Sunday, August 13, 2006

NY Times covers River Oaks & Alabama theaters

Here it is. A few choice excerpts:
Fighting the Wrecking Ball to Save Houston Landmarks

This fast-spreading metropolis of see-through skyscrapers, clogged freeways and antipathy to zoning has long worn its boomtown history lightly, freely consigning cherished landmarks to the wrecking ball.

Though only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have more people, and it covers more acreage than Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit combined, Houston has one of the nation’s weakest urban preservation statutes. Any owner wishing to demolish a landmark must only give notice to the city and allow 90 days for discussion. After that it can be torn down.

But with a rallying cry of Alamo-like fervor — “Remember the Shamrock Hotel!” — many Houstonians are now drawing a rare line in the sand in defense of some particularly beloved architectural treasures threatened with demolition.

The sites at risk include Houston’s two oldest movie theaters, the River Oaks and the Alabama, both dating from 1939, and the 1937 Art Moderne River Oaks shopping center, which is the oldest in Texas and the second-oldest in the nation.
...
Unlike Galveston, San Antonio, Dallas and other Texas cities, Houston has a long history of zealous defense of property rights, opposing government’s efforts to limit what owners can do. City voters last rejected zoning in a referendum in 1993.

But in 1995 the city passed its first preservationist ordinance, offering property tax exemptions to owners who restore historic structures. It also provided for a 90-day waiting period before demolition. The program, while voluntary, has proved successful, said Randy Pace, Houston’s historic preservation officer. In almost all cases, he said, owners can be talked out of demolition. “We still lose 10 to 15 percent,” he said.
My previously posted thoughts on this topic are here. In a recent discussion, my friend John made a surprisingly strong case for allowing demolition: Netflix, on-demand video, and home theaters are killing art-house theaters anyway (I personally only go to theaters for big special-effects movies), and Amazon and Borders have effectively negated Bookstop's reason for being. I would agree with the first argument if Landmark wanted to shut down the theater, but this is a Weingarten decision. And I'd like to see somebody make a strong case to Barnes & Noble to expand and rename the Bookstop rather than kill it and build new somewhere nearby. If B&N could add enough space to compete with Borders on selection, I think the cool character of their interior would tip the loyalty of local book buyers to them over Borders.

(Thanks to Packy for the link.)

40 Comments:

At 7:49 PM, August 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We just saw Little Miss Sunshine at the River Oaks and it was jam-packed.

Also, Bookstop already is Barnes and Noble. And we already do go there if we are in the neighborhood and out to go to a book shop. So guess I agree maybe they could expand it, but I doubt they are losing money there.

I don't believe that Netflix is killing theaters, because I have Netflix and I still go to the theater. Maybe not quite as frequently, but I will go for a good movie and a good crowd. Not just for big explosions. I do think it puts more pressure on Hollywood to produce "good movies", as opposed to merely average movies (aka "rentals").

What else is Weingarten going to do with this property? Build some condos? Why don't they build condos on other property and leave landmarks alone?

And maybe Houston does need some zoning. In an era of $100 oil, a city with absolutely no planning and no zoning does not make a lot of sense.

Developers are certainly not planning for the future - they are out to make a buck. They also have no vested interest in looking out for our community or helping out with issues like traffic, quality of life, etc- they can always go off to Phoenix or some other markets and make more money.

 
At 8:11 PM, August 13, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I should have mentioned that home theaters are also part of the equation killing art house theaters (actually threatening all theaters). I think I'll edit the original post.

I know Bookstop=B&N, but people claim it can't compete with Borders. I assume that's because it's too small.

I am absolutely opposed to zoning, and much of the planning community is becoming more anti-zoning too, as they usually end up blocking innovative, mixed-use development.

Developers are out to provide what people want and will pay for, and there's nothing wrong with that. In some ways, that actually defines quality of life: something you want and will pay for. If we drive away developers, we, by definition, have less of what people want, and it makes us a weaker, less vibrant and dynamic city.

 
At 8:32 PM, August 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zoning does not drive developers away. That's a fallacy. Sugar Land, for example, has zoning.

 
At 9:48 PM, August 13, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Additional regulations, including zoning, at the margins, generally discourage developers and development. Relatively wealthy greenfields like Sugar Land are much, much easier than brownfields like Houston's core.

