Coastal Bend Innovation: 9 Big Ideas - The Bend Magazine

9 Big Ideas for Coastal Bend Innovation

As the region continues to expand — in terms of industry, economy and population — there’s room for big ideas for Coastal Bend innovation.

The potential for innovation is all around us. As the Coastal Bend region continues to expand — in terms of industry, economy and population — there’s more room for big ideas of ways toward further progress in our cities. With growth comes opportunity; to dream big and build anew, but also to create innovative solutions to existing difficulties. 

The opportunities discussed in this feature range from capitalizing on what makes our slice of the South Texas coast so unique to utilizing innovative technology in aiding emergency response tactics after weather-related disasters. We also look at what it would take to better serve some of our area’s most vulnerable populations, how we can build and live more sustainably and ways to combat brain drain and prevent talented professionals from leaving our city to work elsewhere.

Through conversations with industry leaders, community activists and all-around smart people from the area, we’ve compiled a list of nine “what ifs” to improve a few areas of difficulty and push a couple already existing ideas a bit further. While some of these ideas might seem improbable or currently impractical, they serve as starting points to move conversations forward and create a better future.

The Coastal Bend is no stranger to weather-related disasters. Major hurricanes have hammered the area over the years with such an impact that city and county leaders have had to redesign precautions for safeguarding the lives and infrastructure of a region tied to the water. But what if the emergency response and damage assessment post-weather-related disasters were predominantly handled by drone technology — allowing for quicker and more accurate data collection and potentially resulting in saved lives, money and resources?

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) and the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft System Center of Excellence and Innovation (LSUASC), a leading research facility dedicated to the innovation and safety of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) flights throughout the U.S., have already been thinking about — and actively working toward — this “what if.”

LSUASC, in conjunction with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, has been tasked by the State of Texas to develop a disaster response and recovery division to support all levels of government in their emergency management efforts by creating a prototype UAS response capability for use during an emergency. 

The goal of this disaster response and recovery division and UAS response prototype is to provide first responders with tools that make their jobs more efficient and effective, in addition to providing high-fidelity data to decision-makers and improving the flow of information. “More efficient responders result in saved lives. A more efficient response within a community means those that live in an affected area can start getting back to their normal lives quicker,” said Tye Payne, LSUASC assistant director of operations, testing and evaluation. “The absolute overall goal is to help the community.”

So, how does it all work? In layman’s terms, UAS, or drones, can gather information for first responders quicker, and potentially get into affected areas humans can’t access. In order for first responders to know where they’re most needed, a massive amount of information is required. What areas are affected the most and is there damage that will hold up a response team? Where are people in need of help and do they need rescuing? Drones can provide answers to these questions and more, to responders, the Emergency Operations Center and decision-makers faster than other assets. This type of assessment also allows teams to restore power, water or roads much quicker, making it that much easier to get pieces of our daily infrastructure back up and running, which in turn helps people get back to normal that much faster.

An example of how this tactic has already helped the Coastal Bend community is TAMU-CC’s use of drones post-Hurricane Harvey. Damage assessment done by drones allowed funds from FEMA to be distributed to those affected quicker than if an assessor did the work. “It cut down on time submitting those requests from months to weeks,” Payne said.

In September of last year, LSUASC and TAMU-CC conducted their first full-scale exercise with all area partners: A weather-related disaster simulation evaluated the capability of this use of technology by testing their ability to move people and equipment, prepare for an upcoming storm and coordinate with city and county officials. According to Payne, the biggest finding from the exercise was that TAMU-CC and the LSUASC can indeed support officials throughout the area. 

“There are still some technological issues to overcome, however, the issues we found were ones we suspected might occur and we’re already using state funding to better develop our efforts,” Payne said. “Communication is always a big issue and requires a large effort to coordinate everyone. We are going to continue working through the issues that we found, but remain ready to support our community if we’re called upon.” 

Though this type of technology is already in use, Payne and his team at LSUASC and TAMU-CC are continuously looking at what’s next, and how this idea can be pushed even further. “Right now, the question is how much data can we get to those in charge to help them see the whole picture,” he said. “But in the future, with the rise of Advanced Air Mobility and Urban Air Mobility through the FAA and NASA, the question may be ‘How many air taxis do we have to help medevac people off their roofs? If this family isn’t in immediate danger, can we drop food, water and emergency supplies off to them by drone?’ The technology is still growing. While right now we’re focused on the first responder, perhaps the focus will change to directly helping people in the near future.”

