Urban corridor planning in HoustonI attended the City of Houston urban corridors planning event yesterday at the GRB (Chronicle story). They want to collect public input on how development should occur along the expanding Metro LRT/BRT network in the core. Using the great analogy of DNA, they want to shape development ordinances/codes that will create the right kind of development near rail stops, like dense pedestrian-oriented mixed-use street retail with residential above it. They opened with a pretty compelling Powerpoint presentation that I'm hoping will appear on their site sometime soon.
The most interesting statistic to me was the growth forecast for non-office workers either telecommuting or living out of a laptop: from 15% now to 40% by 2012. That's a radical change for the next 6 years, and could have pretty dire consequences for office vacancies but good implications for rush hour traffic relief. On the other side, they had a couple stats that irked me:
- The STPP stat about high spending in Houston on transportation, which I've pointed out before is misleading because that spending is voluntary. Because of our low cost of living, people choose to drive expensive trucks and SUVs in Houston, when they could just as easily choose used Honda Civics if they wanted to slash their transportation spending.
- Just because only 22% of households are two parent families with children, doesn't translate to 78% of the population being something else. That confuses households and population. The minimum household size for that 22% is three, and it is probably 4-5 on average, whereas the average household size for the other 78% is probably between one and two. That makes the two groups about equal on a population basis.
- If you want pedestrian to have a chance in Houston's heat and rain, you better have lots of shade and awnings.
- Street retail in Houston can't compete against more convenient strip centers unless it's concentrated in pedestrian district with easy backside parking (the residents above the shops are nowhere near enough to support the shops themselves).
- Standards, guidelines, and incentives - not zoning. Let the free market work.
- Don't be anti-car. The car is the lifeblood of this city, and all of this development will fail miserably if they think they can get away with being hostile to the car, especially with parking. Sure, you can have a narrow "traffic calmed" pedestrian street with some mixed-use street retail, but it better have good freeway and arterial access nearby along with plenty of convenient parking if it wants to thrive. See Mockingbird Station in Dallas as an example. We need to think of this project as nurturing some small-scale pedestrian neighborhoods within a larger car-based city/regional fabric.
This event and an article on urbanism David Crossley sent me (sorry, no link) got me thinking about the challenges urbanism will face in Houston. I had planned on including those thoughts in this post, but it's already getting too long, so they'll have to wait for Tuesday night.