Cost of zoning posts:
http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/
2005/03/houston-dodges-zoning-tax.html

and here
http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2005/08/
how-zoning-regulations-inflate-housing.html

and here
http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/
2005/12/how-zoning-drives-away-jobs.html

 
At 11:32 PM, August 13, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Zoning blocks innovative, mixed-use development??? What innovative, mixed-use development does Houston have? We are the least innovative city with the least number of mixed-use developments in the entire United States!

The quality developers in Houston, people like Ed Wulfe and Richard Everett, have said time and time again that lack of land-use regulations discourages developers from doing their best work, as they risk the chance of it being ruined by whatever comes up next door. Hence a city of bland stripmalls, and - SURPRISE! - an image problem.

 
At 7:08 AM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dallas has zoning out the wazoo and it the metroplex is bigger than houston. the metroplex has no natural reason for being there (we have a port). zoning or more city involement for planning is absolutly necessary for houston to become a city of the people rather than a city for the corporations to turn a buck. Nothing wrong with turning a buck there just needs to be some balance.

 
At 7:17 AM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you may or may not know, "Houston is the largest US city without zoning, and has some of the lowest housing costs of any major American city. While much of the world has thought us crazy for avoiding it, now more and more of the negative side-effects of zoning are being recognized and "maybe those hicks in Houston are smarter than we thought?..." ;-)".

this is very misleading. dallas has zoning and their cost of housing is negligably different. Also since houston has annexed the world our cost of housing calculations include houses 45 miles from business/job cores where land is dirt cheap, no pun intended.

 
At 8:23 AM, August 14, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The most powerful developers like zoning, because they know they have the power and connections to get whatever they want through the zoning board, while blocking their weaker competition.

The Chronicle just had an article this weekend on mixed-use going up in the Village w/o zoning.

Last time the Chronicle ran an article, comparable housing in Dallas was 15-20% more, and it was attributed to zoning.

I will say that while I don't support zoning, I do support some sort of development standards/incentives near rail stops to encourage mixed-use density.

 
At 8:48 AM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to Money Magaine Dallas Median Family income is about 2.5% higher( 44,515 to 43400) and the Median Home is 5.6% higher (166,475 to 157605). http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2006/snapshots/PL4819000.html

 
At 9:34 AM, August 14, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think the old analysis I saw tried to find comparable homes in size, age, and maybe even school district quality, and that bumped up Dallas' housing premium a bit more.

 
At 10:18 AM, August 14, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

Tory's right -- It is probably competition with Borders. When I went to Rice, I'd actually go a bit further to use Borders instead of the Bookstop. The Borders is simply larger, newer, and has a much bigger parking lot. They may not be losing money, but I'd wager they could be making a lot more.

In any case, I fail to see how this relates to zoning. Are we talking about using zoning to prevent Barnes and Noble from dumping the Alabama Book Stop by making it difficult for them to open another store? That would be a dangerous precedent. Zoning is at its worst when it devolves into giving local busybodies "pre-clearance" for any new business moving in. When that happens, development is slowed substantially, and oftentimes nothing ever gets built.

It reminds me of the situation with the old Canal Villiere supermarket here in New Orleans at Carollton and Claiborne. It's been closed for several years, rotting and smattered with graffitti. Wallgreens purchased an extended lease to the property shortly after the supermarket closed, planning to build a new pharmacy. Alas, community advocates wanted another grocery, not a pharmacy. They also wanted to micromanage the design. Now it appears unlikely anything will ever get built there. No grocery chain wants to build there (deals have fallen through) and eventually Walgreens will probably drop the whole deal, either selling the lease or just letting it run out.

I understand that unfettered development can beget undesirable results, but if we start thinking of private property as being under draconian public controls, there won't be a proper real estate market to handle all of our wants and needs.

 
At 10:18 AM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

If there were some kind of regulation that could offer a decent chance for pedestrian friendly, mixed-use developments, of the type that are now being built over large areas of Dallas, Austin, and Atlanta, and that could give neighborhoods some degree of control over the form that their neighborhood takes, so that their quality of life is not ruined by unwanted, insensitive developments - that could do both of these things without zoning, then I would be all for it.

But the status quo is not enough, and we lose more potential residents and businesses from being an ugly city than we gain from having marginally lower prices (although why the crafting of beautiful neighborhoods needs to be justified by how much business it can draw is beyond me).

 
At 10:27 AM, August 14, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

mike,

If people genuinely want that type of development, why doesn't it exist naturally? Why do you have to force it?

