Monday, January 14, 2008

The fight over development regulations intensifies

Spawned by the Ashby Tower controversy, the news and opinion as been coming fast and furious in the new year on the fight over planning regulations. Enough creeping regulations have been working their way onto the City Council agenda to finally raise the ire of former Mayor Lanier and the development community, who have formed a political action committee called "Houstonians for Responsible Growth." (Chronicle story) They've partnered with noted anti-planning/pro-free-market activists Randal O'Toole of the libertarian Cato Institute and Wendell Cox. In fact, their "Preserving the American Dream" conference is coming to Houston in May, where they want to hold us up as a model vs. more heavily regulated, planned, and transit-oriented cities like Portland and San Jose.

Chronicle columnist Rick Casey has weighed in, as has David Crossley and blogHouston. Neal Meyer has a in-depth report on a meeting about the traffic ordinance, which sounds like a vague mess with the potential for lots of hassles and abuse. O'Toole himself has posted, but even better are the comments summarizing many of the issues. Then there's this pro-planning/regulation op-ed from the Sunday Chronicle. (Enough links for you yet?)

There's a lot of good material in the comments for many of these articles and posts too. Here's one from the Sunday op-ed that jumped out at me:
I own property in Austin as well as here in Houston. I have lived in highly-structured cities with strict zoning and I have lived in Houston where those are fightin' words. And this is what I have learned:

Austin is a mess. A beautiful mess, but many people in Austin are destined to live in small ramshackle shacks that they paid dearly for because of the planning and zoning process. Property values in Austin have gone nuts, which is good for me as an investor, but bad for those living on the bottom end of the income spectrum. The ones getting rich are those who are able to gain favor with the planning department for their particular vision for redeveloping this area or that area. Just look at the Muellar Redevelopment project -- building an artificial community and hoping it will stick. The whole concept of 'permeability' is great, until you realize it's really just a code word for 'retention ponds.'

Part of the power of Houston is this open and rational market for property. Why do you think that Houston is the MOST affordable city in the US? Why do you think employers are streaming into Houston? What other big, vibrant city in the US has this standard of living? It's amazing how much home, in as nice a neighborhood, the average working person in Houston can afford! Wasn't Houston just selected as one of the 'greenest cities' in terms of parkland and greenbelts?
The op-ed it responded to was a bit confused to me. Don't we already have regs addressing trees and permeability/water-retention? There seems to be a straight-forward market solution: the flood control district figures out how much it costs them to handle the runoff from a development, and either charges that (all-at-once or spread over time as taxes) or lets the developer build-in their own retention - their choice. This doesn't require comprehensive planning, just narrowly focused regs, planning and incentives by the flood control district.

Overall, I'm glad the Mayor and city council is going to hear from people like O'Toole and Cox with lots of stats and stories on the impacts of over-regulation. It's too easy for political representatives to pass regs as a knee-jerk response to vocal constituents while ignoring the costs, long-term impacts, and problems they cause for the silent majority. It's good for them to hear both sides and try to chart a balanced course that's good for the city as a whole as well as individual neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, the pressure is building. If the new Lanier PAC fights everything with a "give no ground" posture, the citizen pressure will continue to build until some sort of catastrophic event happens, like voters sweeping in a pro-planning Mayor and council that do some really radical damage to our unique and very successful model.

My recommendation: take advantage of the favorable political climate while we have a reasonable Mayor and city council, and while the well-respected 82-year-old Lanier is still healthy enough to engage. Come up with a comprehensive approach to how development should work here (as opposed to the current patchwork), including a set of principles and streamlined code on deed restrictions to make it easier for neighborhoods to enact consensus (i.e. super-majority) restrictions. In essence, find a free-market policy framework that makes 80% of the citizens happy and marginalizes the radical 10-20% anti-growth controllers, aesthetes, busybodies, and NIMBYs. Instead of duking it out between developers and planning advocates, find a "third-way" that acknowledges and addresses citizen concerns, but with a flexible free market approach instead of top-down comprehensive planning. Now that would be a fine and enduring legacy for Mayor White's final term in office...

