Randal O'Toole on HoustonRandal O'Toole of the Cato Institute and the Preserving the American Dream Coalition visited Houston last week from Oregon and spoke to a substantial crowd at a Houston Property Rights Association luncheon. He gave a compelling slideshow on overreaching urban planning and wasteful rail transit run amok in other cities around the country (he was quite the engaging speaker for an economist ;-). He posted his thoughts on his visit to his blog. Some highlights:
...I sense in Houston a dynamism that I haven’t found in any other American city except Las Vegas. Like Las Vegas, in Houston they tear things down, they build things up. They gentrify neighborhoods. They build skyscrapers all over the place.If you're interested in more, I've posted on some of his stuff before, like the costs of transit vs. cars and the risks of badly done rail transit.
And they are building freeways. Not “no new roads,” like Portland. Not “one new freeway,” like Denver. But freeways, all over the place. (Of course, when I say “freeways” I mean tollways, but to me a freeway is free of stop lights, not free of pricing.)
A month or so ago, the Houston Chronicle had an article about mixed-use developments. It seems that Houston developers are following the national trend of attracting “affluent young professionals and empty nesters tired of long commutes” with such developments.Reporters managed to find nine such planned developments scattered throughout the Houston area. ...
...the lesson is: even without subsidies, developers will build mixed use for the market. The market may be limited and it certainly will not transform an entire region. But it will be there for those who want it.
Kathleen happened to drive us down one street that is in the process of being gentrified. We saw fancy new townhomes next to run-down grocery stores and used-car lots. This process can take place rather quickly, and without any urban renewal subsidies, in a city with no zoning.
The American Dream Coalition is going to hold its 2008 conference in Houston so everyone can come see how a city without zoning and with minimal planning works. I hope I can make another visit to the city before then so I can see one of the region’s master planned communities (but planned by private developers, not by government).
Update: Rad Sallee's Chronicle interview.