This week’s online reader poll is puzzling to me. It reveals that a strong majority of respondents have a pessimistic or very pessimistic view on the future prospects of the Baytown area.
Lefties are probably concerned about pollution and growing economic inequality, while righties are probably lamenting increased immigration and cultural change. Given the ugly and polarized media environment that we live in, I can see why people fear for the future, but these fears are not based in reality.
I have been teaching at Lee for 22 years, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a pie-in-the-sky optimist, but things are better now than they were in 1997. By most indicators, life in the area has been improving, and there is no reason to think it won’t continue.
In the 1990s, ozone pollution was a real problem in Harris County, much worse than it is today. There were over 100 ozone alert days in the late 1990s. Today those numbers have been cut by more than half. More progress needs to be made, but the trend is encouraging.
The growth of the plastics industry presents a new challenge for air quality, as the TCEQ is proposing a relaxation of pollution standards for the budding industry. Hopefully, local and state leaders will push back on this proposal.
Recent reporting tells us that the San Jacinto waste pit removal should start in about two years. That is good news, as the pits are a blot on the reputation of the area.
Economically, Baytown is better off than just a score ago. The petrochemical boom has produced a lot of high paying jobs, and you can see the impact in increased demand for housing and the appreciation of property values.
Goose Creek is starting to respond to the shortage of workers in industry. Recognizing that not every kid needs to go to college, the Stuart Career Center is preparing high school students for jobs after they graduate.
Lee College is offering technical and vocational dual credit classes to high schoolers, which will shorten the amount of time graduates will need to spend on main campus before they enter the workforce.
The city should be commended for its focus on quality of life issues. The revitalization of Texas Avenue and San Jacinto Mall strengthen community bonds and give residents local options for spending their money.
The city has also wisely invested more in parks, the bike trail, and the water park. These family friendly amenities are important to entice younger couples to settle here, rather than just work here and live somewhere else.
Thanks to Harris County, public transportation is now available. We live in a car culture, but public transportation is a critical piece to help poor people climb out of poverty.
It is pretty hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you can’t get to school or work.
It is easy to look out your window and think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but we must remind ourselves to look at the long-term trends. Positive change happens so slowly that it is easy to miss it.
Steve Showalter is a government professor at Lee College in Baytown.