More on the Houston ULI panelContinuing from my last post on the CHF-ULI panel on Houston's future, I'd like to cover some more details from the presentation. I'm going to avoid repeating a lot of the detail in their Powerpoint presentation, such as how the visioning process should work and their other specific recommendations - feel free to review it yourself. You can also read the Chronicle article here.
One of the things they verbalized but did not put in the PowerPoint was our list of strengths and needs. Not a lot of surprises here, but good lists nonetheless.
- Lack of zoning constraints and a robust development market
- Strong industry clusters
- Rapidly achieving critical mass/size to become a global city
- Can-do, entrepreneurial, optimistic spirit
- Feeling that growth is good (often not the case in major cities)
- Array of cooperative regional efforts (GHP, H-GAC, CHF, etc.)
- Growing jobs and tax base
- Multi-centered region
- Strong leadership
- Youthful workforce
- Great arts district
- Geographic gateway to global markets
- People are moving into the core of the city
- Keeping the center core strong; not becoming a "doughnut city" with all growth on the edge and a hollowing core (I've argued before that our extensive investment in freeways has been critical here, since jobs stay in the core only as long as their suburban employees can get to them with a reasonable commute)
- More coordination and communication
- Long-term regional action plan
- More progress on flooding, long commutes, waste water management, and air quality
- Environmental sustainability (protect flood plains, bayous, habitats)
- Rebranding (probably around "opportunity")
- More inclusive decision making
- More development predictability, guidelines, and stability
- More workforce development/education (a priority Joel Kotkin and I identified in our Opportunity Urbanism report)
- More downtown housing (<10%>
They put a lot of emphasis on a long-term visioning process. Having been through that process with Blueprint Houston, I'm less enthused. It's fun to "envision utopia," but I don't think it necessarily helps us get there all that much. If we could plan our way to utopia, you'd think we'd see more utopian cities in the world - but I don't see too many. Visioning doesn't get into the hard tradeoffs. That's what markets do, as well as the political process. Both citizens and politicians have to make tough decisions on where to prioritize their resources (police? schools? transportation? parks?).
The other trap visioning processes tend to fall in are a godlike narcissism, not unlike the video game SimCity. "Yes, I'll make all newcomers live in high-rise apartments downtown, and turn all of the Houston periphery into a giant nature preserve." Uh-huh. At least in the video game, you can get negative feedback on your decisions from the "citizens." Not so much with maps, markers, and stickers.
A few criticisms aside, I was impressed overall with the group and most of their insights and recommendations, and I hope their report gets some traction among the key players in our region.
Update: Neal Meyer weighs in.