Moreover, if the development is "unwanted," how could it survive? If you build a big-box store in a community where nobody wants to shop at a big-box store, presumably it will fail. If it doesn't fail, then maybe the disdain for big box stores within the community was shallow.

Besides, Houston is larger than Dallas, Austin, or Atlanta. If we're really missing out on residents and business, why is it that we're more successful than those cities in terms of population and the size of our economy?

 
At 10:29 AM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two points:

1) About “mixed-use”, Houston is plenty mixed-use if you look at it at the scale of the car. If you’re hung up on pedestrians and flats-above-shops, it’s easy to ignore the residential neighborhoods behind arterial commercial strips, but it’s a pretty similar pattern.

2) About the theater, we can bemoan this all we want, but it belongs to its owners, not "us", and there is no law that prevents them tearing it down. I'm certainly open to it if the City Council wants to pass something transparent and consistent. I fear, though, that if it gets "saved" it will be via some back-room deal where the city grants a concession to the developer somewhere else (or threatens punishment somewhere else) if /unless Weingarten will leave the River Oaks alone. That does bother me.

jt

 
At 12:50 PM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Owen,

The reason it hasn't happened is that developers are scared of what will be built next door or across the street. Mixed-use developments do not exist as islands by themselves - they rely on a synergy between similar developments in clusters. Sidewalk retail is a risky investment if one isn't sure there won't be a parking garage or warehouse across the street.

Prominent Houston developers such as Ed Wulfe and Richard Everett have testified to this problem as a barrier to their building mixed-use projects. As it stands, there are many developers who would do it in Houston if there were regulations to protect their investment.

There are also many Houstonians who would patronize such developments, as testified by the clamor for them. Just because YOU won't doesn't mean other people won't.

As to the argument that not having mixed-use development must be better since Houston has more people than Dallas, Atlanta, or Austin, I think that's the lamest argument I've ever heard.

 
At 1:00 PM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Reading over that last paragraph, it isn't really a fair rendering of your argument, and I retract it. Yes, Houston will continue to grow if we don't have mixed-use development, but there is a substantial group of people and businesses we miss out on by not having it. A large portion of our society enjoys dense, walkable neighborhoods, and no, it's not just lefty, artsy types. I don't see why we can't consider options for offering it, such as protective guidelines that wouldn't even require zoning, when it could add another dimension to our already great city.

 
At 1:33 PM, August 14, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

mike,

It still seems that your argument presumes that the government can do better the market. The heart of zoning is saying "you can build X in this zone, but not Y." Now sure, you can have an extremely intricate set of zoning regulations to create extremely tiny "zones" to attempt to maximize a certain plan for development. The problem is, however, that the market might not want the type of development you favor. It's the Canal Villiere supermarket all over again.

In truth, zoning generally works against mixed-used development because it prevents the market from deciding where to place things. If most residents of an apartment complex would really go bananas over a corner grocery within walking distance, well then by golly you'll see a corner grocery in short order. If the whole area is zoned residential, though, then you'll only get a grocery store if a variance is approved, which isn't always easy. Moreover, a vocal, spoil-sport minority of residents could easily kill the variance.

Your example of needing a parking garage for sidewalk development can easily be used here... If a developer wants to move in and wants nearby parking, it can either develop parking itself or make a deal with a company that deals in surface lots or garages, depending on the particular need. Business could manage this themselves if they tried and if there was truly a pent up demand.

The problem with major developers is that their real goal is to have more regulation; regulation to protect their investments from development that may be supported by the market, but won't bolster their bottom line. In essense, they don't want efficient outcomes to threaten their projects. Moreover, they know that the smaller players are less connected and have less ability to play the system. The small fish won't have much say in zoning decisions, variances, etc. You see it time and time again -- big business LOVES regulation. It's a barrier to entry. Settled businesses don't like new competition.

 
At 2:11 PM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Owen,

I'm enjoying this discussion, but you should read my posts better. What I said about parking garages was about the danger of something like a parking garage or other ambience-killing development locating in a spot where a sidewalk retail district is trying to develop. This worry, in an unzoned city, is why prominent developers are hesitant to build mixed-use here, despite the demand.

I also mentioned "protective guidelines that wouldn't require zoning," and your whole post seems to be an argument against zoning. I am not even wedded to the idea of zoning myself, although I don't have the McCarthy-esque paranoia of government control that some people have.