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30 Comments:

At 8:13 PM, January 14, 2008, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

Come up with a comprehensive approach to how development should work here (as opposed to the current patchwork), including a set of principles and streamlined code on deed restrictions to make it easier for neighborhoods to enact consensus (i.e. super-majority) restrictions. In essence, find a free-market policy framework that makes 80% of the citizens happy and marginalizes the radical 10-20% anti-growth controllers, aesthetes, busybodies, and NIMBYs.

I agree. There's always going to be a move for zoning and anti-growth regulation, and the best way to cut it off at the pass is to create an alternative system. I'd prefer the NIMBYs would simply accept Houston as it is, but with people like Peter Brown out there, it's clearly not going to happen.

 
At 5:32 AM, January 15, 2008, Blogger John said...

Your advice is sound. This is not an either/or proposition; in reality, there is some regulation in Houston, and when developers are quick to describe any kind of planning and regulation with Soviet analogies, they sounds nuts. It is no surprise that growth and increasing density have raised quality of life concerns; the developer community would do well to realize that these are legitimate concerns and be part of coming up with the a solution that addresses them in with the lightest government touch possible.

 
At 8:39 AM, January 15, 2008, Anonymous Mike said...

Funny how people who worry what planning will do to housing prices point to Austin and not to Dallas, a much more comparable city IMHO.

 
At 8:51 AM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Austin = attractive vibrant core + high regs -> expensive

Houston = vibrant core + low regs -> affordable

Dallas = weak core (the metro 'center-of-gravity' in terms of jobs and affluence as moved strongly to the northwest) + regs -> modest housing premium

(lack of demand keeps prices from rising too much)

IMHO, a more regulated Houston would tip more towards the Austin results than Dallas.

 
At 9:53 AM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>> Houston = vibrant core + low regs -> affordable

If you just want to compare "core" prices, by looking at say, a 5 mile radius from the city center, versus the same area in Austin, I would be surprised if Houston is much cheaper. This is the most expensive area of Houston - with prices up to the $300 / square foot range and beyond.

Also, you could make the case that Houston's "core" is now the Galleria area, or at least west of downtown, since the Energy Corridor, Greenway, Galleria, and most quickly growing suburbs are out west. So it is more comparable to Dallas perhaps.

At any rate, if you compare homes that are 30 miles from the core in Austin or Houston, perhaps you are correct - that Houston is a bit more affordable. But in Austin this comparison also often involves other things like better schools, homes with *real* lake views, and hills / forests that Houston cannot compete with. You get what you pay for - and doesn't have much to do with regulation IMHO.

 
At 12:00 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

Michael,

Your price comparisons are spurious. There is a difference between high prices from demand and high prices from restricted supply. The fact that the average home in NYC is approximately the same as the very suburban San Jose area would not be without zoning and land use regulations.

"But in Austin this comparison also often involves other things like better schools, homes with *real* lake views, and hills / forests that Houston cannot compete with. You get what you pay for"

Tulsa, Oklahoma is very hilly with lots of trees. The Arkansas river flows through the middle of it with several lakes nearby. I don't hear anyone gushing about living there, nor is it reflected in home prices.

Value is determined by supply and demand, not by some ethereal notions of value. If you restrict supply, prices will go up. It is an inescapable law of nature.

 
At 12:32 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Pantograph Trolleypole said...

"transit-oriented cities like Portland and San Jose." I'll spot you Portland, but San Jose is anything but Transit Oriented. That idea is planted by Randal O'Toole in his quest for a good bad place. I would recommend reading a book called Zoned Out. It talks about why San Jose is as bad as it is, and its not because of Transit Oriented Policies, but all the single family land use regulation that came before because of its initial status as a San Francisco bedroom community.

