Monday, June 29, 2009

TX Smart Growth and Houston Urbanism

In case you missed it, Governor Perry vetoed a smart growth bill that came out of the recent legislature (Houston Tomorrow, Kuff, HRG). Setting aside all of the negative impacts that have come from smart growth plans elsewhere (the CA housing bubble, among others), and as relatively toothless as it was, I roughly agree with Perry and the Austin Contrarian that it was a misguided attempt to impose a state solution on what is fundamentally a local problem.

Where I disagree somewhat with AC is his comment on TXDoT and community control of their transportation. While the agency has run a bit roughshod, transportation is fundamentally a network that connects places, and that means it needs a master architect with control rather than every locality going their own way. Think about how master-planned communities prefer cul-de-sacs over street grids - nice for residents, totally unhelpful for people trying to pass through. Imagine that approach on a larger scale. Cities decide they don't like pass-through traffic so they constrict incoming boundry roads to 2-lanes - or worse put big tolls on them. Imagine if Bellaire could decide they don't like the 610 loop and they tore down the segment inside their city limits? Everybody wants the big infrastructure somewhere else - NIMBYism run amok is what we'd get. TXDoT has to have the power to break through those NIMBY barriers, even if it's not always pretty.

You might have also caught the Chronicle's front page story today on coming changes to our development code. Given the success of what we've seen inside the Loop, I'm all for expanding it out to the Beltway. But I agree refinements might help. Requiring some minimal guest parking is prudent. Make the new higher-density developments retain more runoff and drain it more slowly to prevent flooding. A simple barrel or underground tank linked to the gutter system should do it. If trees are removed, require the developer to sponsor new equivalent greenery coverage on site or elsewhere in the neighborhood (street medians, bayou edges, parks, etc.). These are relatively minor costs that would mitigate most of the issues.

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At 5:50 PM, June 29, 2009, Blogger Steve Parkhurst said...

Good, concise post. Many good points made in just three paragraphs.

At 5:53 PM, June 29, 2009, Anonymous kjb434 said...

A quick note about TxDOT:

Each TxDOT District does have a lot of control over what projects it wants to push or not. The central office may give some direction and provides mostly a central review house for standards. Even with that, each TxDOT district has unique design standards they prefer. This is mostly due to that fact that TxDOT covers transportation across teh entire state with various needs and climates to construct roads in.

The individuality of each district allows them to respond to there area and adjust projects as needed.

At 6:06 PM, July 01, 2009, Anonymous Kevin said...

I knew you were an authoritarian central planner Tory, and now I have proof!

At 12:02 AM, July 02, 2009, Anonymous Keep Houston Houston said...

So they found the former mayor of Pittsburgh to come in and dis the area NW of Shepherd and IH-10, huh?

You know I've been to Pittsburgh. I know what a neighborhood of equivalent age and socioeconomic class looks like in a Pennsylvania city.

Excuse me if I don't really consider the opinion seriously.

At 11:10 PM, July 12, 2009, Blogger Unknown said...

Very interesting post. I agree with your point. I think good regional planning is the solution to most of the problems we face.

I am curious about what you mean when you say that the smart growth plans caused the housing bubble in California. This is unintuitive to me.

I would imagine that encouraging development in smarter patterns would have lessened the effect of the housing bubble. I would like to know more.

At 7:36 AM, July 13, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Smart growth tries to force people into density and restricts housing supply - at least the type of housing people typically want to buy (detached suburban) - which raises prices.

At 12:08 PM, July 13, 2009, Blogger Unknown said...

That is very interesting. I definitely agree it raises housing prices for single family houses, but by forcing more development to be multifamily, it lowers those prices. However people were/are still trying to move into single-family homes they can't afford rather than apartments they can.

This is a problem I hope gets solved. When you say that these problems should be solved more locally, do you mean on a more municipal level or at a regional level still, even if not at the state level.

At 12:35 PM, July 13, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, it ignores market preferences for detached single-family homes, so the ones that are left get bid up to unsustainable prices, while there area glut of apartments - if they can get past the NIMBYs to get built in the first place. One problem with smart growth is it often ends up stopping all new construction - including density - because neighborhood NIMBYs fight any new dense project.

Local = municipal, maybe even neighborhood. Regional is still too large, with dozens or even hundreds of different zones with different needs. One code will not address that.


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