Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"New Ruralism" and other misc items

Another collection of small miscellaneous items:

"The idea is a corporate reinvention of new urbanism, an antisprawl movement that advocates compact, old-fashioned towns where residents can commune in parks, shops and restaurants within walking distance of their homes. Instead of connecting with neighbors, new ruralism promotes connecting with the land - though these cabins in the woods come with wireless Internet access and porches with screens that unfurl by remote control.
The target market is people 42 to 60 who, tired of coastal hurricane threats or the beach scene in general, want something more like Walden Pond or Walton's Mountain. Most are expected to use these ranches, camps and farms as second homes, though a surprising number of prospective buyers want full-time rusticity, St. Joe executives said."

It mentions the problem of making mosquito swamps attractive to landowners. If they're successful, they definitely need to bring the concept to southeast Texas...

  • The Houston Business Journal has an article on Houston's strong housing market:

"All listing categories combined, Houston's overall housing market in July experienced increases across-the-board including total property sales, average sales prices, median sales price, available inventory, pending sales -- those listings expected to close within the next 30 days -- and overall total dollar volume on a year-over-year basis. ...

Houston's current median price of $145,500 is 33.4 percent less than the national median price, which reached $218,600 in June, according to statistics released by the National Association of Realtors. "

  • An interesting piece on downtown Vancouver, which seems to have the opposite problem from Houston: way too many high-rise residential buildings and no office development, leading to downtown residents actually reverse-commuting on the rail lines to suburban job centers. One of the causes is a tax code that is tilted too heavily against commercial uses to keep taxes low on residents. Again, a problem very difficult to go back from, because residents are pretty happy with their low tax rates and aren't eager to increase them to lure more jobs. Lesson: tax policies can have unintended consequences.
  • This guy needs to take a deep breath and relax. He rants like a madman about bland big box stores taking over the world, but he does inadvertantly highlight a nice feature of Houston: our lack of zoning and development regulation gives us a much more eclectic city. We're no tightly-controlled "Disney 'Burb" filled only with "safe" big-name stores and restaurants. It may not always be pretty, but it's nice to know that small business entrepreneurialism is alive and well in Houston, esp. among immigrants.


At 9:14 PM, August 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in seeing how Houston stacks up v. other cities in terms of % of businesses that are owner-operator "mom and pop" type shops.

At 6:37 AM, August 25, 2005, Blogger John Whiteside said...

Well, if Mark Morford took a deep breath and relaxed, he wouldn't be Mark Morford any more! It's his schtick and he's reasonably good at it - sometimes entertaining, sometimes not.

At 8:18 AM, August 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a bit of a common thread in these articles. The "new ruralism" and downtown Vancouver condo craze stories highlight a search for a "sense of place," the Mark Morford column underscores (in ranting fashion) the "there's no there there" feel of many of our cities and suburbs that drives that quest for a sense of place, and the Houston Business Journal reports home sales like a commodity, with the reality being that we're most likely getting more of the "there's no there there"...

At 9:26 AM, August 25, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think a "sense of place" is only a real priority for a small percentage of the population, usually educated and well-off. They've achieved their education and material goals and looking for something higher (think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs).

A larger majority is focused on economic opportunity for them and their families (along with material attainments), and big box stores give them more selection at lower prices. This is the sucess of Wal-Mart in a nutshell.

That said, over time as the country gets wealthier, a sense of place will become more important for more and more people, and areas with differentiated character will grow in popularity. I personally don't think that's incompatible with big box stores, but different people have different aesthetic needs. I just wish "placemakers" would be more considerate of the not-so-well-off in their community when making these types of decisions.

At 9:46 AM, August 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I view this in the spirit of Jim Collins' quote in Built to Last -

"the genius of the 'and' vs. the tyranny of the 'or'".

I don't see the issues that you raised as being mutually exclusive. There doesn't have to be a trade-off between "sense of place" and the availability of economic opportunities and low-cost goods and services. What we have here (he says intoning General Buck Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove) is a "design gap"!

At 6:02 PM, August 25, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. The most elegant solution would be to offer a 'sense of place' at an affordable rate. Not many cities can pull it off. But Houston could (and probably will) be one of them.


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