More on the land-use forumOK, I've finally got some time to pass along some of my notes and thoughts on the Tuesday night land-use forum. I already covered my introduction speech in the previous post. Unfortunately, the Powerpoint presentations do not seem to be posted yet, but should show up at some point here and/or here. The Houston Politics blog at the Chronicle had some coverage here and here.
- Titled his talk "Have our cake and eat it too," meaning we can have both new development and neighborhood protection.
- Not for zoning, but for "stakeholder-based negotiated planning" and "sector and corridor form-based plans"
- 2/3 of all the built environment in 2030 will be built between now and then (including replacements of existing structures). By 2040, 600K new housing units built inside the city of Houston (not metro), totaling around $500B.
- Moving towards 75% of our adulthood without children. 88% of growth in households will be without children. This shifts the attractiveness from suburban to urban environments.
- He thinks the solution is to redevelop arterial shopping centers with large parking lots into 4-5 story mixed-use developments - still with plenty of parking spread among streets, garages, and underground.
- In Q&A, he noted that most of the suburban cities around Atlanta essentially ban attached structures (apts, condos, townhomes, etc.), which is very exclusionary. Good that we don't.
- Also in the Q&A, he was asked if the free market was building density anyway, why was a form-based code necessary? Answer: to make it compatible with the neighborhood.
- Basically devastated smart growth approaches, which predicted price decreases because of lower projected infrastructure costs, but have actually created spectacular price increases and unaffordability everywhere it's been applied.
- Showed that the American Dream of suburban homeownership is actually a global aspiration, including all over Europe and Asia.
- Showed a high correlation between high land-use regulation and low job growth.
- A person can save $1 to $1.5 million moving from CA to Houston (house price plus financing costs). I've certainly seen many more CA license plates lately.
- Transit is downtown-centric, which is now <10%>
- Notes all the unsubsidized density being built by the market in Houston, vs. the large subsidies required to get density built in Portland.
- Advocates responsive instead of prescriptive planning. Let the market choose how it wants to live, don't force it.
- In Q&A, he said that planning/regs like DFW and Atlanta would have an unpredictable impact on the dynamic environment in Houston, including the potential of much more unaffordability than has been created in either of those metros (something I've also argued before on this blog).
- Does not advocate zoning or growth boundaries, but believes we do need a plan.
- Carbon and climate change argument for reducing driving. As I've said before, I think the personal vehicle is here to stay, regardless of what energy technology it runs on. And I think that technology will evolve much faster than we could ever rework our cities into dense, transit-focused ones. Plug-in hybrids that use almost no gas are already on their way.
- He disputes that Houston was built around the car. He is technically correct about the very core of the city built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But the vast bulk of the city, built since WW2, was definitely built around the car.
- Notes that we do have plenty of regulations already, especially Chapter 42 that divides the city into urban (inside the loop) and suburban (outside 610), and that many of these regs don't make much sense these days. We need to allow the choice of dense living without requiring variances. Agreed.
- Showed a map with 55 transit-oriented neighborhoods around the light rail stops.
- Pointed out that our strong mayor is essentially the "chief planner" for the city as it currently stands.
- Pointed out that our infrastructure, including highways, is some of the most fully utilized in the state (i.e. operating closer to capacity).
- Transit usage in Houston has been flat for decades, stuck at around 5% of commuter trips and 1% of all trips. He believes many people have unrealistic expectations of it growing much beyond that.
- Warned against planning out too far, beyond our knowledge of how markets and preferences will shift. He said if you compare the old zoning plans that voters rejected way back with the city today, you'd laugh at how far off those plans were.
- Equated "real quality-of-life" with the basics he worked on like police to reduce crime and basic infrastructure like sidewalks ("neighborhoods to standard" program).
- Government can't effectively tell people what to develop. Government planners are not creative or innovative - a "no mistakes" mentality. Free market = affordability.
- Believes Ashby is a negative outlier in the free market, but that there would be just as many - if not more - issues and problems under a centrally controlled system.
- Believes people are pushing "backdoor zoning" right now, and he is opposed to the "horrible" traffic and curb cut ordinances.
- "People like sprawl."
Update: David's post, including links to two of the presentations. He doesn't like my characterization. I'll admit I just took notes on the points that jumped out at me over 2 hours, so they're certainly not comprehensive - but I tried to be as fair and accurate as possible in my recollections.