February 09, 2008
Our experts can beat up your experts

After the recent spate of outside experts telling us that Planning Is Eeeeevil, it's refreshing to hear from a different group of outside experts saying it's not so bad after all.

Houston needs a regional growth plan to compete globally with cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Dubai.

That was the warning -- and challenge -- issued by land-use experts Thursday at a panel convened by the Center for Houston's Future.

By 2015, 1 million additional people are expected to settle in the eight-county region. Three million more are expected by 2035. To cope, the region needs rail links to airports, more housing downtown, and a plan for its aging, ad-hoc sewage systems, the panelists said. Some better marketing would help, too.


Houstonians have evolved other effective methods to guide land use, such as special improvement districts or tax-increment financing, said Scott Polikov, a principal with the Gateway Planning Group in Fort Worth. Polikov said different types of financing, such as title transfer fees, could be used to raise capital for rail projects.

"When you don't want government involved, it's called 'regulation,' " Polikov observed, drawing knowing chuckles from the audience at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. "When you do want government involved, but don't want to admit it, you call it 'public-private partnerships' or 'special districts.' "

Polikov said the Houston region can achieve the positive effects of zoning through better urban design and voluntary "livability" standards adopted by builders. He cited The Woodlands as a good example of both. Voluntary development standards are currently being developed by a task force headed by Roger Galatas, the former CEO of the Woodlands Operating Co.

To discourage sprawl and encourage a higher quality of life, the Houston-Galveston Area Council could reassess how it distributes federal transportation dollars, Polikov said.

One idea is for HGAC to put some of the money into a "competitive pot," Polikov said. Various transportation projects would then have to compete for the money. Funds would be awarded if the projects supported closer connections between home and workplaces, green building practices, affordability, habitat protection and neighborhood schools.

Take that, Randal O'Toole.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 09, 2008 to Elsewhere in Houston

out here in Red America suburbia, I can't change the color of my house w/o prior approval from the homeowner's association. If that isn't planning at the most minute level, I don't know what is.

Posted by: Peter Wang on February 9, 2008 8:09 AM

I don't think O'Toole would disagree with the Chron grafs you cut:

Zoning, however, is probably not the answer, the panelists agreed.

"Zoning is not part of the culture here," Hudnut said. "It's like asking Indianapolis to become a great shipbuilding center. It's not going to happen."

Tory Gattis had some interesting, original coverage and analysis that gets beyond lengthy Chron blockquotes here.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on February 9, 2008 8:55 AM

Another thought... lack of planning is a kind of planning. Something is going to unfold according to someone's plan, without or without formal planning. The old jingle "failure to plan is planning to fail" comes to mind.

The planning opponents like the current "no plan" planning which they can manipulate freely, therefore they oppose more formalized, thought-out planning.

The question is, though... which best suits CITIZENS?

Posted by: Peter Wang on February 9, 2008 9:28 AM

I agree, Peter. As the noted Canadian philosopher Geddy Lee once wrote, "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."

(Oops! There I go quoting again. I'm such a bad blogger.)

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on February 9, 2008 11:10 AM