LBJ School of Public Affairs opens lab to solve urban challenges

Graysen Golter

The LBJ School of Public Affairs has established a “do-tank” lab to develop solutions for issues affecting urban communities in Texas and the rest of the world. 

At the LBJ Urban Lab, experts, policymakers and various businesses will discuss solutions to economic and urban management issues in cities such as Austin, San Antonio, Galveston and Beaumont beginning in September. The lab will also host public events, launch an Urban Fellows program and offer professional development programs. 

“As a center of discovery and exchange, the LBJ Urban Lab is a natural continuation of (the) vision where faculty, students and practitioners can come together to shape the public policies and strategies that will build more inclusive, prosperous communities in the future,” LBJ School Dean Angela Evans said in a press release. 

After seeing the rapid growth in Texas cities, lab director Steven Pedigo said he wanted to get involved with the Urban Lab to support local cities in his home state. Pedigo said there are many different issues affecting Texas cities, including homelessness, gentrification, housing affordability, climate change and communities with economies that extend across the border.

 



“If you want to understand cities and the different types of cities and the challenges of cities, that’s kind of what we have this very interesting laboratory for,” Pedigo said. “The goal really is to … hold some really good conversations about key issues and start to think about how those issues start to shape an agenda.”

The Texas Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization, is one of the organizations working with the Urban Lab. Laura Huffman, the regional state director of the conservancy, said Texas cities and communities must keep natural resource and environmental issues in mind while developing urban solutions.

“As our state grows in population, much of that population is going to concentrate in our large cities,” Huffman said. “That puts (pressure) on natural resources, in particular water … energy projects … and our healthy agricultural economy. Those are all challenges that Texas cities are in the middle of thinking through and solving for, and climate change creates an urgency on top of population growth for all of us.”

Art Markman is the director of the IC2 Institute, a UT-based think tank focusing on rural entrepreneurship. Markman said his organization will also be working with the LBJ Urban Lab to provide more resources to smaller and more rural communities, including workforce development, financing organizations and local community colleges and universities.

“Those communities often have very different challenges in economic development than the ones that you see in larger cities,” Markman said. “(We’re) creating sustainable economic development in a way that fits the identity of the community … instead of trying to attract companies to come in from the outside. We want to help communities in general to understand what are the next steps that they can take to on the journey to economic development.”