Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Touting Houston's approach to planning

Just wanted to pass along some of the great excerpts/quotes from this morning's front page Chronicle story on Montrose's award:

Eclectic, walkable and one of top 10

Montrose, the central Houston community known for its diverse lifestyles, vibrant street life and stately historic homes, is being honored by the American Planning Association today as one of the country's 10 great neighborhoods.

Houston's sprawl, absence of zoning and reputation for haphazard development might make its recognition by the national planning establishment something of a surprise. Yet the qualities cited in the award for Montrose — its walkable street grid, carefully preserved historic districts and eclectic mix of homes and businesses — reflect Houston's preference for private rather than government-imposed planning, experts said.

In the early 20th century, long before it became the focus of slum-clearing urban renewal projects or the heart of Houston's gay and lesbian community, Montrose was an elite master-planned suburb, said Stephen Fox, a Rice University architectural historian.

“Its planning has really come from the developers of the individual subdivisions rather than representing any public policy,” Fox said.


Robinson, an architect who serves on Houston's City Planning Commission, said the award shows that effective planning need not be imposed through heavy-handed government policy.

It doesn't have to always be a prescribed method of growth,” Robinson said. “It's organic. The street grid, the sidewalks have meant that without zoning and for the most part without restrictive covenants, the area has been able to grow and adapt.

The street grid — a web of straight streets with short blocks and none of the cul-de-sacs favored in suburban neighborhoods — has helped keep Montrose walkable since the days when people stepped off streetcars and walked to homes or shops, Robinson said.

David Morley, a research associate at the American Planning Association, said Montrose's pedestrian-friendly nature was an important factor in the award.

“It's one of the few places in Houston where people get out of their cars and walk around,” Morley said.

Marlene Gafrick, Houston's director of planning and development, said the award should help to dispel Houston's undeserved reputation as an unplanned city.

“I believe planning occurs at many levels, and one of the differences between Houston and a lot of cities is that a lot of our planning comes from the ground up rather than the top down,” she said.

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At 11:18 PM, October 07, 2009, Blogger Kevin Whited said...

Or, you could have just linked it instead of badly abusing fair use/copyright.

At 2:18 PM, October 08, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

But linking only has two problems: Chronicle articles aren't permanent, and it wouldn't highlight the specific quotes I wanted to feature.

The Chronicle must be ok with it. I reposted this on my Opportunity Urbanism Chronicle blog and they featured it on their home page.

At 4:03 PM, October 12, 2009, Anonymous Mike said...

I think the list is more just ten neighborhoods they're recognizing this year than the top ten neighborhoods in the U.S. (notice how not one neighborhood from New York, Boston, or Chicago made the list). Still, it's an achievement.

At 1:10 AM, October 13, 2009, Anonymous Keep Houston Houston said...

What a beautiful summary!

I'd add the one of the big pluses of the Montrose is the "irregular" grid - different developers built different grids at different scales, so blocks and streets don't line up perfectly.

This creates enough "friction" (and occasional streets that don't go through) to discourage the type of high-speed traffic you see in Downtown or Midtown, and also allows for more fine-grained sociocultural distributions.


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