What it all comes down to is, why shouldn't people be able to set out some reasonable guidelines for what is built in their own neighborhood? I just don't understand why there is such a mental barrier to this idea. People tell sky-is-falling stories about what will happen if the government starts telling people what to do, how business will be chased away and the city will stagnate, but I've been to some places where such regulations exist, and I just don't see it.

 
At 2:32 PM, August 14, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

mike,

I'm sorry I misread you, but the truth is that most developers would probably *prefer* ample parking for virtually any retail development, and land across from street retail is unlikely to be desirable for a new warehouse.

But I realize that's not your point. Your point is that something unattractive might move in, thus killing the atmosphere. Or something unattractive might already be there, and you want to force the use of the land to change. Yet in both cases, market pressures will push the best use of the land in due time. Even if some aberrent use appears, light an unsightly surface-lot in a high density area, eventually the land costs will become so expensive that it won't be efficient to keep it that way.

If you use zoning, though, you risk distorting the market so that nothing really succeeds. Community activists have a vision that isn't really in line with what people want deep down -- they ignore things like parking, important when mose people drive, even in high-density areas -- and they demand certain things even when the market won't support them (i.e. another grocery store rather than a Walgreens).

But I really think that the market is best suited for mixed use development for the simple reason that it tends to compact land uses. You CAN'T prevent retail from going up next to residential. You CAN'T stop homes, businesses, and offices from going up nearby. This is crucial, because most people would rather live next to other homes, not next to a business or an office. This is why zoning typically results in less mixed-use, not more.

I won't get too much into property rights, but I think they're important here as well. There is something unseemly about local community activists carte blanche over how everyone uses their property. It's worse when you're doing so for a nebluous purpose such as creating a certain ambiance. I just hope my home or business is never in a place where the majority thinks they can vote me out of my rights. If you think that's a wild, McCarthyesque fear, well then, I don't think you've been looking at current trends.

 
At 9:08 PM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

I didn't say you were McCarthyesque. But I think your views of public-involved planning are overwhelmingly pessimistic, and your views of market development strikingly optimistic. I'm a fan of the free market myself, to be quite honest, and generally conservative in my views, but I don't think what I'm advocating here is the end of market freedom. Again, I am not arguing for zoning - just modest regulations to guide development and give residents some say.

So to take the parking garage example again, let's say there was a big development boom on Main St., with lots of mixed-use going up. Some developer might be tempted to put up a parking garage on one block to serve demand for parking, with convenient entrances on the street. The market would certainly support this move, and he would probably make a lot of money. But it would adversely affect the district as a whole.

This is where the public comes in. The public wants Main St. to be tasteful - i.e., no hulking concrete garages with entrances cutting across sidewalks. So they make a law that says no garages on Main St. Does this stifle growth, or ruin the balance of needs? No - people can build garages on Fannin or Travis. Does it improve the appearance and ambience of the street? Absolutely. It's no accident that signature boulevards around the world have restrictions against parking garages.

One or two property owners may lose out in the short term, but the public wins, and the property owners actually win in the long term as the street's beauty makes property values go up.

 
At 9:08 PM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

I didn't say you were McCarthyesque. But I think your views of public-involved planning are overwhelmingly pessimistic, and your views of market development strikingly optimistic. I'm a fan of the free market myself, to be quite honest, and generally conservative in my views, but I don't think what I'm advocating here is the end of market freedom. Again, I am not arguing for zoning - just modest regulations to guide development and give residents some say.

So to take the parking garage example again, let's say there was a big development boom on Main St., with lots of mixed-use going up. Some developer might be tempted to put up a parking garage on one block to serve demand for parking, with convenient entrances on the street. The market would certainly support this move, and he would probably make a lot of money. But it would adversely affect the district as a whole.

This is where the public comes in. The public wants Main St. to be tasteful - i.e., no hulking concrete garages with entrances cutting across sidewalks. So they make a law that says no garages on Main St. Does this stifle growth, or ruin the balance of needs? No - people can build garages on Fannin or Travis. Does it improve the appearance and ambience of the street? Absolutely. It's no accident that signature boulevards around the world have restrictions against parking garages.

One or two property owners may lose out in the short term, but the public wins, and the property owners actually win in the long term as the street's beauty makes property values go up.

