Conference of Mayors. I work very closely with Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, who is a leader in climate change.
HeidiPP: That is exciting to know that even though the Federal Government has decided not to pay attention, there are so many mayors working together on the issue.
Mayor Turner: This is a period of time when the leadership does not necessarily come from the top down. It comes from the bottom up. Cities are playing a much greater role when it comes to climate change, when it comes to energy, consumption of energy, preserving our quality of life, transportation issues, etc. Cities are really stepping up. We work very closely with one another. One thing about mayors is we have to be results oriented. We have to learn to work with all different groups, personalities, etc. You can not allow politics to get in the way. There is no Democratic or Republican pothole when the rain falls. You have to work with everybody.
HeidiPP: My last question would be: what would you like to say to people who are thinking about coming to Houston or investing in Houston?
Mayor Turner: Is there any other place? Houston is very resourceful. It is the most diverse city in the United States today. There are reasons for that.
• One in four Houstonians is foreign-born
• It is the energy capital of the World
• We have the largest medical complex in the world:
• The largest children’s hospital
• The largest free-standing cancer research hospital
• Houston has the number one port in terms of foreign import-export
• In this city, you can travel around the world and not leave this space. In no other city on the face of the earth can you say that
We are fortunate when it comes to affordability. A 2,000 square foot home is about $250,000. Houston has culture, languages, religions, fine dining … it is a little chic and a little country.
We are a young city and still growing.