What motivates sprawl?
Cort McMurry at Houstonia gives a bit of a confusing shout out to myself and Opportunity Urbanism
(a followup to his previous piece
I linked to last week
). Confusing, because it seems like it's not in a good way at first, but then we don't seem to fundamentally disagree on too much.
"There is a wide difference of opinion on whether our messiness is a good thing. Some of us find it distressing. Tory Gattis and the other evangelists of “Opportunity Urbanism” disagree, painting Houston as a sort of libertarian paradise, a place where fully actualized men and woman can work out their destinies through grit, brains, and good ol’ trial and error. Master plan? We don’t need no stinking master plan.
Surveys indicate that the majority of Houstonians are quite content to live in this Sue Ellen Mischke of metropolises: we love “the whole free-swinging, freewheeling attitude” of the place..."
I think his core issue is that he believes too many people give up the hard work of living in the messy and diverse urban core (in many cases out of imagined fears) and opt out for the easy life in the sprawling suburbs, and in the process they become detached from Houston and being a Houstonian. My comments:
A key theme of Opportunity Urbanism is letting the market (i.e. people) decide how they want to live - whether suburban or urban - not govt telling them how they should live. Houston is thriving with both the fringe and the core. The densification going on inside the loop is simply incredible, and not happening in most cities in the country because their zoning doesn't allow it. I myself love living in a dense, walkable part of Midtown. Let the city have a wide variety of neighborhoods that appeal to everybody's different preferences - don't try to force a "one right way". The key to our long-term vitality will be keeping employers in the core instead of them fleeing to the outer burbs, as they have in Dallas, LA, and others - and our core is so vibrant and appealing to young people, I think we've got a good shot at that as long as we have good express bus HOV/HOT lane transit from the far suburbs.
I'm always amused a bit at the predictions that Houston will sprawl halfway to Dallas. Fun fact that might blow your mind: at our current density (3,662/sq.mile), we could hold the population of the NYC metro (20m, 3x what we currently have) in a circle only 41 miles in radius - basically downtown to Conroe. Not really that far when you think about it... and it means the Grand Parkway is likely to be the last loop we ever need (famous last words, I know).
I do wish the Exxon project were closer in, but I still think we're more unified than most metros our size - most of us still think of ourselves as "Houstonians", not our various suburbs. More on this here.
I worry somewhat about the Balkanization too - it's happening in every city in America. I don't think it's unique to Houston. School quality is a big driver. There is much more emphasis on edu quality in the 21st century than what you describe decades ago. I don't know what the solution is. Possibly vouchers, which would open up more quality school options in the urban core.
Anyway, check out the piece and its comments
, and I'd love to hear your own thoughts in my comments here...
Labels: density, opportunity urbanism, perspectives, sprawl