Kinder Institute for Urban Research


Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research is a “think and do” tank that builds better cities and improves people’s lives by bringing together data, research, engagement and action.

Initially part of the School of Social Sciences and known as the Institute for Urban Research under the direction of Dr. Stephen Klineberg, the Kinder Institute was formally created in 2010 through a $15 million gift from Houston philanthropists Nancy and Rich Kinder; it subsequently became an autonomous campus institute in 2015 with the appointment of Bill Fulton as director.


The Kinder Institute has formed an array of meaningful research partnerships, both internal and external. Internal research partnerships include those with the School of Social Sciences; the School of Architecture; the School of Engineering; the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy; the Shell Center for Sustainability; the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center; and the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology. The Institute’s external partnerships are equally numerous and impressive. Among them are the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, the Urban Institute, and the University of Texas School Of Public Health.

Research initiatives and other programs

The Kinder Institute has a diverse set of research initiatives, program areas and outreach efforts, many of which have garnered national attention:

Kinder Houston Area Survey

For almost 40 years, the groundbreaking Kinder Houston Area Survey has tracked Houston’s economic and demographic changes while chronicling the ways the city’s inhabitants react to these social transformations. The scope of this research initiative surpasses similar studies performed in many other American cities and is recognized for its comprehensive, systematic approach.

Public Programs

The Kinder Institute’s public programs are posted on its Events calendar and summarized below:

  • Academic Roundtables: The Institute hosts frequent presentations and discussions with visiting authors, experts, and practitioners for Rice University graduate students, faculty, staff and other guests.
  • Research Seminars: Scholars offer concise presentations of their work to Rice University faculty, staff and students.
  • KI Forum: The regular lecture series features visiting speakers at events that are free and open to the public.
  • Conferences and Convenings: The Kinder Institute organizes, partners and participates in many events throughout the Houston region each year.
  • Luncheon: The annual event is an important fundraising tool for the Kinder Institute and is where the Institute reveals the results of its annual Kinder Houston Area Survey.
  • Speakers Bureau: Faculty members and staff affiliated with the Kinder Institute speak about urban issues to various local and national corporations, nonprofits, conferences and other audiences.
  • Receptions and Dinners: Small, donor-centric engagements with visiting speakers are conducted on an invitation-only basis for donors and potential donors.

Community Bridges

The initiative aims to strengthen the relationship between Rice University and Houston’s underserved communities. Rice undergraduates selected to serve as Community Bridges Fellows work with local non-profits in these communities to create meaningful relationships, develop long-term projects that reduce poverty, and address critical needs identified by either residents or non-profit leaders. When fellows return to campus, they work to raise understanding of issues related to social inequality and poverty. The program launched in 2011 as a partnership between the Kinder Institute, the Center for Civic Engagement, and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies.

Houston Community Data Connections

An interactive data platform, HCDC seeks to facilitate the practical use of data by city and community leaders for decision-making and capacity building in Houston’s disadvantaged communities.

Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC)

The Houston Education Research Consortium is a research partnership between Rice University and several Houston-area school districts to guide data-driven, equity-minded policy. HERC aims to produce research that is relevant, timely and useful for school district decision-making to address educational inequality in Houston and beyond.

Diverging from the traditional academic research model, HERC uses a partnership research model with the following features: a jointly developed research agenda that involves both university researchers and district leaders; a long-term, rather than project-based, collaboration that works to solve longstanding problems; a research agenda based on local questions and embedded in the local context; and a focus on informing decision-makers directly.

Houston Solutions Lab

The Houston Solutions Lab aims to find innovative ways of making the city work better. The hope is to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing Houston, leveraging city leaders’ inside knowledge of city operations and Rice University researchers’ analytical capacity.

The partnership allows city departments and researchers to work together toward common goals on critical issues, including flood prevention and public safety. Intended to bridge what is often a gap between research done on campuses and the needs of cities, HSL also aligns research and policy timelines for better outcomes.

Kinder Institute Affiliated Researchers Program

The Kinder Institute Affiliated Researchers Program includes two components – Kinder Fellows and Kinder Scholars. The researchers who have these affiliations play a vital role in supporting the Kinder Institute’s work as a “think-and-do” tank and help to advance understanding of the challenges – and opportunities – facing metro areas.

Sun Belt Cities

Sun Belt cities are fundamentally different from cities in the Northeast and Midwest. They experience similar urban problems but in the context of rapid population and economic growth. As the pre-eminent urban think tank in the Sun Belt, the Kinder Institute examines issues common to Sun Belt cities and convenes Sun Belt city leaders in Houston to discuss those issues.

Urban Data Platform (UDP)

Constructed under the direction of statistics professor (and Kinder Fellow) Dr. Katherine B. Ensor, the Urban Data Platform is a data library that brings together a wide range of datasets with geospatial information from many different sources covering many different topics. The goal is to get a clearer picture of Houston – and create a clearer path to solving urban problems – by conducting cross-disciplinary research using structured and geo-linked data about Houston.

Urban Development, Transportation, and Placemaking (DT&P)

The DT&P program addresses growth and development issues in the Houston region on both a large scale and a small, “placemaking” scale. It is the primary vehicle through which the Kinder Institute addresses the vibrancy of Houston and its neighborhoods.

Urban Disparity and Opportunity

Urban disparity is emerging as the most important urban issue of our time. Through its Urban Disparity and Opportunity program, the Kinder Institute is documenting urban disparity in Houston and working to find promising solutions.

Urban Edge

The Kinder Institute aims to translate academic research so it can be used and shared by journalists, government officials, nonprofit leaders, and interested citizens. The primary way it accomplishes this is through Urban Edge blog, a daily source of analysis and insight on topics including urban planning, transportation, demographics and public health. The blog also serves as a source of content for both local and national news media outlets, which frequently republish its work.

Urban and Metropolitan Governance (U&MG)

As the city’s growth patterns and demographics change, new challenges are emerging with regard to how it is governed. The U&MG program conducts research on emerging governance issues, convenes regional stakeholders to discuss them, and works to implement the most promising solutions.

Source:  Text was provided by Hilary Toma of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Last Updated:  November 2018.