Expansion and direct community involvement will help to continue the innovation. “We still aren’t sure of all the possibilities. The more ideas we have coming in and the more people we’re able to work with, the better our chances to develop a set of teams and tools that truly make disasters easier to handle when they do arrive,” Payne said. With more ideas and people, not only are more jobs created, but the potential to develop procedures to assist in the prevention and mitigation of disasters becomes the next big idea after response and recovery.

Having a roof over your head is a basic need, but with home values increasing at often disproportionate rates to median household incomes, the prospect of owning that roof is a part of the American Dream drifting further out of reach. But what if owning a home were in reach, simultaneously revitalizing a neighborhood and providing enough space for a growing family? 

With Section 8 vouchers, multi-family housing is available for those who qualify. However, there is a significant gap: Many who don’t qualify for Section 8 cannot quite afford the $220,000 median home price. One obvious solution is to rent, but with the shortage of rentals in our city, finding a place to live with a middle-class income becomes extremely difficult. 

Enter Thanksgiving Homes. What started as a single-family rental home initiative has expanded into affordable home ownership efforts. “The waiting list for housing is really long, in the thousands,” said Tony Wilson, director of the homebuying initiative. “With us knowing that and knowing how many units we have of Section 8 rental properties, or properties willing to take a Section 8 voucher, our CEO went into action and we began to supply houses.” Gary Allsup, the CEO of Thanksgiving Homes, started creating rental homes by laying a concrete slab and bringing in an already built house on top, providing affordable single-family housing for rent with or without a Section 8 voucher. 

The demand for these houses began to expand, which led the team to start actually building affordable homes for sale. Wilson thought, “We can still rent them but we can also sell them to the demographic of people that are caught in the middle — the ones who can’t afford a $250k – $350K home, but make enough to afford a decent mortgage.” This idea is logical and simple, but groundbreaking for a significant demographic of people in our community. 

Thanksgiving Homes is the first Corpus Christi Housing Authority Initiative to focus on single-family housing rentals and now sales. The concept reimagines real estate investment by identifying moderately priced, typically infill lots, building nice, spacious homes and selling them for less than they would appraise for. Much like regular real estate investing, the program is solely funded by the selling and renting of homes. The homes are available for sale via the housing authority with special financing programs available through local lenders but also on the regular housing market. 

Another result of this innovative program is a slow and steady revitalization process for older neighborhoods, and part of the solution to the housing shortage. As of this writing, Thanksgiving Homes finished its 100th house and is on a trajectory to continue growing to help more families. 

Why not build more multi-family apartment complexes instead to solve the housing shortage issue? “People need space. Our homes are 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom at minimum. Just because you don’t have the largest bank account doesn’t mean you have to live on top of one another,” said Wilson. The homes are at least 1,300 square feet, with a front porch, storm impact windows, quartz countertops and laminate floors. “We are building homes and pricing them $100,000 less than the average. We are here to revitalize, not price gouge. We don’t want to leave people ‘house poor,'” Wilson said.

For every five houses built for sale, one house goes into the rental pool to maintain that aspect of the initiative. 

Revitalization is the key word; an important aspect of the affordable housing conversation and the housing conversation in general. Building houses on infill lots is appealing for the neighborhood, and because they are below the median home price, the new builds don’t price existing neighbors out of their homes. “Everyone deserves an opportunity and we want to afford that opportunity to everyone. We want to make sure they have options because we know owning a home makes a difference in the lives of people,” Wilson said. Because the house is below appraisal price, the homeowner has immediate equity, not to mention a place to call home. 

Purchasing a home is generally the biggest investment families make in their lifetime because the value is so evergreen, and opportunity is the obstacle so many face when it comes to home ownership. Thanksgiving Homes is providing an innovative solution to this problem … and who knows? Maybe the housing shortage can become a thing of the past. Even if not, this initiative is a huge step in the right direction. 

Recycling can be a powerful tool in protecting our environment and conserving resources, yet it does not entirely prevent waste. Adding composting to the mix removes another percentage of our waste from the landfill. And while individual backyard composting is an option for anyone — what if our city had a viable compost program to significantly increase our waste diversion rate? 

When compostable materials decompose in a landfill, they produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Incinerators burn these materials, causing the release of harmful pollutants. Composting them instead not only lowers emission rates and pollution, but creates a powerful byproduct that can then be used to help our environment even more.  

