Friday, April 01, 2005

Houston embraces "New Weather Urbanism"

Today, Houston’s mayor Bill White officially announced a novel program to embrace “New Weather Urbanism” as a model for Houston. “For too long, we’ve allowed uncontrolled sprawling temperatures to dictate how we live. No more. From now on, we will be actively encouraging a more compact range of temperatures for our city – ideally between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “And the afternoon thunderstorms? We’re definitely going to reign those in.”

Houston’s current weather pattern of heat, humidity, and rainstorms was described as “car-centric” and “anti-pedestrian”. “Our current weather has made the car’s combination of air conditioning, roof, and wipers far too compelling. It’s time to stop adapting to the weatherman, and make the weatherman adapt to what we want,” said the mayor, touting Houston’s unique approach of taking weathermen to task rather than developers.

“Have you ever tried to walk a quarter-mile in a business suit to a transit stop when it’s 99 degrees and 99% humidity? You’d stay drier riding one of those water-drenching rides at Astroworld,” said one local commuter, who believes the new approach to weather should substantially improve walkability and street life in local neighborhoods.

One reason given for the program was a perceived need for more open space. As people run from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office building, the feeling of constant enclosure is pervasive. “The Houston region actually has plenty of open space, but now we’ll get to actually enjoy it year-round,” said the mayor.

Heat-induced sweating was also identified as a major problem for the temporary tattoos of the hipster “creative class” that cities like Houston so desperately wish to attract and retain. “It’s, like, totally uncool dude,” said twenty-something Dirk Duany as he wiped the sweat from his brow once again while baking in the heat of a quaint sidewalk café (Houston has tried to achieve the same ambience with “tunnel cafés” in the downtown tunnel system, but they’ve never had quite the same panache as a Paris street café.)

In general, the new program is looking to increase the overall density of good weather days vs. bad weather days. New York’s “bitter cold” urbanism was compared to Portland’s “constant drizzle” model and San Diego’s “always perfect” approach. After much heated debate, San Diego’s “always perfect” approach won out. The new weather will definitely take some getting used to. “Houstonians have a very ingrained habit of keeping an eye on weather reports. San Diego’s unconcerned blasé attitude will take some time to develop,” said Frank Michel, the mayor’s spokesman.

Houston is the largest city in America without zoning, and they don’t plan to use it in this program. Instead, “form-based weather design guidelines” will be set, allowing for some flexibility. “Sunny, partly cloudy, overcast, even a gentle rain shower from time to time – all will be acceptable within the city limits – but extremes of heat, cold, and rain will not be tolerated,” said Guy Hagstette, Mayor Bill White’s special assistant for urban design.

Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix are all watching the innovative program very closely, hoping to adapt it to their cities if it succeeds in Houston.

"I don't know why they didn't do this earlier. It seems so obvious in retrospect," said one citizen at the event, "You always hear people complain about the weather, but someone is finally actually doing something about it..."

(Hope you enjoyed this year’s April Foolery on Houston Strategies. You can find the serious stuff here.)


At 8:38 AM, April 01, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to be outdone, The Woodlands Town Center has created a MUD - a mountain utility district - and will soon have a snow-capped mountain, complete with skiing, snowboarding, chalets, a broad array of alpine creatures, and plenty of parking for snowmobiles. Meanwhile, developers in Cinco Ranch are experimenting with new technology that allows individual choice in climate, freeing each person to pursue their own preferred climate without intervention from the government.

Architectural commentator Kole Jotkin remarked, "This shows once again that the climate provided by suburbs such as those in greater Houston is far superior to the climate in cities. City climate apologists should pack up their sunglasses and move. The suburbs have won the climate game."


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