Mayor gets it right on planning, thoughts on the new Houston Area Survey, petition to save the Astrodome, and moreFirst, let me express my support for Mayor Parker and her approach to a general plan for Houston. She is right to focus it on coordinated planning and infrastructure rather than land-use or zoning, and also right to be skeptical of New Urbanism and Smart Growth, which have some laudable ideals, but always seem to end up on a slippery slope to "we need a government bureaucracy to tell every land owner in the city what they can and can't build." Incremental reforms are absolutely the right way to go. Houston's growth model is working better than anywhere in the country - it just needs continuous refinements, not an overhaul. A most definite case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And it's always worth remembering that everything is a tradeoff - you can't plan or regulate your way to utopia.
I'm sure everyone also saw the new Rice Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey results last week (also here). I'm certainly happy to see the increase in tolerance, but also want to point out that wording definitely affects responses, and people’s stated preferences on simple choice surveys are often very different from what they actually do when there are real world tradeoffs, especially when it comes to things like housing choice and transit usage. When people say they support transit vs. freeways, what they're usually really saying is either (a) "if there was a great direct route from where I live to where I work that's cheaper and faster and on the exact schedule I need, I'll take it" (very rarely the case) or, (b) "yes, please get everybody else riding transit so my driving commute will be faster." The answer to the highest-priority traffic concern, as I always tout here, is a more complete network of HOT lanes with express bus services from every neighborhood to every major job center (Houston has at least a half-dozen big enough to support such service). It is far less expensive than rail, faster (65mph w/o stops), and can circulate within a job center to get people closer to their building and keep them out of Houston's nasty weather (heat or rain). The urban planning community is touting inner core densification as the answer, and Houston is actually doing more of it than anybody else out there. The apartment, condo tower, and townhouse boom is absolutely incredible inside the loop. No other city comes close to our inner core building permit numbers, so I think we're effectively addressing that part of the puzzle. Now we just need the multi-centric express bus lane network...
Wrapping up with a few smaller items:
- The Wall Street Journal on the renaissance in downtown San Antonio.
- Some great maps of domestic, international, and net migration to and from U.S. cities which shows how strong Houston and the rest of Texas is with a good mix of both types.
- A pretty cool animated map of the U.S. population over its history.