 
At 12:42 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Brian,

>>Your price comparisons are spurious. There is a difference between high prices from demand and high prices from restricted supply

Look at a heat map on Zillow for Austin TX versus Houston TX. There is plenty of light blue on both maps - indicating price per square foot of $100 or less. Also, towards the center of the city, there are more areas that approach $300 - $400 - $500 per square foot. If you want to live in Pflugerville, Round Rock, or Manor, nothing is preventing you. Just as nothing should stop you from living in Katy. But if you want to talk about living in central Austin versus central Houston - I will state it again - price per square foot is roughly the same in vast swaths of those areas. Again, by central Houston -I mean the downtown out to the inner Memorial area.

>>Value is determined by supply and demand, not by some ethereal notions of value.

What do you think demand is? Demand means people *WANT* something, unless it is inelastic, in which case they *NEED* it. I suppose you could debate about how elastic housing demand is, but to say that perceived "value" of a home does not figure heavily into the price is pretty ludicrous.

Which brings me back to "you get what you pay for".

Perhaps the people in SJC / Cali are just fine with zoning, because they know they are doing things like protecting the environment, ensuring proper construction, park lands, transportation alternatives, neighborhood quality, etc. This is called value-add. The prices are falling there - because prices were out of whack. But I would maintain that this particular problem was due more to giving $500k loans to burger-flippers at McDonald's which artificially drove up prices(ie flaws in the free market) by increasing speculative demand, versus zoning.

>>Tulsa, Oklahoma is very hilly with lots of trees. The Arkansas river flows through the middle of it with several lakes nearby. I don't hear anyone gushing about living there, nor is it reflected in home prices.

Well, I never said that trees and hills alone will make or break a city. Austin has a great high-tech industry, is a state capital, and has one of the largest universities in the world.

Tulsa may very well be a good value - maybe we will hear about it down the road. There are such things as hidden gems in a free market - I really don't know enough about Tulsa in particular to comment.

-Mike

 
At 12:57 PM, January 15, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

"But I would maintain that this particular problem was due more to giving $500k loans to burger-flippers at McDonald's which artificially drove up prices(ie flaws in the free market) by increasing speculative demand, versus zoning."

This is not a flaw in free market. The free market would have never generated a situation like this. Congress in all its wisdom forced banks to start providing subprime loans. The reason was that minorities would be disenfranchised because of using credit scores to regulate the mortgage industry. This started in the mid 80s. The reality is that the free market would have prevented the sub-prime mess (which is much of problem). The sub-prime issues is also mostly affecting banks than consumers. Only about 5% of all sub-prime loans are defaulting. It's really an insignificant number.

 
At 1:30 PM, January 15, 2008, Anonymous Neal said...

Pantograph,

You might want to visit these entries that Randal O'Toole made into his blog regarding his thoughts on San Jose and its transit system:

http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=166

http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=314

Tory,

The meeting regarding the Chapter 45 ordinance, I should repeat here, is not the end of the road regarding what will be in the final ordinance. Andy Icken made that clear at the outset. What I should emphasize that maybe I did not when I wrote what I wrote is that Andy Icken and the present Council members were also looking for input from the meeting, which is what they were getting from the developers when they were asking their questions. Some of those questions were quite imaginative.

What worries me is that, should the ordinance be pushed through on the time table in which it is to be tabled, then what we will have is, as you say, what may be a hastily written piece of legislation - and more of it is coming down the pipeline. If the Southampton folks are going to insist on this being pushed through, then I would think that several more weeks or months would be preferrable in order to think through the full ramifications of the ordinance change. As it is, the intent of the City Council is in fact to try to craft a change which would clip off such ambitious structures being built in residential areas. But to repeat, define what exactly is a "residential area".