 
At 9:25 PM, August 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

Don't confuse confidence in the free market with "McCarthy-esque paranoia of government control." People's desires are far too complex to be planned by the government. Even a benevolent, hard-working government will be less efficient than the free market in determining what people want. Zoning is essentially another way for the government to take away our economic freedoms. We should be able to do what we want with our property (within reason), shouldn't we?

I'd recommend reading any book by Milton Friedman (as Owen apparently has) for more on the market vs. government regulations.

 
At 10:24 PM, August 14, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

mike,

>>So to take the parking garage example again, let's say there was a big development boom on Main St., with lots of mixed-use going up. Some developer might be tempted to put up a parking garage on one block to serve demand for parking, with convenient entrances on the street. The market would certainly support this move, and he would probably make a lot of money. But it would adversely affect the district as a whole.<<

First of all, I know you weren't describing ME as McCarthyesque, but you referring to my FEARS as being unjustifiably reminiscent of those of freedom advocates during the McCarthy era. I think there is a comparison to be made there, particularly following Midkiff, Kelo, and that trend of cases. Property rights have been widdled down.

But as to your example, I think you don't understand the entire picture. You say that a parking garage would have a negative impact on the district, even though it would do well finacially. However, in order for a parking garage to do well financially, it has to be providing outsiders with a means to getting to bars, restaurants, etc. If people who drive didn't want to come there, the garage would fail. If there wasn't a need for garages to allow more patrons to visit the Main Street District, developers wouldn't be clamoring to build garages. You don't just need the businesses; you need the means for people to get there. Not everyone wants to park and hop on a bus or train. Building garages assists in mobility and enhances local businesses. Aside from the psychic harm some experience by the mere presence of parking garanges, there's really no need to prohibit their development.

As far as sidewalks, I'd say that the government already exercises that authority. We allow for setbacks that keep the sidewalk unemcumbered. And if Main street is so desired for bars and restaurants, then developers will probably be more apt to build one block over, where parking garages are a better investment. The market will encourage it; there's no need to force it.

Don't get me wrong -- property owners do deserve to be protected from nuisances; extremely undesirable uses that substantially impact property values. I don't think a parking garage qualifies, and in any case, it's a risk property owners probably considered when they made their investments. And the benefit to the public is a mixed-bag -- those who use the garage gain the ability to actually visit Main Street; those who already had easy access may feel displeasure with the asthetic, or they may just not care (most people visiting Main these days just seem to want to get drunk -- I doubt the garages bother them). I just don't see how the political process, which generally honors a vocal minority, should rule over the market, which actually respects the wishes of those who spend their cash to keep a neighborhood alive.

 
At 1:32 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Owen,

I said before that the parking garages could be built on Fannin or Travis, and the need for parking would be served just as well. Please start reading my posts before you respond.

 
At 1:38 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Anonymous,

If you had read my above post, everything you said would have been answered. You, like Owen, keep arguing against zoning, when that is not even what I'm arguing for. It's as if that's the only thing you know how to argue against.

I am familiar with Milton Friedman, as well as Friedrich Hayek and Adam Smith, and I agree with their economics. LIKE I SAID BEFORE, I lean conservative and have confidence in the market. But having confidence in the market does not preclude wanting a few regulations (again, NOT zoning) to help steer it, nor does it preclude giving the public a say.

 
At 1:41 PM, August 15, 2006, Blogger Owen said...

mike,

I have been reading your posts. You were arguing for limiting the construction of parking garages by banning them on Main Street. I explained that closing off Main Street to parking garages doesn't make economic sense. I just assumed you understood that foreclosing development of grages on a certain street, possibly forcing that development blocks over, could have a negative affect on businesses on that street by making access more difficult.

I have been reading your posts, Mike. I just don't think your argument changes things one iota.

 
At 1:49 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Owen,

How on earth would having to walk one block from the parking garage on Fannin to the entertainment district on Main make access more difficult?

Go to Michigan Ave. in Chicago, or any other signature boulevard in a major city. You will find a total absence of parking garages on the street itself, and quite a number of them a block or two over. It makes economic sense for those cities, and it could for us as well.

Then go to Chicago's City Council, tell them you're a developer thinking of putting a giant parking garage on Michigan Ave., that it "doesn't make economic sense" to prevent parking on Michigan, and that you think they should make an exception to their law for you. I don't think they'll listen.

 
At 3:12 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

A regulation by any other name... You say you're not arguing for zoning, you're just arguing for government regulations on what should be built where. It starts out as parking garages on Fannin, but it doesn't stop there.