The City of Corpus Christi has begun working to implement a composting program and funded a compost facility located at the Cefe Valenzuela Landfill; most of the equipment needed is already purchased and on site and employees are being properly trained on how to operate it. Risa Weinberger & Associates, a Dallas-based environmental engineering firm specializing in solid waste and composting, has been brought on as a consultant.

The first phase of the city’s composting program will focus on taking brush and organic feedstocks collected from curb heavy brush pick up days. Director of Solid Waste Services David Lehfeldt — who also sits on the board of directors of the U.S. Composting Council’s Texas chapter — said this means collecting about 100,000 tons of compostable materials in one year alone, and the benefits are tenfold. Without this foundation, a curbside collection program in the future wouldn’t even be possible, plus composting is cheaper than landfilling, which in turn means residents are saving money. Then there are, of course, the environmental benefits — and not just from the perspective of keeping waste material out of the landfill, but because of how compost works within our environment.

“Compost is almost magical in its ability to improve soils,” Lehfeldt said. “It takes essentially any soil and makes it that much better, which then reduces the amount of water you need to use in your landscape and the amount of fertilizer.” Runoff from landscaping carries high nitrogen levels which get into our drainage systems, bays and estuaries, but Lehfeldt says that with composting, people can have the landscaping they want at a much lower environmental impact. In theory, he adds, partnering with local plant nurseries to make compost products available to residents once the program gets going would allow more people to use the product in their landscaping in a more accessible way. 

“I want to really emphasize the local aspect of it; there aren’t many things you can do that benefit the environment that really have the local impact we’re talking about,” Lehfeldt said. “Unlike the recyclables that get shipped off someplace else, these materials are collected locally, processed locally — which provides local employment — sold locally and then used locally. So, all along the [way], it’s helping the local economy, the local citizens and the environment.”

Once this initial phase is fully operational, the program will begin collecting other organic materials available in large quantities from commercial and industrial waste streams. From large manufacturing facilities or school cafeterias to a local brewery or restaurant, working with other industries and businesses takes another huge step forward in diverting waste from the landfill.  

Curbside collection from residential customers is the last piece of this puzzle, and Lehfeldt says this aspect of composting is a part of the conversation for the future. A curbside collection program does present its own set of challenges, though. “It’s easy for the customer to sign up, receive a container and then decide what level of participation they’d like to take,” Lehfeldt said. “But, from experience and observing other city’s programs, the potential for contamination is extremely high, and unlike a contamination in a recycling program, once you get contaminated feedstock, it becomes almost impossible to remove and results in everything being landfilled.”

Essentially, for a successful city-wide curbside composting collection to really work, it comes down to educating residents on how to properly participate, and then advocating for high levels of participation. Before it can even be considered, the facility must be completely up and running, the initial phase must be successful and additional program development, permitting and financial commitments must be made … and community support is crucial. With a program of this size, millions of dollars will be spent to get things operational, meaning support from decision makers and taxpayers is key in inching toward a future where curbside collection exists. 

One of the measures of a greener future for our city is how much of our landfill waste we can reduce. Currently, the city of Corpus Christi landfills roughly 400,000 tons of material a year. Theoretically speaking, the first phase of the program will take 100,000 tons of that waste and compost it. So, in terms of diversion rates, we’d already be in a significantly better place than we are today. But with vast amounts of compostable materials currently going from residential trash bins to the landfill, the big idea of a city-wide curbside compost collection could push our city into an even greener future.

Our region has plenty of natural advantages and unrivaled features. With warm weather, proximity to the beach and diverse wildlife, the Coastal Bend has many natural characteristics to inform the area’s development and culture. What if the Coastal Bend were to lean into its environmental and cultural context, to employ sustainable building strategies unique to its region and site?

An excellent example of architecture embracing the regional context is a proposal from the Office for Political Innovation, an international architecture practice based in New York City and Madrid, Spain, in collaboration with architect Patrick Craine. The proposal is The Island House in Laguna Madre, which analyzes the archipelago on the south coast of Texas. The proposal offers perspective into what reconciliation ecology can contribute to a form of dwelling in Corpus Christi. 

Andrés Jaque, the founder of the Office for Political Innovation, describes The Island House as “a device that contributes to caring for the complex fabric of life the lagoon is composed of,” acknowledging the site’s importance as a habitat for various coastal species endangered by the ever-growing effects of climate change and the malignant threat of acidity increasing incrementally in the coastal water.