What anyone who read my blog entry should realize (if they haven't already) is that the devil is, as always, in the details when it comes to crafting ordinances and legislation. That same issue is why, at heart, I am not a fan of large scale planning or zoning. Zoning is one of the greatest powers that a municipality can have at its disposal. Would be planners and zoners who believe in that are in effect trying to out do the marketplace, but the marketplace itself is always full of surprises and the winds of change swirl constantly. The fact that rezoning ends up being done over and over again bears testiment to this.

Neal

 
At 1:58 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

Michael,

My criticism of using city comparisons like Austin vs. Houston or Dallas vs. Houston is that we're trying to compare to infinite dimension matrices of laws, geography, education, etc... It's an impossible task. For every example you use I, or someone else on the blog, can find a counterexample.

To believe that zoning will lead to more efficient land use, means that you believe the government can allocate resources better than the free market. The dust bin of history is filled with arguments on the side of government.

If you do not believe in government, then you have to give creedance that zoning will lead to restricted supply of buildings which will drive up prices. Zoning is a hidden tax on new arrivals and renters. Renters are disproportionately poor, so zoning is a hidden tax on the poor.

Restricted supply in desireable areas will lead to gentrification in poorer areas. This will drive out the poor from the cheapest housing available.

Zoning is not curing any kind of negative exterality. The loss of return on investment because the city has failed to grant someone monopoly or oligopoly pricing power does not constitute a market failure.

"protecting the environment, ensuring proper construction, park lands"

How does zoning help any of these? Zoning does not build parks and it does not set proper construction methods.

"transportation alternatives"

Transportation alternatives require density. How can form zoning, which restricts the height and size of buildings possibly increase density? If we prevent high-rises and stop replacing single homes with condominiums, how can we get density?

Directing density into a handful of spots will curtail the overall demand for dense building forms. You can't put a restriction on choices and expect more demand.

The effects of zoning run contrary to other things that you support.

 
At 2:19 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Brian,

>>My criticism of using city comparisons like Austin vs. Houston or Dallas vs. Houston is that we're trying to compare to infinite dimension matrices of laws, geography, education, etc... It's an impossible task. For every example you use I, or someone else on the blog, can find a counterexample.

Agreed. We should stop, therefore, saying that zoning will (with wave of a magic wand) turn Houston into Austin, Dallas, San Francisco, or any other city.

>>Restricted supply in desireable areas will lead to gentrification in poorer areas.

Zoning does not necessarily entail a restriction of supply. It does entail a *definition* of supply. Saying that I support zoning does not mean I oppose high-rises, for instance. It just means I want to know where they are going to be placed.

>>"protecting the environment, ensuring proper construction, park lands"

>>How does zoning help any of these? Zoning does not build parks and it does not set proper construction methods.

Well, if you zone a land as park land, then it is park land. If your building regulations require construction of certain materials and quality standards, or what have you - then the quality and value of said building has been increased. Granted, perhaps this is moving into general regulation discussion as opposed to zoning - but my point is that such efforts are not necessarily a bad idea.

>>Directing density into a handful of spots will curtail the overall demand for dense building forms.

I don't believe that to be the case, obiously. Houston is over 600 square miles. I don't believe we will have a problem with demand for dense building forms, or allocating enough space to high density areas. I believe we already do have a problem with thoughtful allocation of where those developments should be.

>>Zoning is not curing any kind of negative exterality.

Sure it is. Ask the residents next to Ashby if they thought that a skyscraper would ever go in next door. "Well, they should have known" - you might say. Baloney. The free market assumes everyone is a genius, but the reality is nobody that bought in that area ever thought this would happen.

-Mike

 
At 2:28 PM, January 15, 2008, Anonymous Mike said...

"Dallas = weak core (the metro 'center-of-gravity' in terms of jobs and affluence as moved strongly to the northwest) + regs -> modest housing premium"

Have you been to Dallas lately? The core area is pretty strong. Most of the city's affluent seem to be zeroing in on the area between Mockingbird Lane and Downtown.

