Planning's biggest problem, Houston's growing popularity, and moreA followup to my post from a couple weeks ago opposing comprehensive planning: My biggest problem with comprehensive planning (among several) is that, in theory, it's a balanced and enlightened approach that works out appropriate density by neighborhood and that the infrastructure can support, but what seems to happen in reality in cities all over the country is that it becomes a cudgel for NIMBYs to oppose any and all development. All comprehensive planning includes extensive public input. Ultimately, it changes land use from a market process to a political process (the bosses of the planners), and politicians will always respond to vocal neighborhoods. And the neighborhoods get more vocal the more they realize they can kill anything they don't like, especially any density. Far from leading to vibrancy, it leads to stagnation.
People inherently fear change, especially in their neighborhoods. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that if you took the central Houston of today, which most people acknowledge has evolved to be wonderfully more dense and vibrant over the last couple of decades, and took it back in time to the 1980s to be the "official comprehensive plan", the residents of the time would have come out in mass protest to kill it. Ironic.
For an example of the chaos and bitter conflict that can come out of comprehensive planning, check out this month's Texas Monthly story on El Paso's plan.
- DART and USDoT are experimenting with an integrated corridor concept in Dallas. Something Houston Transtar should be keeping a close eye on and trying out ourselves. Hat tip to Neil.
"The program works like this: real-time data pertaining to state-owned freeways, city-owned arterials and public transportation systems is gathered and entered into a centralized computer system. This information could drive one of hundreds of diversion strategies designed to keep travelers moving in the event of an incident or congestion."
- British Airway's High Life magazine profile of Houston. I really like the creative writing which goes beyond the typical regurgitation of the usual sights, with clever lines like "Houston is to be approached with caution, and respected on impact." My favorite excerpts:
Houston's profoundly non-Texan Texas is startling. It gets so acute I kind of miss my more caricatured movie-Texas — where Jeff Bridges pulls up his huge-buckled jeans in The Last Picture Show — and start to feel a little cheated, although tell any Houstonian this and they give you a look of triumph: they like to be different.
Houston has just been placed by forbes.com at the top of the list of cool places to live. Houston is unique in the United States. It's the only city with no ethnic majority, just an even spread of large populations from Nigeria, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, India and so many others that 83 languages are regularly being spoken in Houston's schools. Where first-time buyers might have thought of California as a clement place to settle and prosper, three years ago they started moving to Houston, drawn to the sun, cheap housing and new jobs in clean energy (the convention centre here is run entirely by wind), all of which started a shift in the city's decades-long reputation as the middle-aged hub of oil and pharmaceutical (huh???) companies. The average age of a Houstonian is now just 34. And yet, it's a very nascent scene. Seven eighths of the people living in Houston don't know it's cool. In fact most people will keep flooring it along Highway 59 arguing the opposite — and it's easy to see why. ...
Why are people moving here? He looks at me: 'Why Houston? It's relaxing, it's warm, it has that Southern feel, it's not Dallas, it's cheaper than Austin, it's....' ...
I ask him if he thinks Austin is cooler. 'Depends on what you mean by cool,' he says, witheringly, 'but I guess it's definitely hip.'
- Quote from the German director of the new movie at Sundance, "Houston":
"I like Houston very much; it’s very different from Austin where I live part-time. It’s crazy in a way, but I liked that Houston has so much art and no zoning. Houston looks different from other cities. It’s very visual. I loved shooting there and could take pictures all day."
- Megabus' popularity - and route network - continues to grow. If you're curious what it's like, check out my trip report. Hopefully they're more reliable for you than they were for me.
- Joel Kotkin on How the South will rise to power again. Reading the article, it's clear the economic power and growth is already there - it's just the political power at the federal level that needs to follow. Lots of mention of Texas and Houston in here.
- We’re getting bigger in Texas: Houston ranked No. 2 on Forbes’ list of America’s Fastest Growing Cities
- Houston among five Texas markets on 'Best Cities for Job Seekers' list