Keep Houston Houston
It's late tonight, and I've been wanting to pass this
along for a while: a really insightful little blog post on what makes Houston great
, and a proposal for a new slogan: Keep Houston Houston
. Great stuff. Enjoy:
At any rate, we’ve all seen “keep Austin weird” and many of us are also aware of “keep Georgetown normal” and countless other variants. Houston has a unique quality all its own which I happen to prefer, but what to call it? What is that uniqueness about Houston that we all know but don’t put into words? It’s not weird. It’s not the money; yeah, we’ve got Bentleys and Lambos here, but we’re a lot more laid back about it then people in LA or the Big D. So what is it? Kotkin would tell us that it’s a low cost of living coupled with a pro-business environment and no zoning code which enables an unmatched upward mobility that mints millionaires daily and gives the poor a decent shot at attaining a comfortable middle-class existence. Which is great from an economic standpoint, but how does that explain the giant armadillo?
Houston is a special place, a dynamic place, a vibrant place, boisterous, unrestrained, “hustle town,” a city where fortunes are made and lost in a day. And it’s worth keeping it that way. We need an activist slogan that fits on a bumper sticker, something that you can slap on your Mitsubishi alongside “give peace a chance” or “gun control means using both hands” or “just say no to sex with pro-lifers.” Something that connotes that Houston is unique and it’s worth preserving that uniqueness.
...let’s keep Houston like Houston. Because there’s a lot of changes happening in this city right now, a lot of really *good* changes. Attractive architecture, interesting development projects, massive infrastructure improvements covering everything from twenty-lane freeways to complex light rail networks. And there’s a lot of good changes to push for, like preserving our most historic buildings, adding and improving the park system, increasing roadway capacity, building a coherent network of bike trails, expanding the capacity of the freight rail network, and installing a train between Galveston and College Station. But in the debates over adding these things, it’s all too easy to frame the current state of things in a negative light, as if Houston isn’t already a positive place. For those who love the city this is an annoyance, but it is also a danger; for if we get too into trashing Houston, we could very easily forget all the benefits we enjoy.
The fact is, this place is quite livable even without a commuter rail system or an un-gridlocked 290. Adding those things will make it better, and will “fix” problems in a very narrowly-defined sense, but they won’t “fix” the city, because the city is already just fine. Houston is awesome. And it’s important to ask, whenever we start talking about making changes: “will this make Houston more like Houston? Or will this outcome move Houston towards a second-rate Dallas or a third-rate Portland or a fifth-rate New York?” You can’t really argue with infrastructure improvements, but some of the other changes up in the air - like the push from the architects who want to try out their new “form-based codes” on cities un-marred by traditional land-use zoning - could seriously hamper Houston’s ability to become even more like Houston. And for those of us who love such un-PC pursuits as getting fat off cheap mexican food, driving fuel inefficient cars, or just building a sleek ultramodern house on a street full of cloyingly-cute arts and crafts bungalows, this is a dire possibility, because there aren’t a lot of places left for us to go. So, by any means necessary, let’s keep Houston Houston. And when someone who’s selling us a “good” idea starts trashing the city in which we live, let’s take a long step back and look at that person’s motivations and the effect of their ideas on the aspects of this city which we all enjoy today.
Labels: affordability, identity, infrastructure, land-use regulation, perspectives, zoning