Sunday, March 08, 2015

Ten years of Houston Strategies

Exactly ten years ago today were my very first posts on Houston Strategies: a welcome/kickoff/teaser post and an idea for a UH Institute of Technology campus (the idea didn't take, but I'm still hopeful UH will see the light one day...).  And here we are 1,050 posts later with thousands of readers - I can't thank you enough for your support over the years.  Over that time the posts have shifted away from ideas and strategies towards summarizing relevant items from around the web for your consideration, but the overall goal remains the same: celebrating what Houston does right and promoting ideas for making it better.

By far the biggest success story from this incubator of ideas has been Opportunity Urbanism, which led to a TEDx talk, a twin blog at the Houston Chronicle, a couple of commissioned reports, and, most importantly, a new national think tank based in Houston with myself as a Founding Senior Fellow (with our free kickoff luncheon event this Thursday - would love to see you there, details and rsvp here or email me).  Other ideas have not been as successful, but what's the old saying? "If you're not failing, you're not trying hard enough."

Looking back over the last ten years, what strikes me the most is the incredible shift in Houston's confidence in itself.  Ten+ years ago, Houston was almost apologetic about not being Austin/Portland/San Francisco/New York.  There was much fretting about our need to attract the college-educated creative class and implement much stronger land use controls along with rail transit, since "that's what global cities do".  Since then, they had a massive housing crash, and we've had hyper-growth and come into our own as a city confident in itself and the unique way we do things in Houston, including our market-oriented approach to land use instead of traditional zoning and more flexible and value-oriented busways instead of budget-busting fixed rail (unfortunately we only made that discovery *after* it busted our budgets).  We identified specific needs to fix and tackled them, including quality of life issues like parks, bayous, bike trails, flood control, a vibrant downtown, and neighborhood and historic preservation - all within the context of doing things "the Houston way", with a heavy emphasis on philanthropy, ground-up volunteerism, and voluntary opt-ins - with the occasional government support as needed (big projects up next: the Astrodome, hopefully followed soon after by the Ike Dike).

You can find my all-time favorite posts from the first 1,000 here, with the best of the newer ones since then here.  Looking those over, here are the biggest ideas to come out of this blog over the last ten years that I'd like to continue to promote going forward (in addition to Opportunity Urbanism, of course):
So ten years yields five big ideas still worth promoting plus a plethora of smaller ones.  Not bad - I'll take that.  As always, thanks for your readership, and here's to the next ten years being even better!

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At 12:19 PM, March 10, 2015, Anonymous Mike said...

An alternate narrative might be, "We went from recognizing we had problems and could learn certain things from other cities to a return to our old sophomoric self-confidence and intransigence, thanks to a tidal wave of money from the oil and gas industry."

Now we're back to lone wolf congressmen thwarting rail, even when it's authorized by a referendum, while multi-billion dollar road projects don't need any referendum. We're back to hearing echoes of the old 1930's Houston anti-zoning campaign, that it's "what Joe Stalin wants," even while cities across America and Texas seem to function just fine with public input on land use. We're starting to sound just a little too self-contented about our expansion of parks when what we have so far is a promising beginning rather than a grand achievement, and no one around Texas or even most of Houston thinks of us yet as a city with especially great parks. And there remains the real problem that, thanks in part to our paranoia of planning as well as to our subsidizing of concrete, we still lack any substantial area of town where walkability has become a reality, even though cities such as New Orleans and Austin have put to rest the myth that this has much to do with our climate.

Hopefully we can celebrate our achievements while continuing to recognize our problems, and not simply bask in self-contentment.


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