April 05, 2009

I don't suppose it really matters what part of town Mayors and Mayor wannabees live in. What does matter is how they want to approach questions of what different parts of town want and need.

Candidate and Councilman Peter Brown, an urban planner and architect, lives in the close-in Museum District and said he helped raise his now-grown family in the Briargrove neighborhoods outside Loop 610. He has said the city needs to help develop commercial and residential centers along rail lines, compete with surrounding cities such as Pearland for business development, and "stop the exodus to the suburbs."

But Brown also said he is attuned to the suburbs as someone who designed homes and buildings in dozens of suburban neighborhoods and who is jealous of the town center projects in Sugar Land and "planned communities" such as The Woodlands.

The Asiatown strip along western Bellaire Boulevard is an example of a dynamic neighborhood that sorely needs planning and services, Brown said, as do older neighborhoods that need more police protection and better infrastructure.

"It's pretty chaotic, and there's no real pedestrian environment," the councilman said. "We need a real town center out there" and, eventually, light rail service.

Lawyer Gene Locke, who lives in the Riverside area west of the University of Houston main campus, oversaw the city's legal staff and provided advice to agencies that built sports stadiums, the light rail system and parts of the Port of Houston.

He said the art of meeting the needs of a far-flung city involves knowing which problems are uniform -- such as street flooding, crime and a lack of bus shelters -- and which are particular to certain neighborhoods.

The latter, Locke said, includes a lack of parks and libraries in some areas and a lack of suitable housing in others.

"There are a lot of areas of Houston that feel like they are being underserved," Locke said, "and the task of the next mayor is to make sure services are effective and consistent."


Controller Annise Parker lives in a 105-year-old home that is a city-designated landmark and said she grew up in Spring Branch when it was a semi-rural northwestern reach of Houston. She said she has also lived in Oak Forest and the city of Bellaire.

Like Locke, Parker said her goal as mayor would be to focus on the economic and city service needs of the overall city while catering to other, more diverse needs at the neighborhood level. As a council member, Parker said, she helped craft the ordinance that provides different building codes for different parts of the city. Parker said she lives in the inner part of Montrose partly to save time commuting to work.

"Time spent in traffic weighs very heavily on folks who live in the suburbs, and we have a responsibility to respond to them," she said.

All of this sounds fine to me. I think what I really like about it is that after eight or so years lately of campaigns at the state and national level being about idealizing one group of people while demonizing another - you know, things like "real America" versus whichever group was being used as the poster children for not-real America - it looks like the contenders in this race agree that we're all "real Houston". I figure I may as well enjoy that now while I can, because it won't be like that in the 2010 campaigns.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 05, 2009 to Election 2009
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