AddThis ShareCONTACT: B.J. Almond PHONE: (713) 348-6770 E-MAIL: [email protected] New report analyzes Houston changes over nearly a quarter-century Rice University sociologist reviews 24 years of Houston area surveys A new report reviewing 24 years of the Houston Area Survey conducted by Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg reveals that Houstonians are becoming more comfortable with diversity. “There has been a growing acceptance of differences in this city of burgeoning diversity, especially among Anglos,” said Klineberg, professor of sociology. “It’s not dramatic, but it’s consistent and unmistakable.” The 50-page report, titled “Public Perceptions in Remarkable Times: Tracking Change Through 24 Years of Houston Surveys,” was released today and presented to community leaders at a breakfast meeting hosted by Rice President David Leebron. “This is by far the richest and most comprehensive of all our previous reports on almost a quarter-century of Houston surveys,” Klineberg said. “No other city in the nation has been the focus of a long-term study of this scope. None more clearly exemplifies the remarkable trends that are radically reconstructing the social and political landscape of urban America.” Among the report’s 39 charts and two tables are comparisons that document area residents’ increasingly positive evaluations of Houston’s ethnic diversity and of ethnic relations in general, their decreasing fear of crime over the years, their willingness to support the right of others to make personal choices of which they themselves might disapprove, their growing acceptance of homosexuality as a reflection of natural human variation, and the diminishing stigma they attach to mental illness. Despite their higher comfort level with diversity, many Anglos continue to live in largely segregated enclaves in the suburbs and have too few opportunities for meaningful interaction with minorities, Klineberg noted. “In part because of this, Anglos tend to see a very different world from the one that most African-Americans experience,” he said, citing a chart in which 79 percent of blacks but only 51 percent of Anglos believed that blacks are often discriminated against in Houston. The new report also tracks area residents’ changing views of economic opportunities in the Houston area and of the importance of such quality-of-life issues as air pollution, mobility and the physical attractiveness of the region. Despite citizen complaints, whenever Harris County residents are asked in the surveys to rate the Houston area in general as a place to live, they overwhelmingly give favorable evaluations. Over the past several years, the percentage of Anglos in the suburbs who express a strong interest in someday moving to the city has tripled – a clear reflection of the revitalization that has taken place in downtown Houston, Klineberg said. In exploring the differences between Anglo suburbanites who were interested in moving to the city and those who wanted to stay where they were, Klineberg found that far more important than the “push” of traffic woes or long commutes is the “pull” of the city’s revitalized recreational amenities – its downtown restaurants, sports stadiums and theaters – and respondents’ comfort with the ethnic diversity of the urban scene. The report also examines the nature of the ongoing immigration that is transforming this region and the nation. Unlike previous immigrant flows to America, the current streams are both non-European and strikingly diverse in their educational and income backgrounds. The report explores the extent of “Americanization” and of upward mobility experienced by three generations of Latino immigrants in Houston, and it assesses the changing quality of intergroup relationships in the region as a whole. The first Houston Area Survey was conducted in the spring semester of 1982 as a one-time class project in research methods for sociology majors at Rice. Its purpose was to engage undergraduate students in developing and analyzing a professional poll to measure public attitudes and perceptions in a city that was in the midst of a remarkable period of economic boom, Klineberg noted. Two months after the first survey, the oil boom suddenly collapsed. “The region recovered from the recession of the 1980s to find itself in the midst of a restructured economy and a demographic revolution. By 2000, this essentially biracial, Anglo-dominated one-industry town had joined America’s three other largest cities (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) in majority-minority status,” Klineberg said. He and his students have continued to conduct the Houston Area Survey every year since 1982, working first with Telesurveys Research Associates and now with the Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston to reach successive representative samples of Harris County residents. In considering the implications of this unique set of findings from 24 years of Houston surveys, the report underscores three issues that are likely to be decisive in shaping Houston’s prospects for prosperity in the new century: * Houston will need to nurture a much more educated workforce and develop effective policies that can reduce the growing inequalities that otherwise threaten to give rise to a larger and more permanent urban underclass in the years ahead. * The city must continue to make progress in becoming a far more environmentally and aesthetically appealing urban destination if it is to attract and retain the nation’s most talented individuals and innovative companies, whose skills and creativity will be the basis for the generation of wealth in the knowledge economy. * If this region is to flourish in the new century, it will need to develop into a considerably more unified, inclusive and vibrant multiethnic society – one in which equality of opportunity is truly made available to all of Houston’s citizens and all are encouraged to participate as full partners in the decisions that will shape the city’s future. More than 60 corporations, foundations and individuals have provided the funding that has made this research possible, including nine major underwriters: Gallery Furniture; the Houston Area Survey Fund of the Greater Houston Community Foundation; Houston Chronicle; Houston Endowment Inc.; Jain & Jain, CPAs; SBC Foundation; Swalm Foundation; United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast; and Vinson & Elkins. A PDF of the report can be downloaded at < www.houstonareasurvey.org >. The general public can purchase printed copies for $10 each by sending a check payable to Rice University to Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life, Department of Sociology, MS 28, Rice University, P.O. Box 1892, Houston, Texas 77251-1892. The center’s phone number is 713-348-4225.