WHA and Rice Students Are Working to Improve the Area’s “Cool Factor”

The West Houston Association has been working with students from Rice University’s School of Social Science Consulting Practicum on identify ways of improving West Houston’s “Cool Factor.” WHA President/CEO Alan Steinberg dubbed the term “cool factor” as a catch all to represent the area’s arts, culture, dining, entertainment and social scene. Steinberg said, “There are many outstanding opportunities in the Greater West Houston area, but we wanted to think about how we can highlight aspects of the region that might be currently overlooked or could be further developed to enhance quality of life.”

The Fall 2020 cohort of students chose to focus their efforts on the Katy area. They presented their research to WHA staff earlier this month, offering their findings and recommendations for generating cultural appeal.

“This wasn’t solely a research project…we were able to provide our own opinions, conclusions, experiences, and recommendations for implementation of our research to accentuate the unique culture in Katy”, said Alicia Wu, a Rice University student in the School of Social Science Consulting Practicum.

During the presentation, students summarized that West Houston has trouble attracting working-age adults who work in West Houston but choose to live closer to central Houston for the arts and entertainment opportunities. Specifically, West Houston is lacking opportunities and experiences for individuals in West Houston to “play.”

Steinberg proposed the West Houston “Cool Factor” concept to the consulting practicum class back in August with the idea of considering the inventory of existing and planned arts and culture assets, the value of arts and culture on economic vitality and economic development, examples of how similar assets have been used to enhance resident quality of life and attract visitors in other places, and identification of what West Houston is missing to attract people to the region.

The students’ recommendations involved capitalizing on prominent projects in Katy because it had “the best industries and opportunities to attract more people.” Specifically, they identified working to enhance the biking culture, developing the music scene, and considering an artist residence program in the Katy area. Students identified funding sources, economic benefits, implementation suggestions, and opportunity costs for each of their recommendations.

“This experience was invaluable in terms of providing applicable training for my future career. The mutual benefit of this project allowed us to provide solutions for the Katy community while learning how to think like consultants. While this practicum was difficult, its outcome was very rewarding”, said Grace Wei, one of the Rice University students that gave the West Houston “Cool Factor” presentation.

Alan Steinberg said, “as expected, the students’ research suggests that art and culture provide an economic benefit to communities. However, the opportunities the students identified are really unique and provide a lot of options to consider. I am impressed by their work. It was a wonderful presentation backed up by a 40+ page report that we will be making available to our members soon. WHA is looking forward to continuing this partnerships with Rice University regarding West Houston’s ‘Cool Factor’ and are already in discussions about future projects.”

Wu said, “I have never done a big group research project on a current problem, so it honestly feels great that our research and ideas could potentially be helpful to the West Houston community”.