Sunday, January 24, 2021

Houston's ugliness serves a purpose, Austin = next Silicon Valley? LA $20B rail fail, Texas SPDs, and more

 Just a few items this week:

"In LA, for example, rail lines costing at least $20 billion have been built since 1990, yet transit ridership dropped by one-quarter on the core Los Angeles county transit system from its 1985 peak to 2019. Yet population has increased 20 percent." 
Finally, a fun little comment I posted on Market Urbanism Report's Facebook page (humorously responding to another commenter calling Houston ugly) that Scott chose to tweet
Houston may be ugly, but that ugliness serves a purpose. It's how the city keeps the meddling pretentious aesthete NIMBY Karens away.
Lol. Amen to that.

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At 4:33 PM, January 29, 2021, Anonymous Mike said...

Speaking of Austin, they are also about to start construction on what will be the new tallest building in Texas, displacing 600 Travis in Houston, which has held the crown for 40 years.

Also, I wouldn't brag about Houston not being into aesthetics and driving away "Karens." The 21st century world has decided that aesthetics are important, and that is why Austin is becoming the marquee city in Texas while Houston is turning into the low-cost, low-skill entry metropolis.

At 4:48 PM, January 29, 2021, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Oh I understand the importance of some aesthetics (the Buffalo Bayou improvements are fantastic), but I'm glad we're not a town of NIMBYs like Austin is. That attitude will come back to bite Austin.

At 11:22 AM, January 30, 2021, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Houston has been doing a lot w.r.t. aesthetics - upgraded Arboretum, new Eastern Glades project in Memorial Park (which is awesome), the new land-bridge being constructed there.

Hermann Park has been totally transformed over the past 20 years as well - the McGovern Centennial Gardens and major investments in the Zoo being examples.

We also have a new botanical gardens that just opened in September which still has a ways to go to build out their full ~120 acres but has amazing potential and is already worth a visit - including a bridge over Sims bayou.

The bayous are seeing a lot of investment as well as usable bikeways and waterways with better paths and bridges.

I agree though with Mike's sentiment overall - we have to continue these sorts of investments and projects so that people in medicine and technology and other growing fields want to be here in Houston when they could choose to be anywhere in the country or the world. The "Houston It's Worth It" sentiment.

We can even potentially poach some people moving to Austin in this around - after all if someone thinks Austin is so fantastic - Houston is basically a larger, more cosmopolitan, more international, more bayou-y, less-hilly version with homes that are much more affordable and some sectors like life sciences or industry that I don't think Austin will ever compete with us in.

At 12:21 PM, January 30, 2021, Anonymous Mike said...

Anonymous I agree, we have made investments and improvements. When I come back to Houston, I do wonder if I lived here again where I would go to "get away" from things, without leaving the city altogether. There is a deadening, relentless repetitiveness to the freeways, strip centers, etc. Buffalo Bayou is headed the right direction, though not yet a truly regional destination - too many interruptions. The I-45 reroute can somewhat remedy this.

I have been waiting 20 years for something to bite Austin and it hasn't...yet. It could be that their "bite" is that they remain a froo-froo regional city and never a truly international metropolis, thanks to all their restrictions.

At 4:14 PM, January 30, 2021, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Great comments guys. Houston has made some big investments in amenities. With the new building, MFAH is the second-largest art museum in the country ( But as an unzoned city, I'm not sure the normal built environment of Houston will ever be aesthetic like some others.

Getting away from things in Houston: Arborteum, Memorial Park, Hermann Park, Buffalo Bayou park, new Botanical Gardens.

As far as Austin goes, the knocks I keep reading: overcrowded, traffic (much worse than Houston imho), unaffordable, limited diversity ('hipster monoculture'), lacking big city amenities (performing arts, museums, professional sports, hub airport, diverse ethnic restaurants). Houston is a well-kept secret that I'm confident will eventually be discovered:

At 10:04 AM, February 01, 2021, Anonymous Mike said...

Tory, I'm aware of all those places to go in Houston and I've read the GQ article. I know the city quite well. But none of those things really get you away from the grinding monoculture of roads, strip centers, subdivisions, all sprawling endlessly. They're nice little diversions for a few hours. In Austin, places like Lake Travis, Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Lake Ladybird, and the Greenbelt are like vacations within the city, into something very different than the rest of the city. Just knowing they are there - just seeing the lakes as you drive over them or the expanses of green along 360 - offers the mind some relief. The closest Houston equivalent is probably going to Galveston or maybe Lake Conroe, which are well outside the city.

Like I said, Buffalo Bayou Park is getting there, but there's too many interruptions. Freeways and interchanges rumbling over, sudden dead ends. If they can accomplish the eastern expansion and perhaps someday connect it to Memorial Park, that would be something. But someone in Alief for instance, who wants to know what to do in Houston, just isn't going to find BBP worth the drive at this point, unless they're really into parks. Ditto for Memorial Park - it could be great because of its size, but just isn't there yet as a day destination. Hopefully the master plan will cure this.

I'm not trying to rag on Houston but to offer some constructive criticism. I couldn't really see these things until I had lived away from it for a few years. I can spit out things to do in Houston and cite accolades as easily as anyone, but some outside perspective is needed on how much these things really alter the basic reality that turns people away from living there, which I don't think you've honestly confronted in this blog.

At 4:55 PM, February 02, 2021, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you are talking about being able to drive around the city and see nature, yeah I agree Houston is not as good as Austin in that regard. But most cities aren't especially in the South or Midwest - even say near us like San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, etc. And Houston's Memorial drive from 610 into downtown is pretty darn nice for basically anywhere in the country.

I think Houston is more like Chicago (or New York) except instead of a lakefront we have bayous. Unlike Austin which has hills, we have various architecture and mini-downtowns around the city that I find interesting and cool to look at - it is no joke some of our most scenic views are from freeway overpasses looking into downtown or Uptown etc. If I want to go to a park, I can go to a park I don't need to drive by it. I do enjoy driving over the bayous and the new bridges and just the roads near Buffalo Bayou or Brays Bayou near McGregor and the zoo with the new bridges are quite nice. Highway 6 over the Addickes Reservoir is another good place to "drive over nature" and plenty of scenic views of Buffalo Bayou in West Houston in the Memorial area. Otherwise there a million places to go in Houston to find nature - just not scenic to drive through near I-45 or whatever.


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