Friday, May 18, 2007

Randal O'Toole on planning in The Woodlands

Just a rushed pass-along this morning: Randal O'Toole, a sharp critic of urban planning gone awry, talks about how The Woodlands did (and does) planning right. Nice pictures too.

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12 Comments:

At 10:27 AM, May 18, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

Randall O'Toole is a sharp critic not of "planning gone awry," but of planning in general. Anything that isn't planned to his single-family, suburban sensibilities is bad. The Woodlands is indeed one of the better examples of master-planning in the U.S., but it's not without fault - including traffic, long commutes to most office areas in Houston, and a true lack of affordability to people across the spectrum of society in Houston. It's richer, whiter, more expensive, and farther from jobs than many other places in Houston. Fortunately, as the saying goes, something that's unsustainable must by definition end. One can only wait for suburban tract development (not single-family housing, but single-family housing far from anything that creates no sense of community) as the only type of housing offered to Houstonians to finally succumb to its unsustainability.

 
At 11:05 AM, May 18, 2007, Blogger Ian said...

The irony of the whole thing is that Houston -- even being one of the sprawliest cities -- is best positioned to transition to far denser development due to lack of zoning and large amount of infill land available. It's already been happening for a decade and should only accelerate from here. Anyone beating the Market Economy drum should be smart enough to realize that there are massive tectonic shifts in American preferences coming after oil breaks $100/barrel and the inevitable, asymtopic limit of freeway congestion. They should be cheering the success of inner cities being rebuilt from actual demand for housing. But I think that all to often the Market Economy speak is just a disguise to push the suburban "Happy Motoring" agenda and dismiss all critics. These "rugged individualists" will grasp at other reasons to oppose densification, even when driven directly by demand and consumer preference. When it hits the wire, all they really want is further government subsidy and support for their 1/2 acre exurban lifestyle.

It's bittersweet in a way.

 
At 4:43 PM, May 18, 2007, Anonymous RedScare said...

Rarely have I read an article that said less than that one. He merely repeated what is written in Woodlands marketing spiels, and ignored all of the Woodlands' problems, the biggest being that it takes longer to commute to I-45 from the back of the Woodlands than it does to get downtown.

I did LOVE the photograph of a nice, new Woodlands house, complete with EVERY SINGLE TREE cut from the front yard, replaced with a couple of saplings.

 
At 5:22 PM, May 18, 2007, Anonymous neil` said...

Well, redscare, that house wasn't *in* The Woodlands.

 
At 9:48 PM, May 18, 2007, Anonymous random thoughts said...

First sentence in the article:

"If I had to live in a major urban area, I would like to live in a place like the Woodlands, a master-planned community north of Houston."

The word "urban" and Woodlands don't belong in the same sentence.

It's sad that government subsidies provide the impetus for such places reducing the housing choices for people who want alternatives.

 
At 11:33 PM, May 18, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

Everything given in the context of that picture made it seem like it was in the Woodlands.

Does this guy ever say what he likes so much about The Woodlands, other than that it's big?

 
At 1:07 AM, May 19, 2007, Anonymous RedScare said...

Well, Neal, that would be just one more reason this guy's article is bullsh_t, wouldn't it?

 
At 2:05 PM, May 19, 2007, Blogger Neil said...

Waste is a byproduct of growth, no matter what system you are talking about. A lot of peripheral mass produced housing-development's waste is needless, and a lot of the daily waste that results from it is well-nigh irreversible, but at the same time, we, in one of the very fastest growing places in the Northern Hemisphere, cannot stem the rate at which people want to move here or channel them into wiser central infill redevelopment without (intentionally or unintentionally) doing what Portland has done: withdraw ourselves from being a region where big numbers of low-income families can gain socioeconomic traction. While The Woodlands is not particularly relevant to that angle of Houston's policy effects, suburban spread across the Katy Prairie, over the forests to the northwest, north, and northeast, and onto the coastal plain down 288 and the Fort Bend Tollway extensions do apply in some way to the housing supply and ecological despoiling. Mitchell and co. in developing The Woodlands brought in Ian McHarg, a landscape thinker who was very interested in forging better relationship between man and his environment. McHarg looked at the soil profile in the area and classed it A, B, C or D according to permeability. Building envelopes were platted onto soils which barely drained anyway, while soils critical for percolation were left for, I don't know, lot and golf course verges so that surface runoff from developed areas would be managed. The restrictions on cutting trees have, as I understand it, to do not only with aesthetics and $$ but with ecological tie-ins to the landscape perspective through which McHarg informed the development results. So, while this author may not have known that, it is a good thing to keep in mind for avoiding flooding the city when future developments are going.

 
At 2:12 PM, May 19, 2007, Blogger Neil said...

That set of principles, by the way, is why I knew simply from looking at the picture that it could not have been taken there.

Ian McHarg is well worth learning more about, through your browser right now or the public library later [or better, right now, if you're typing from a library branch], if you're interested in land use that cannot be lumped into the group of the kind of actions which characterized that house photo.

 
At 3:09 PM, May 19, 2007, Blogger John said...

O'Toole praises the Woodlands for preserving open space. I wonder if he's a big advocate of, say, Maryland's Smart Growth plans that do the same thing? Oh, wait, a plan made by a democratically elected government is bad, while the same plan created by a private enterprise is good.

He never explains why land use rules make things like the Woodlands impossible elsewhere - and when he notes that master planned communities tend to be found in places with few land use rules, one has to wonder if it's because residents of those areas want more structure in land use around their homes.

The problem with O'Toole's stuff is that everything he likes, even when it contradicts his beliefs, is offered as proof. His lack of rigorous thinking is just stunning. I'm not sure why you call him a "sharp critic." "Sharp" usually implies intelligence or insight; "shrill" would be a more apt word.

 
At 5:16 AM, May 21, 2007, Anonymous Thomas said...

At the risk of stating the obvious, O'Toole writes:

"The difference between the Woodlands and the town plans I’ve critiqued earlier this week is that the Woodlands was planned by a developer, while the other town plans were written by government planners."

That, of course, is the only reason O'Toole likes The Woodlands: its planning was done by private sector interests, rather than by the public sector planners he, as "The Antiplanner," so dislikes. If The Woodlands had been an incorporated community, and its planners been of the public, rather than the private, sector, he would denounce it, even if its design characteristics had been exactly the same.

 
At 2:12 PM, May 21, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

Neil, I believe that housing developments in The Woodlands over the last ten years have shown quite a shift from the tree-preservation policies put in place by McHarg. Plenty of the new houses there look like the one in that picture. How do you know that it was not taken in The Woodlands?

 

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