Austin's core prices are high because everyone wants to be as close as possible to Town Lake, Zilker Park, and the University. You could take away regulations and let the area turn into New Delhi, but then it wouldn't be the desirable place that people want. Just like you could let developers build all over Martha's Vineyard, but then it wouldn't be Martha's Vineyard.

Beautiful areas demand protection so that they can remain beautiful. Houston is comparable to Dallas in that neither has a highly scenic area, nor do they have geographical impediments like Austin's hills.

 
At 7:19 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

Here's my analysis of the economic effects of zoning and density.

Let's say that there are 250K people wanting to live in dense development throughout the Houston area. If all dense development is forced into one area, not all of those people will want to live in that one area. Perhaps there is demand for a condo tower on Lake Houston or with a view of Addicks Reservoir. This limitation reduces overall demand for density.

What are the effects on this area? Increased demand and oligopoly pricing power increases the price of property within this island of density. This means that dense development must charge higher rents under a zoned system than unzoned system. The higher prices further reduce the quantity of dense housing demanded.

Amongst those still wanting to live in this island of density, there will be a broad spectrum of density demanded. Some would prefer to live in townhomes, others in midrises, and still others in high rises. Form zoning, if it does not find the near perfect allocation of these three forms will leave some of these people out in the cold. Excess demand, that is excess profits, will be the signal to a free market that more of a particular product needs to be created. The zoning boards will not know this information without extraordinary effort. The form zoning will further reduce the quantity of dense development demanded.

If minimum standards of materials (for aesthetic reasons, not structural integrity) are required, this will raise the price of dense developments. These expenses will have to be passed on in the form of rents and sale price. This higher price will decrease the quantity of dense development demand.

Amongst those that still want to live in dense development, given all these restrictions, there will be those who still want to have a car that is very accessible. If zoning rules are created to limit parking garages and force walking and mass transit use, this will further weed out some of the demand for dense development.

In the end, you have less demand.

Your retort may be that a dense area will create it's own demand. If this were true than private developers would attempt to create a dense walkable environment to capture this virtuous circle of demand. Obviously, they already are. There are a number of proposed projects and some underway that are supplying this demand. This all without subsidy or zoning.

 
At 8:56 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Brian,

>>If all dense development is forced into one area

And why should we start with that assumption? Presumably, areas that already have high-rise development would be zoned as such. We already have plenty of these areas. And if not, you can still re-zone areas.

>>Form zoning, if it does not find the near perfect allocation of these three forms will leave some of these people out in the cold

I don't believe form zoning would mandate that, say, an area be all high-rises. It would permit them to be built up to a certain level of density. Then it is still up to the developer to figure out if such developments are profitable.

>>Amongst those that still want to live in dense development, given all these restrictions, there will be those who still want to have a car that is very accessible. If zoning rules are created to limit parking garages and force walking and mass transit use, this will further weed out some of the demand for dense development.

>>In the end, you have less demand.

And what about people who don't favor a car-based city, but a mass transit-based city? Then presumably you have "less demand" for Houston in its current form.

>>Your retort may be that a dense area will create it's own demand. If this were true than private developers would attempt to create a dense walkable environment to capture this virtuous circle of demand

Nope, sorry. Private developers can build a walkable island, but what people want is a city that makes sense - with development near major mass-transit corridors, etc. Private enterprise may be able to help in conjunction with government here - but Weekley homes isn't going to solve these types of issues on its own for a community as a whole.

Anyway, back to the main topic at hand - that developers and Lanier should somehow try to head off the calls for greater planning, zoning and regulation: I think your chances have already come and gone. We are going to see a wave of new restrictions and smart-growth incentives from the federal level on down starting with the next presidential administration (assuming its a Democrat victory). "Catastrophe" is what will happen if we don't make such changes.