Preserving Laguna Madre to reuse rainfall and combat varying acidity levels, the house demonstrates a synergistic relationship with its site. Through the mediation of toxicity and drought, the house serves the surrounding environment; more than a structure acting as a container for its inhabitants. Could the future of architecture and engineering be moving toward a more intentional model? If so, what can we do?

Texas is home to famous architects and firms who ensure their work establishes a relationship with its surroundings and focuses on biodiversity and conservation. Their examples can provide inspiration for the Coastal Bend’s architectural identity. Lake Flato, a renowned firm out of San Antonio, is a leader in the master planning and design of eco-conservation projects throughout the country. Architectural designer Lucas Denit of Lake Flato said, “We work holistically to consider the human and ecological contexts of a project and ensure that a new building strengthens and restores our connections to the land. As architects, we can help promote good stewardship of our natural resources by designing projects that are adapted to their local ecosystems and tuned to the rhythms of the climate and seasons.” 

Architecture’s place in world-making also influences how investments can nurture the future of our region. Elizabeth Chu Richter, Principal at Richter Architects, has stated that investment going into structures globally and locally “can be spent wisely with a long view to enhancing economic, environmental and social well-being. Thinking green is a mindset, and implementation requires disciplined design…” Thinking about the future of our town, region and the globe, architecture has the agency to empower how structures can work holistically with their surroundings to benefit one another.

The Island House by the Office for Political Innovation illustrates the thought-provoking possibilities about how the surrounding context can inform homes. Maybe the Coastal Bend can achieve a unique architectural identity by rethinking how we build and invest around the area.

Renderings from Office for Political Innovation

A tourist destination on the California coast, Santa Monica Pier is a staple in Southern California’s identity and American culture. The historic pier symbolizes the region’s beach life with people fishing, skating, walking or lounging beside the ocean — a melting pot of amusement, concession and humanity

In similar fashion, Bob Hall Pier is a staple in the Coastal Bend. The original structure built in 1950 ended in a T-head, was about 300 feet long, was built of timber and cost a little over $17,000. Serving as a spot for locals to fish, hang out and enjoy a beautiful coastal day, Bob Hall Pier is a historic, quintessential symbol of the Coastal Bend’s identity.

In its varied iterations, Bob Hall Pier has suffered through several hurricanes and other weather adversity over the decades — most recently in 2020 in the wake of Hurricane Hanna. The storm surge was strong enough to completely demolish the end of the pier, necessitating replacement of the entire structure.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the new construction opportunity offers a potential update for our community. In partnership with Nueces County Coastal Parks and Nueces County, the new pier has potential to serve as even more of a destination for locals and tourists. Pettus Advertising was hired early in 2022 to survey the Coastal Bend and garner community feedback to gauge what respondents would like to have at the new pier. The results, along with concurrent town hall meetings, showed a representation of what the community is looking for in a new pier design. With 2,000 respondents, the survey, which has since posted its results online for public access, reported the need for a wider pier design, updated entrance signage, an expanded dining option rotated for water views, retail options and space for outdoor dining, as well as additional shade, lighting, seating structures and restrooms.

Scott Cross, the Nueces County Coastal Parks Director, wants to ensure the new pier adheres to the desires of constituents and provides a more resilient structure; the goal is to have the latest design last a minimum of 50 years. A diamond-shaped head to respond to storm surges and investigation of alternate pile construction methods to preserve wave break for local surfers are among the extra design choices for resilience and local wishes.

The intent is for the new pier to retain its historic focus on the fishing community, Cross added, although after a remodel and addition of the observation deck to the concessionaire space in 2011, Bob Hall Pier became as much a destination for tourists as a local fishing pier. The reintroduction of the Bob Hall staple, Mikel May’s Beachside Bar & Grill, is something the county feels strongly about. “We want to maintain that restaurant destination experience on the pier,” said Cross. 

Mikel May’s owner Merida May Mendoza understands how valuable the pier is from both a community and economic standpoint. The beachfront locale is an excellent representation of the Coastal Bend. So with the new construction, Mikel May’s is looking to update its space and, if the stars align, add a second floor. With the expansion of the pier and the shell for a restaurant to conduct business, Mendoza is hoping the space will be an attraction for visitors and a potential destination wedding venue or event space. “This would have a huge, positive economic impact on our community. Our Island restaurants, retail, hotels and short-term rentals will see more steady business year-round,” she said.