You say you're a 'classical liberal' free-marketer, but nothing that you argued backs that up. Prefacing a socialist argument with a free-market preamble does not a capitalist make. Also, you've yet to address your "McCarthy-esque paranoia of government control" comment. Doesn't sound too conservative to me.

You're hinging your argument on this parking garage problem. I agree with you that a few regulations are necessary in a free-market, but emphasis on a few. In my opinion, only such properties that contain large negative externalities should be regulated (i.e. strip clubs in the middle of a neighborhood). Beyond this, there should be as few regulations as possible - it doesn't end at parking garages. The market is capable of determining what people want, let it do its job.

Granted, historical buildings pose a separate issue, because once you tear them down, you lose them forever. If Barnes and Noble is wrong about the viability of a store where they're tearing down the River Oaks, we lose that landmark forever. But this is a separate issue than the ability to build parking garages.

 
At 3:15 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

It doesn't make economic sense to build a parking garage on Michigan Ave. The land is inordinately expensive.

And arguing that you're right because Chicago's city council wouldn't aprove a parking garage is ridiculous. This is the same city with the $13 minimum wage for big box stores.

 
At 3:52 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Anonymous,

So I'm making a "socialist argument" because I want a few regulations on things like parking garages on signature boulevards? Give me a break. Your problem is that you see things in black and white. Any regulation that you don't personally want is the end of the free market.

You also use this slippery-slope argument that, if we allow some regulations (you agreed that there could be a few... where do you draw the line?), then more and more will come in, and soon we'll have socialist control over development. It's McCarthyesque.

So you don't think that a city wanting to create a signature boulevard needs to make any regulations like the one I'm proposing about parking garages. Fine. Name me one signature urban boulevard in America that doesn't have development regulations. Just one.

 
At 4:09 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

Our country has already fallen down the slippery slope towards socialism. It's not McCarthyesque, it's reality. Protectional tariffs, government control of schools, zoning, unions, lobbyists - far from a free-market.

"If you had read my above post, everything you said would have been answered." I defined for you where I draw the line - obscene negative externalities. Strip clubs next to preschools - regulate, parking garages - don't regulate. You suppose that the government is more capable of planning a neighborhood than the market, it's simply not the case.

Obviously I won't be able to name a "signature street" in America without zoning (regulation, as you disguise it). There are no large cities in America without zoning outside of Houston. Should a "signature street" even be our goal? Are you willing to sacrifice strong economic growth for a pretty street? I certainly am not.

Somehow you've turned this into a parking garage on Main vs. parking garage on Fannin argument, but it's much more than that. It's an issue of the market vs. the government. You apparently are against zoning and for regulations, but they're effectively the same thing. If the government is so prescient to know that we shouldn't have parking garages on Main, why shouldn't we hand the regulation on all our streets over to the government?

 
At 4:50 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting...

"Our country has already fallen down the slippery slope towards socialism. It's not McCarthyesque, it's reality. Protectional tariffs, government control of schools, zoning, unions, lobbyists"

Many of the things you listed as being proof of our slide into socialism we've had for decades or even centuries. The slippery slope argument is much too simplistic, and smacks of talk radio (and wouldn't banning lobbyists be a violation of free speech!). Running a country of 300 million people without regulation is a recipe for disaster.

ANON2

 
At 6:12 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Anonymous (I),

So let's run down what we've discovered:

America has fallen into socialism since the 1950's, because we now have tariffs, government control of schools (which are part of the government, no less), lobbyists, unions, and zoning in our cities.

Having regulations on a signature boulevard requires sacrificing strong economic growth (apparently Fifth Ave., Newbury St., Michigan Ave., Rodeo Dr., and every other great urban street in this country hampers its area's economic growth).

Any regulations for the sake of aesthetics is one and the same with zoning, and the end of the free market (Houston outlawed logos on downtown buildings, so I guess we're already there).

Anyone who doesn't agree with the above thinks the government is more capable of planning a neighborhood than the market, and should just hand everything over (and then we'll all be living in a socialist nightmare, just like those people in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, College Station, Sugarland, the Memorial area, and all the other cities that have zoning!!!).

Honestly, at this point I don't know if you're really a free market advocate, or a leftist who's trying to caricature one.