-Mike

 
At 9:07 PM, January 15, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Brian,

>>>>Amongst those that still want to live in dense development, given all these restrictions, there will be those who still want to have a car that is very accessible. If zoning rules are created to limit parking garages and force walking and mass transit use, this will further weed out some of the demand for dense development.

Forgot to mention - having to pave over half of your city to support parking needs is not an effective use of land. I believe that leads to less supply of "useful" structures (ie housing, workplaces).

See:
http://www.planetizen.com/node/109

-Mike

 
At 12:36 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

"And why should we start with that assumption? Presumably, areas that already have high-rise development would be zoned as such. We already have plenty of these areas. And if not, you can still re-zone areas."

Sorry, a mistatement. If all high density development were forced into specified areas.

"I don't believe form zoning would mandate that, say, an area be all high-rises. It would permit them to be built up to a certain level of density. Then it is still up to the developer to figure out if such developments are profitable."

Yes, and if that certain level of density is less profitable than no limit it will slow development.

"And what about people who don't favor a car-based city, but a mass transit-based city? Then presumably you have "less demand" for Houston in its current form."

Even with draconian planning changes and billions in subsidies it would still take several decades before Houston can become a mass transit-based city. I also find it hard to believe that Houston is not in high demand already. Maybe not amongst the sliver that you prefer, but in general it is in high demand.

Let me make it clear: I am in favor of density. I am anti-sprawl. I believe that "free"ways subsidize suburban growth. I believe setback rules and parking rules have contributed to sprawl and are economically inefficient. I am in favor of any transportation mechanism that can pay for itself. From the evidence that I have seen, for Houston 2008, that is tollroads.

I believe that the free market, without distortions, favors a more dense Houston. Density will happen faster when developers are given the maximum choices. When this density reaches a point that mass transit can pay for itself (not in some hypothetical 50 year plan) I will support it. Zoning will only slow down this trend and distort growth away from density.

 
At 12:46 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Brian,

>>I am in favor of any transportation mechanism that can pay for itself.

>>When this density reaches a point that mass transit can pay for itself (not in some hypothetical 50 year plan)

Well, that's where you and I fundamentally disagree. You believe that the free market solves all problems, and nothing should be paid for by government - including in cases where the government system is fine or capable of being fixed - such as highways / public schools. You also do not believe that any institution should be charged with looking beyond a narrow 5-10 year window to make the plans that make the most sense for our region and our nation.

I believe putting all of your eggs in the "free market" basket like this is incredibly dangerous. It also fundamentally does not work. If we sign the Kyoto treaty (which I believe we will), then how can you justify "toll roads" as something that will make sense in that system?

Or, since your window into the future is so short-sighted, perhaps I have to ask again after the Kyoto treaty has been signed. This is what I dislike about conservatives - happy to look at the present, or the past, maybe even 1 year into the future, but attempting to look at the future beyond that is supposed to be off limits. I just don't get it.

-Mike

 
At 4:06 PM, January 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If we sign the Kyoto treaty (which I believe we will), then how can you justify "toll roads" as something that will make sense in that system?"


Raise the tolls to cut the pollution coming from the toll road.

 
At 4:30 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

As I always say, the personal vehicle is here to stay (using those toll roads) - it's the propulsion technology that's subject to change. Hybrids, plug-ins, European micro-cars, diesels, ethanol, whatever. Stanford researchers just found a 10x improvement in lithium-ion batteries. If it can be mass manufactured, plug-in hybrids are coming that will get through a typical commuting-day using no gasoline at all.

 
At 4:40 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

>>As I always say, the personal vehicle is here to stay (using those toll roads) - it's the propulsion technology that's subject to change. Hybrids, plug-ins, European micro-cars, diesels, ethanol, whatever. Stanford researchers just found a 10x improvement in lithium-ion batteries. If it can be mass manufactured, plug-in hybrids are coming that will get through a typical commuting-day using no gasoline at all.

