Sunday, September 27, 2015

Houston *is* different from zoned cities, zoning drags GDP, defending Houston, impressing outsiders, and more

It's been a busy few weeks with the Opportunity Urbanism TV interview, TXDoT meeting on the 45N plan, and the Zillow Housing Roadmap to 2016 panel, so the backlog of smaller miscellaneous items has grown to bursting.  Apologies for the lack of timeliness on a few of these...

First, I have to call BS on this.  Yes, we have reasonable land-use regulations, but they are far from zoning and Houston is qualitatively different from other cities like Dallas.
  1. Massive exhibit #1: the townhouses covering the inner loop where single-family homes once stood.  No zoned city would allow that.  Without that flexibility, inner Houston would be much lower density and covered in McMansions that look like Bellaire and West U with similar pricing.  
  2. Exhibit #2: residential towers all over the place, instead of clustered downtown or in other skyscraper zones.  
  3. Exhibit #3: apartment complexes going up anywhere they can get the land, pretty much no matter what was sitting there before, like industrial or commercial uses - typical zoning doesn't allow that.  
Houston is a denser, more vibrant, more eclectic, and - most importantly - more affordable city because it lacks zoning.  Don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
“No, please don’t be sorry. I love living in Houston. It’s a great place to live and I have a great life there. It’s actually not that place that you might imagine it to be. In fact, it’s one of the country’s most ethnically diverse and progressive cities. My children go to school with kids from all over the world. And the wine and food scene there is great, too.”
Finally, some followup material from the Zillow Housing Roadmap to 2016 panel.  First, they created a summary article here, which includes some quotes from me as well as this conclusion:
Houston, we Have a (PR) Problem 
If you were asked to name America’s most diverse city by population groups, you might say New York. The fastest-growing? Maybe San Francisco. Most affordable? Probably Detroit, or another ailing rust-belt market. 
But in reality, Houston is at or near the top of all those superlative lists, and more. That that isn’t immediately obvious to most Americans – let alone foreign visitors to America – speaks volumes about Houston’s PR problem. Houston’s reality – it is a vibrant, growing, well-educated, affordable and diverse city full of opportunity – doesn’t square with its popular image. 
During our visit, we were constantly surprised by Houston, by the passion and thoughtfulness of its advocates and the creativity of its solutions to its mounting challenges. 
They also published a nice short video below on their Houston visit.  Note: despite what the guy in the video says, Houston is *not* increasing population by 50% in the next 5-10 years, whether you look at the city or the metro.  Most likely that will take a couple of decades or so...

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At 5:45 PM, September 29, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're still publishing, Tory! I quit reading the blog when I moved to Denver about 6 years ago...but would really like to move back home.

Denver *IS* beautiful, you're rarely more than an hour's drive away from something that should be on a postcard...but, in terms of the friendliness of the people, affordability, good restaurants, or a nice business climate, I'll take Houston all day. (Disclaimer: Born and raised in Texas, so it's home, but I've never felt comfortable in Colorado).

At 9:19 PM, September 29, 2015, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks! My experience in Denver is limited, but it matches your own. Houston's greatest assets are not physically visible like Denver's.


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