Annise Parker graduated from Rice University, but her roots are actually deep within Cougar Country.
“My parents met here,” she told UH faculty, staff and students during the recent Faculty Senate Spring Assembly. “So, it’s important in my life.”
Parker spoke to a full house in UH’s Rockwell Pavilion and took questions from members of the UH community. Her primary talking point, however, was how her administration is helping make Houston a healthier, more active community.
She first touted Houston’s many strengths and global contributions including the Port of Houston, Texas Medical Center and the city’s role in the energy industry. Houston’s most vital commodity, she said, is its residents.
“If I had to pick one characteristic of Houstonians to describe why we succeed, it’s that it’s in our DNA. We absolutely believe there is opportunity,” she said. “We start more new businesses in Houston than anywhere else on earth. That takes a belief in one’s self and a belief in the opportunities that are available.”
Parker acknowledged that Houston has taken its share of criticism when it comes to health issues. Its previous ranking among the “fattest cities” in America didn’t help matters, she said.
She added that her office is taking advantage of a range of resources to make Houstonians healthier people. Among those is the expertise of UH Health and Human Performance associate professor Daniel O’Connor, who is assisting with a new wellness initiative “Go Healthy Houston.”
Parker also promoted the city’s expansive hike and bike trails, as well as the new bike share program, which rents bikes to Houstonians. Parker said she’d like to add bike rental stations to downtown, the Texas Medical Center and UH.
“Movement is health. Movement is life,” Parker said.
Following her discussion on health and wellness initiatives, Parker took questions from audience members.
Maria Gonzalez, associate professor of English, kicked off the conversation asking how UH faculty members can assist the city of Houston. Parker responded that she has several task forces addressing citywide issues that can benefit from the expertise of UH’s academic minds.
A question from Jerome Freiberg, Moores Professor and Director and Principal Investigator for Consistency Management and Cooperative Discipline, focused on how UH can contribute to the quality of life in Houston.
“It’s important to have first-class universities because we want to attract and keep young people,” she replied. “Universities like Rice and UH are aggressively bringing those young people to Houston, who strengthen Houston’s economy. And when companies relocate to new cities, they look at several factors. Having UH as a first-class research university not only provides us with opportunities and synergies, but it’s a selling point when we market the city.”
Parker also responded to a question asking what UH could do for education in Houston. She said that UH could further connect with students with academic potential and enhance mentoring opportunities. Parker indicated that this fall, UH would partner with the city for the annual Back to School Fest, an event that helps distribute back-to-school supplies.
“We’re doing it at UH because we think it’s important to have kids present at a university,” she said. “While they’re here, they can walk the campus and see what it’s like.”
A question that caught the audience’s attention was how UH could help make repairs on Cullen Boulevard a city priority.
Parker said she would travel on Cullen on her way back to City Hall to familiarize herself with the street. She acknowledged that city infrastructure is among her priorities and that voters recently approved the creation of Rebuild Houston, a new revenue fund dedicated to street repairs. Still, it is a challenge to maintain all of the streets in the city of Houston due to drought and other conditions, she said.
Houston City Council member Wanda Adams was in attendance and indicated that the city’s public works department is planning overlay project for Cullen Boulevard. This project would resurface the street.
At the conclusion of the assembly, UH Faculty Senate President and School of Theatre & Dance director Steve Wallace presented Parker with parting gifts. These included a red UH shirt and framed “limited edition” Mayor Annise Parker Cougar Card. He also invited her to participate in fall’s Scholarship and Community Conference, which will focus on health.
She responded that she hopes to return to campus for this event and further collaborations with the university.