 
At 10:57 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

America has fallen into socialism since the turn of the century, but that's really not the point here. Clearly, we're not an extreme case of socialism, but we are slowly giving over our freedoms to the government, both economic and social. Look at what our government has done with our schools, certainly not commendable. Or look at Medicare, Welfare, the Iraq War, the Post Office, the DPS, oil price controls, the patent system or a host of other miserable government initiatives (not lobbying, my bad).

You cite those "signature streets" as examples of where zoning succeeded, but I would tell you that they are merely examples of where zoning didn't fail.

Rodeo Dr. exists because there are thousands of fabulously wealthy people in the Beverly Hills who want luxury shopping. Not because of zoning. In fact, Beverly Hills was the product of a free-market, not of zoning, as a single developer - Burton Green - bought up the land to create the neighborhood.

Newbury Street was mostly built in the 19th century, before zoning had even emerged as a concept. Ditto 5th Ave and Michigan Ave.

Citing examples of where zoning hasn't failed is not the same as showing that zoning is a good idea.

ANON1

 
At 11:46 PM, August 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, Mike, it appears your previous post was advocating zoning. I thought you weren't doing that.

 
At 8:04 PM, August 16, 2006, Anonymous Mike said...

Where does my previous post advocate zoning? It was simply a summary of things that YOU had said.

The fact that you need so badly to equate what I say with zoning and socialism shows that you really have no argument against what I am proposing - modest development regulations.

I'm still waiting for an example of one signature urban street that doesn't have regulations of some type.

 
At 1:09 AM, August 17, 2006, Blogger John Whiteside said...

Dear God. It would be nice if people could talk about regulation without screeching "socialism! socialism!" You know, there are no true "free markets" (because some costs are always externalized). Free market fetishists don't like to admit this, but those pesky regulations often exist to prevent powerful players from dumping costs (traffic, parking, environmental issues, etc.) onto less powerful neighbors. And there's nothing more free market than paying for the results of your business activity instead of forcing them onto others.

And yes, degradation of the built environment is a cost, even if it's difficult to quantify.

On the zoning issue: zoning can be unreasonable, or it can be sensible. Houston is terrified of the "z" word, but as many others have pointed out, cities with zoning have in many ways done much better than Houston.

As for the comments about Netflix, etc., they miss the point: as the W. Alabama theater demonstrates, historic buildings can accomodate new uses. If the Landmark Theater can't survive (a highly questionable proposition, by the way) that doesn't mean that the building that houses it should be demolished.

 
At 8:26 PM, August 17, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike,

"I'm still waiting for an example of one signature urban street that doesn't have regulations of some type."

This argument reeks of logical fallacies. First off, there are no major cities in the US (outside of Houston) that have zoning. So clearly it's impossible for me to show you what you want. But I could just as easily turn the argument around on you and show you all the cities that have zoning, but don't have a "signature street", namely, Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, etc. But I'm not going to do that.

Secondly, you assume correlation implies causation. In your mind, since all these "signature streets" have zoning, zoning must be the cause of the "signature streets." But as I just showed you, all the "signature streets" you mentioned (besides Rodeo Dr., which was the result of a developer, not a zoning board) existed as "signature streets" before zoning was even around.

I think a lot of Houston's problem in creating a "signature street" is its lack of history and natural beauty. Houston was a swampy outpost before 1900, and most of its major development was done in the 60s and beyond. Ranches built in the 70s are not particularly attractive, and Houston has a lot of them. And without natural beauty, we miss out on opportunites that cities like Chicago, LA, San Diego, and Miami have to capitalize on such a resource.

Having a vast expanse of flat, somewhat unattractive land in every direction has pros and cons. While we may have no "signature streets," we do have ridiculously cheap housing, and I contend that this is far more important than any street. Would you rather be able to shop regularly on Rodeo Dr. in LA or have thousands of extra dollars in your pocket in Houston?

 
At 11:29 AM, August 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Houston really not have a "signature street"? Whenever I want to show a visitor "Houston", I drive them down Westheimer, from Bagby to Beltway 8. It's certainly Houston's real "Main St.", at least outside 610, and definitely captures the essence of this city. Is that not what we mean by "signature"?

jt

 
At 3:13 PM, August 18, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Well, most people consider Rodeo Dr. in LA, Magnificent Mile in Chicago, 5th Ave in NYC, and Champs-Élysées in Paris to be their signatures streets, i.e. high-end shopping. In that case, The Galleria Mall is our "signature street" - and you walk it just like those, but you don't drive it (obviously). Same essential experience, with better weather.

 

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