Cross shared that the current tentative completion date will be sometime in 2024. Though we won’t be getting an amusement park, Bob Hall Pier will be better than ever, offering more protection against storms, a new facelift and a chance to reintroduce people to a staple restaurant on our beautiful shores. Like Santa Monica, the new Bob Hall Pier will symbolize Corpus Christi’s coastal life and act as a gathering place for residents and visitors alike to enjoy our local culture and reconnect with the pier’s storied past.

Sailing is not the most accessible sport, but like Formula 1, it’s a thrill to watch as the history, pageantry and prestige behind so many teams and races carry international acclaim. From Cowes Week to the America’s Cup, international sailboat race events can bring out thousands of competitors and even more spectators. 

Sports tourism is a booming sector, providing entertainment through competition and spectacle. Sports tourism is a $40 billion industry and results in a significant economic impact for local communities. Corpus Christi is in a state of growth, and by taking advantage of the city’s water assets, among other things, growing sports tourism in the Coastal Bend is a top priority for Visit Corpus Christi’s brand-new Sports Commission.  

With thoughtful revisions to maximize our unrivaled geography and supportive community, Visit Corpus Christi, in partnership with Huddle Up Group, drafted a strategic plan to increase sports tourism in our city. The short-term primary recommendation includes the development of a regional facilities master plan, and long-term recommendations include investing in new sporting venues, capitalizing on existing venues and, of course, maximizing our ability to host water sport events. 

Though Corpus Christi is not the biggest city in Texas, we have advantages that make our coastal city a destination for many. So how does leveraging our locale make the Coastal Bend a destination for sports tourism?

Joey Jewell, the Sports Commission Executive Director at Visit Corpus Christi, said that the commission is looking to elevate the city’s status and hopes to emulate the reputation Eugene, Oregon, has as “TrackTown USA,” a home to track and field athletes across the world. 

“I hope to take what Corpus has, the culture and what we are known for, and build an identity that leads us to attract or build off something locally into a global vision,” Jewell said, adding that the long-term plan of the Sports Commission does involve sailing. “We have some of that reputation internationally, but it is not a TrackTown USA yet.” Key word, yet. 

Corpus Christi boasts an array of naturally protected waterways and shorelines that provide facilities for water sport activities, and the winds make this area one of the premier sailing destinations in the country. Our city already hosts regattas, such as the J24 World Championship at the Corpus Christi Yacht Club, which is also internationally known for winning the inaugural World Sailing 11th Hour Racing Sustainability Award in 2018. 

But to truly capitalize on the sports tourism possibilities, addressing areas of weakness — such as destination accessibility and airlift, a lack of convention center hotels and facility needs — is of top priority. In addition, enhancing our water assets means the Sports Commission will need to take an “active role in working with key stakeholders (the City of Corpus Christi, Corpus Christi Marina, various yacht clubs, etc.) to develop the facilities necessary to host events of over 200 participants plus spectators,” according to the strategic plan and recommendations put forth by Huddle Up Group.

The recommendations also state that in addition to added seating and shade structures along McGee Beach, and with considerations for a nearby convention center that may be used as a complementary facility for some events, a necessary top-tier water-access facility would include four to six boat launches, 500-750 parking spaces for spectators and 5,000 square feet of dock space, among other things. 

There is without a doubt a foundation that can be built upon and potentially lead to Corpus Christi hosting larger sailing events, as the Sports Commission plans to cultivate the culture and hone in on growing an enriched world-class sports ecosystem suited for hosting the likes of historic regattas. 

Photography of Sailboats in Illustration Provided by Jason Page

Ask anyone with a child, and they will tell you parenting requires immense amounts of support. It requires consistent income to provide housing and meals and transportation, a bed for each child, car seats, clothes… the list goes on. However, unfortunate life circumstances and unforeseen hardships don’t dissipate once you become a parent.

Hardship often coexists with the overwhelming joy of parenthood and desire to protect your children. Those hardships can and do affect the number of parents in a household, access to jobs, access to trustworthy childcare and, at times, the ability to adequately provide for a child and keep them safe. So many of these criteria lead to CPS intervention — and in some unfortunate cases, foster care. 

