Thursday, April 26, 2007

Randal O'Toole on Houston

Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute and the Preserving the American Dream Coalition visited Houston last week from Oregon and spoke to a substantial crowd at a Houston Property Rights Association luncheon. He gave a compelling slideshow on overreaching urban planning and wasteful rail transit run amok in other cities around the country (he was quite the engaging speaker for an economist ;-). He posted his thoughts on his visit to his blog. Some highlights:
...I sense in Houston a dynamism that I haven’t found in any other American city except Las Vegas. Like Las Vegas, in Houston they tear things down, they build things up. They gentrify neighborhoods. They build skyscrapers all over the place.

And they are building freeways. Not “no new roads,” like Portland. Not “one new freeway,” like Denver. But freeways, all over the place. (Of course, when I say “freeways” I mean tollways, but to me a freeway is free of stop lights, not free of pricing.)


A month or so ago, the Houston Chronicle had an article about mixed-use developments. It seems that Houston developers are following the national trend of attracting “affluent young professionals and empty nesters tired of long commutes” with such developments.

Reporters managed to find nine such planned developments scattered throughout the Houston area. ...

...the lesson is: even without subsidies, developers will build mixed use for the market. The market may be limited and it certainly will not transform an entire region. But it will be there for those who want it.

Kathleen happened to drive us down one street that is in the process of being gentrified. We saw fancy new townhomes next to run-down grocery stores and used-car lots. This process can take place rather quickly, and without any urban renewal subsidies, in a city with no zoning.


The American Dream Coalition is going to hold its 2008 conference in Houston so everyone can come see how a city without zoning and with minimal planning works. I hope I can make another visit to the city before then so I can see one of the region’s master planned communities (but planned by private developers, not by government).

If you're interested in more, I've posted on some of his stuff before, like the costs of transit vs. cars and the risks of badly done rail transit.

Update: Rad Sallee's Chronicle interview.

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At 10:50 PM, April 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nine planned mixed-use developments... but how many have actually been built? I can think of one.

At 12:38 PM, April 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first modern mixed-use development built from the ground up in the area was planned in 1995 and built in 1998, 'way ahead of the curve that's getting press this year.
It was a decided success, but I don't know if it's your acknowledged one or not, because it's on Lyons Ave. in the Fifth Ward. It has about 50,000 square feet of space, and was neither for young professionals nor empty-nesters.

At 2:55 PM, April 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who was it for? What are the uses?

At 8:35 AM, April 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Currently I can count at least 4 mixed used developments under construction within the loop. Wait, make that 5. I forgot about the Houston Pavilions which is currently under construction in downtown.

At 2:24 PM, May 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


If you haven't looked it up with Google, here is one of the possible links about it:

It was the idea of Stephan Fairfield, son of local developer Al Fairfield.
Steve structured the project to use affordable housing incentives for its 24 units, and its street frontage offices a number of community services and nonprofits. He has gone on to be a Loeb Fellow at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, and has come back to Houston, working on the Texas Asset Building Coalition as a project of his ongoing community-building organization, Covenant Community Capital.

At 2:10 AM, May 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous, we were talking about mixed-use developments that weren't helped by the government. Houston Pavilions, and probably some of those others, received support.

At 2:11 AM, May 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Neil.


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