I disagree on the toll roads - that might help in the 20% case - transit for rich people - but I am talking about the 80% case - which is transit for the rest of us.

I can agree that some form of personal vehicle is here to stay - whether that is bike, car, personal rapid transit systems, or walking is up for debate. The first personal rapid transit system opens at Heathrow later this year.

Also, a natural (ie "free market") transition to non-gasoline transit could take 50+ years, which is time we simply do not have.

-Mike

 
At 4:51 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> I disagree on the toll roads - that might help in the 20% case - transit for rich people - but I am talking about the 80% case - which is transit for the rest of us.

The cost premium will not be that much (cars maybe 10-20% more expensive), and it will be quickly made up by the cheaper cost of electricity vs. gasoline per mile.

> Also, a natural (ie "free market") transition to non-gasoline transit could take 50+ years, which is time we simply do not have.

If, as it looks, we use market mechanisms to price carbon (whether a tax or cap-and-trade), the market will solve it plenty fast.

 
At 4:59 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>If, as it looks, we use market mechanisms to price carbon (whether a tax or cap-and-trade), the market will solve it plenty fast.

The solution to the problem is affordable, clean, mass-transit (or personal transit), from clean energy sources. Not new taxes on carbon. Again, this is an idea that may solve for 20%, where I am talking about ideas that solve for the poor and middle class as well. Which means taking money from the public to build transit systems. Period. And zoning and TOD to use land more efficiently. Period.

I'm sorry that the environment has got your ideology in a pickle, but these problems are going to be tough to solve, and involve much more government intervention than you would probably like.

 
At 5:32 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Even the Democrats acknowledge a market-based mechanism is the best way to approach carbon reduction - not top-down dictates on how people should live. Once that's in place, if the price signals it creates drives people to live closer to work or take transit, so be it. In most cities, including Houston, the transit network is there if people choose to live near it and use it. And developers are perfectly happy to build high-density TOD if there's demand for it. If the high-frequency buses start to become overloaded, then upgrading to higher-capacity rail may make sense in some cases. Government should respond to the needs and demands of citizens, not dictate their lifestyle choices.

 
At 5:48 PM, January 16, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

"Also, a natural (ie "free market") transition to non-gasoline transit could take 50+ years, WHICH IS TIME WE DO NOT HAVE."

(caps added for emphasis, not part of original quote)

I little alarmist? We've been told since the mid 70s that we don't have much time. By the 90s the oceans were supposed to be destroyed by many environmentalist accounts. By 2000 the global temps supposed to be enough to many degrees higher than they actually were. The IPCC (a group that i don't give much credibility) has continually revised there forecast lowering the temperature rise they originally predicted. Many scientist are predicting now "global warming" as a cause will die by 2015 because the global temp recording are expected to go down as part of the typical cycle (and it's already beginning.

Also, Tory, Cap and Trade and Carbon Taxing is not "free market." It's an artificial market created for a false problem. Any intervention by government in any market is technically meddling in free markets.

Back to the original topic. To many projects are going up currently under current regulations that are creating the urban style densities that some people want.

Examples:

*Post Midtown (one of the older ones)
*Sonoma (under construction in the village)
*West Ave (under construction in Upper Kirby)
*TIRZ #5 (The Archstone Memorial Heights Apts are going to be torn down and rebuilt into a mix-use complex with commercial fronting Studemont, Washington, and Heights)
*Regent Square (the massive Allen House Apts are being torn down in phases for a massive mix-use project with existing city streets passing through it.

Just drive along Washington Ave and look at the new densities. This is exactly what urban planners wanted along main street. Washington gets it because land is cheaper and vehicular capacity has not been diminished.

Richmond Ave from Weslayan to Montrose. Several Apt complexes and commercial ventures are under construction and will all be well within walking distances of a METRO rail station.