Heartbreaking circumstances that require CPS intervention sometimes seem avoidable in retrospect, had there been adequate support. Creating safe, stable and secure families and communities, where children can thrive, cannot be done by any one profession, agency or community alone. Collaboration is essential and that collaboration can and does involve regular individuals from the community — not just large organizations that can donate money to certain causes. Though those are worthy and crucial efforts, the reality is that every single one of us can actually play a significant role in empowering and supporting families, thus protecting children.

What if every individual who had the means to provide basic needs to struggling families did so? Could we actually see a decrease in the number of kids going into the foster care system in the first place? The answer is yes, and the good news is that with information and efforts from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and the ability to uncover needs using CarePortal technology, those in need of support can and do receive it from the community. 

Every year, the DFPS Prevention & Early Intervention Department puts forth a strategic plan for child abuse prevention. According to DFPS, “everyone has a role to play in prevention.” The Building Blocks for Community-based Child Maltreatment Prevention encompass three major components: safety, stability and nurturing.

The first, safety, is outlined by several elements: Children receiving regular well checks and access to a safe living environment; caregivers being physically and mentally well and having healthy relationships and support systems; safe neighborhoods; access to necessary resources; and Federal and state laws ensuring safety for all people.

The next is stability. This includes consistent caregivers for children and families being able to meet their basic needs. Adequate employment opportunities for parents, affordable housing and funding to adequately provide resources address these factors. 

As for the nurturing component of the plan, children need positive interactions with their caregivers, parents must learn child development and discipline strategies, communities must collaborate to reduce stigma around families seeking help and program policies are implemented to meet the needs of families in crisis.

As is evident by the 68-page strategic plan put forth by DFPS’s Prevention & Early Intervention Department, child advocacy can be complicated by factors unique to each situation. However, CarePortal exists as a starting place by connecting those with resources to parents who need help —  and that help goes a long way. 

CarePortal is an organization that relies on community involvement to meet the basic needs of parents in crisis situations. It has an active hand in both preventing CPS intervention and also reuniting families after CPS intervention was required. “CarePortal is a technology connecting platform that brings the needs of hurting children and families in your community to your attention,” said Brenda Kelley, Regional Manager TX for Region 11. “Caseworkers uncover the needs and CarePortal makes community members aware, giving them a real-time opportunity to respond. First and foremost, [it] exists to help vulnerable children and families. Requests submitted through CarePortal come from caseworkers at government child welfare agencies or other child-serving organizations approved by CarePortal to vet needs.” 

The technology lists various needs with a location, detailed description of the need and the cost associated. “Anyone who wants to meet needs can,” said Kelley. At the very least, basic needs such as beds, groceries, clothes and rent assistance are provided to parents who need them. At best, relationships are formed to be able to provide support in the long term, thus alleviating the parenting burden. When they say “it takes a village,” CarePortal in many ways provides that connection point for people in our community who want to offer assistance.

According to data compiled by local child advocacy organization Agape Ranch in 2021, CarePortal had a $132,000 economic impact, served 501 children, met 193 requests and built 20 beds. As a result of these numbers, many families were able to get the support they needed and strengthen their bonds with their children.

The Department of Family and Protective Services and CarePortal are just two agencies in our area working hard for the well-being of our most vulnerable populations, but individuals have a huge role to play through simple acts of kindness and mutual aid efforts. The results of these efforts have lifelong implications where children are kept safe and united with their families

Evidence indicates that narrower traffic lanes create a safer environment for pedestrians. Implementing changes as simple as adjusted lane widths can drastically alter the day-to-day dynamic of a city. By shifting the focus of urban design to pedestrians rather than accommodating cars, American cities’ urban and social fabric could change. 

Corpus Christi has a walk score of 40 out of 100, making it a car-dependent city where most errands require the use of a car. Cities such as San Francisco, New York and Boston score in the eighties. And while other Texas cities such as Houston and Austin have overall scores in the mid to high 40s, their individual neighborhood scores are as high as 92. 

The walkability of downtown has undoubtedly increased in the last five years, and walk scores have improved. Downtown Corpus Christi, the area of the city with the highest individual walk score of 52, has been taking the initiative to provide an environment where residents and visitors can eat, play and shop without depending on cars. With an emphasis on bringing in local businesses, installing trees and lights and maintaining the infrastructure of roads and sidewalks, these changes may not seem high-profile, but executing the basics are stepping stones for a pedestrian-friendly area. 

Similar initiatives are taking place across the United States. Detroit, Michigan, focuses on providing its residents with “20-minute neighborhoods,” an initiative where people can get essentials such as groceries, pharmacy items and clothing within a 20-minute walking radius. Another idea to ensure pedestrian-centric urban design comes from Barcelona, Spain, and its implementation of Superblocks: an urban design strategy identifying 3×3 grids of nine city blocks and restricting vehicular traffic to the perimeter. A Superblock creates safer opportunities for walking, biking and green spaces.

Imagine a Corpus Christi where we can pick up essentials on foot, not worry about crossing busy roads and have more access to public green spaces. There is an opportunity to shift the tides toward pedestrian-focused design. Alyssa Barrera Mason, executive director of the Corpus Christi Downtown Management District, elaborates on these urban design opportunities.

“Creating better places across Corpus Christi is an opportunity to improve quality of life for our residents. We have to make it possible for someone to live in this city, have a job and make ends meet without depending on a car.” 

Fortunately, we have made strides as a city, building momentum toward a walkable future. The Downtown Management District is looking to progress on projects revitalizing the area with refurbished sidewalks, renewed infrastructure and increased tree planting.

Downtown Corpus Christi is the best example locally of a pedestrian-friendly area that could influence the city as a whole. Mason stated that downtown will always be the place that defines the face of our community for residents and tourists and expresses the values Corpus Christi expects to emulate. Vibrancy, welcoming walkability and environmental design are suitable for everyone and every part of town. If Corpus Christi could adopt some of the methods used in other cities and in our own downtown, districts could begin shaping their own identities and ecosystems.

With prestigious educational institutions and booming industry on the coast, Corpus Christi is in theory a great place to begin a career. However, more and more young people are evacuating the Coastal Bend and searching elsewhere for opportunity. What if young people committed to building their careers and lives in the Coastal Bend? What if local talent stayed local and young professionals grew into seasoned professionals and business owners in our backyard? Corpus Christi and the surrounding area would see progress, which looks like an increased awareness of opportunities; confidence and tools for small businesses to thrive; and an overall progressive work environment for those entering the workforce. 

Al Arreola, CEO of the United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce and a Corpus Christi native, says, “We can’t even fill all the jobs we have. The jobs aren’t going anywhere. The Port has led the nation in exports. There will be continued growth in the renewable energy industry.” While this is certainly a fact in our area, Ashton Everett at the Small Business Development Center at Del Mar College addresses the downfall of that reality: “There are many such opportunities in the trades, process technology, medical professions and the sciences, but [they] seem to be more scarce in the business arena.” 

The solution to the “brain drain” is multifold, but one thing is for certain: The traditional landscape of career development is evolving. The linear trajectory of high school to college to career isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all formula for the people entering the workforce in the Coastal Bend. “So much of this goes beyond ‘go to college,’ but now it’s vocational training and certifications — those opportunities are very abundant here,” said Arreola. There are internships and entry-level positions available that have proven to be lucrative over time. Young people entering the workforce should consider all aspects of education and career development, but especially vocational training, as it lends itself well to longevity in a specific career field. 

Entrepreneurship is another way for our city to retain its talent, and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Del Mar has made it its mission to assist those wanting to start and succeed in their business by delivering individualized advising and technical assistance to existing small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The SBDC can help access capital, develop and exchange new technologies and improve business planning, strategy, operations, financial management and more. According to Everett, “Starting and operating a business is a means of financial independence for some clients. Most see owning and operating a small business as an opportunity to have more control over their futures. Some are staying in the Coastal Bend because they need or want to stay near family.” 

However, “Entrepreneurship is a natural progression that lends itself well to the ‘Gig Economy.’ A gig economy is an economy that operates flexibly, involving the exchange of labor and resources through digital platforms that actively facilitate buyer and seller matching. In the gig economy, organizations hire independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees. Young professionals seem to value that flexibility more and more,” Everett said. 

Whether it’s owning a small business or working in a large industry, people are looking for their place in the economic fabric of our community. The United Chamber and the Small Business Development Center are just two organizations working to progress professional development and cultivate leadership and business initiatives in our area. It is evident that we are on an upward trajectory as a community — as industry continues to explode, the small businesses follow. The future is bright for young people in the Coastal Bend.

Looking for more Features? Check out 7 Coastal Bend Desserts and the People Behind Them or HER 2022.