The point is: Our current regs are doing a great job of encouraging denser development. If you don't like the fact the Midtown (a logical urban planner location for this style development) isn't development, then complain to the land owner that their price per square foot is too high. There is plenty of land no in midtown that is cheaper and ripe for redevelopment that are existing aging apt complexes. Dense spots get denser.

As for Ashby, Mayor White is turning into a hypocrite by using the traffic as a reason to stop the project. The neighborhood i live in (Cottage Grove) is constantly having a 40s cottage being turned until 6-8 townhomes. That is 1-2 cars going up to 6-16 cars. And this has happened at least 20 times over and all this increased traffic is occurring on small two lane streets with no side street parking available with roadside ditches. To me this makes Ashby looking like much less of a problem.

Also, no property is a sure bet. All property purchase has risk. The only reason Ashby created a furor is because the people it affected are large political donors with connections to city hall. Everyone of their objections have been voice by many in many gentrifying neighborhoods across the city, but it always falls on deaf ears. Why do we bend over backwards now?

I hope Ashby gets built. It's not a problem. I didn't see River Oaks complain over there two high rises (Huntingdon and another one located closer to Uptown on San Felipe).

 
At 6:32 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>Even the Democrats acknowledge a market-based mechanism is the best way to approach carbon reduction - not top-down dictates on how people should live. Once that's in place, if the price signals it creates drives people to live closer to work or take transit, so be it.

And what is a carbon tax then? That sounds like fuel taxes. Which, basically gets me what I want - which is government taxes encouraging people to develop / live more efficiently - with revenues going towards rail projects and TOD. If government taxes are a "free market" solution, then I am really lost now, boy!

-Mike

 
At 8:59 PM, January 16, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

This is setting aside the argument of climate change and what to do about it. A free market solution simply means, if there is a goal (like reduction of carbon), create a pricing mechanism that reaches that goal, and then let the market decide how to go about it. The market will naturally find the cheapest and easiest carbon to stop emitting. That might involve shifting from cars to transit, and it might not (I think it will lead to changes to cars and their propulsion systems myself). Let the market decide, rather than government fiats like banning suburban, road, and freeway development and forcing people to live in density next to transit.

 
At 7:34 AM, January 17, 2008, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

KJB434,

"Also, Tory, Cap and Trade and Carbon Taxing is not "free market." It's an artificial market created for a false problem. Any intervention by government in any market is technically meddling in free markets."

This is not completely correct. A free market is predicated by property rights and enforcement of contracts, which requires government, unless you subscribe to the anarcho-capitalism belief systems.

I am interested in what kind of mechanism you propose to determine compensation for the ill effects of pollution (argument over whether carbon emissions are actually a problem aside).

 
At 9:43 AM, January 17, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>A free market solution simply means, if there is a goal (like reduction of carbon), create a pricing mechanism that reaches that goal, and then let the market decide how to go about it.

Who creates the goal, and who creates the pricing mechanism? If the answer is "government" in both cases, then I would say we are basically in agreement on the types of changes that are going to occur.

-Mike

 
At 10:20 AM, January 17, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Also see:

http://www.planetizen.com/node/29309

I believe efforts like the following are basically pro smart-growth. Europe has grown very differently than us because they already have solved for market-failures in their price of gasoline, price of individual auto transport (ie congestion pricing), etc.

"Home
Nation's Aging Infrastructure 'No Longer Acceptable'
United States Infrastructure
Posted by: Michael Dudley

Under the recommendation, the current tax of 18.4 cents per gallon for unleaded gasoline would be increased annually for five years - by anywhere from 5 cents to 8 cents each year - and then indexed to inflation afterward to help fix the infrastructure, expand public transit and highways as well as broaden railway and rural access, according to persons with direct knowledge of the report, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the report is not yet public."

The gas tax has not been increased since 1993, and recent efforts by Congress to raise it have faltered over the objections of the Bush administration. The tax increase being proposed is designed to take effect in 2009, after President Bush leaves office."

 

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