Saturday, 28 November 2015

An automobile affair

Texan philosophy appears to dictate that any activity undertaken in the state will be done in a manner that will not be subject to outside influence. The Texan way of life is reflected in the state’s approach to planning, or lack thereof. When examining urban form, lack of strategic policy and zoning has created an environment of anarchy within many Texan cities. The origins of Texas’s planning anarchy become apparent when examining their coveted civil liberties and automobile dependence.

Texans hold their civil liberties and right to independence in high regard. A view reflected in developer’s beliefs that it is an inherit right for them to pursue their own agendas regardless of location and context. This is reflected in the scale and diversity of businesses and buildings in Texan cities. Lack of planning controls in Texas favour developers, encouraging development for the sole purpose of owner benefit, regardless of its impact on the surrounding community. The resulting city is sprawling, unequitable, automobile dependant anarchy. Texas’ history of fossil fuel production has resulted in a love affair with the automobile. Its influence can be seen in the widespread use of freeways, high-speed thoroughfares, large blocks and car parks throughout Texan cities. Usually with limited pedestrian access and walkability. Without planning, automobile use is automatically assumed, creating the sprawling, low-density cities. The anarchy that has resulted from lack of planning policy has begun to encourage innovation in Texas planning policy and good design.

Developments such as the Mueller project in Austin are paving the way for sustainable and equitable cities. Use of sustainable energy and equitable housing is paving the way for future development. Assurance can also be found in Houston’s implementation of the city’s first comprehensive plan. The city has finally recognised the need for strategic policy and development as the city continues to grow. A landmark for a city that has never had zoning controls in place. A city like Houston can be a leader in encouraging other cities to follow suit. While the measures observed in Austin and Houston are a progressive step. For planning to achieve success, policy must be implemented on a massive scale using an integrated and co-operative approach. The anarchy within Texas is too widespread to tackle on a case by case basis. The innovation observed in Texas planning is evidence the state has recognised the need for strategic policy. Encouragement the state will begin to adapt as it continues to grow and evolve.

Ben Yates 

Transportation in Houston

Upon visiting Texas, with major cities in the state implementing new strategies through the use of the car, public transportation seems to be at quite a loss. With an example of Houston, who have devised a plan in which the public transportation of this major city has been chosen to be in the form of buses and an even faster form, rapid buses. Even with Houston having a light rail network running from the town centre and hotel district out to where sporting events and retail outlets are located. 

The innovative theory behind the addition of buses to Houston is so that a public transport system can be used throughout the centre and districts surrounding, although the system could have defects many great features such as the added lanes for continual bus servicing to the metropolitan areas and the chance for route changes in case of emergencies (as with light rail, this option cannot happen, re Portland incident). Other positives include that cost projections for the new bus transport system were alleged to be 25% of the price of a new light rail transport system. Although further proof would be needed. 

More innovative design models are the extensions of freeways throughout Texas to combat large amounts of traffic. These examples like the ring road network in Houston which works on either a payment system for cars with single passengers, or a free system if you are car-pooling with two or more passengers. These roads make the route into the city much quicker and bypass many of the cars on the freeway into Houston. The three ring roads are all spaced from the centre of town so traffic can flow at a much better rate than the original freeways.

The problems with having systems such as these would be the congestion of traffic over time with the city’s population forever growing is that you can only extend and widen freeways to a certain point. With a car dependent society, the hard work of trying to implement a public transport route throughout the community could fail due to the common use of cars and fear of change amongst the people. These anarchist views are ‘pulling back the reins’ of a city in which planning for a rich future has been kept back by not having a public transport system that can accommodate for the population of Houston. Without inner city residential areas that could be using a system put in place, there is no real need for weekend uptown transportation as after work and weekends the city centre is nearly empty. A change to the city scape could make for a huge impact of the Houston transport system.

Noah Williams

'Don't mess with Texas'... the unofficial slogan for the state. Although they may mean this in a patriarchal sense, it also reflects in planning.
From a distance, planning in Texas can appear to be chaotic. However, upon physically exploring the state’s major cities and engaging in discussion with planners, this ‘chaos’ is essentially; organised chaos.

The city of Houston is ‘development friendly’, with no zoning regulations or ordinance; receiving both support and disapproval. The City of Houston has rapidly produced and has just recently adopted the city’s first general plan.
This plan is heavily supported by Houston’s mayor (whose term is near to its end), denoting the City’s rapid implementation of the plan in fear of rejection from the new mayor in office.

Although the city has no planning structures set in place, there are those who enjoy the development friendliness of the city. The no zoning policy essentially means that anyone can develop on land anywhere they want. With no defined urban growth boundary, the city has and is still seeing massive sprawl, which is primarily industrial/retail.

Houston has a growing population and alongside this comes implications for the city; transport, housing, pollution. Houston’s first general policy sets out 32 goals objectives in their plan.
One of which addresses housing; sufficient quality, affordable housing options through the community. This objective provides a framework for affordable housing, however, does not confront the growing population issue, in fact, it somewhat encourages growth.

The city’s objective addressing transport; an affordable, multi-modal transportation network providing convenient access and mobility throughout the region for people and goods.
Houston has an existing light rail system, however, this was only installed due to a large sporting event; as a response to a need. This applies to the idea of a new bus system, similar to a light rail. A member from Houston transport planning spoke to the group about the idea in progress; a flexible, efficient, cheap system that runs from uptown Houston right through to downtown. This system is in response to a need/problem.

Overall, Houston City’s first general plan encourages financial equitability, and incorporates objectives towards creating a more sustainable city, however, it does not address one key issue Houston is faced with; population growth.

Houston city has just very recently adopted their first general plan, so we are yet to see the progression of this; will it lead to the city’s demise, or will it be a step towards creating a more cohesive city?

Bella Morton-Pederson

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Everything is bigger in America, and bigger again in Texas

Texas may have only lasted as its own country for a mere ten years, however a journey through the territory hints towards a state of mind in which the Republic of Texas lives on. Texas represents some of the worst urban planning measures in the world, yet simultaneously, it also represents some of the best. Seemingly endless sprawl in Texas is only further supported by freeways which could be mistaken for roller coasters, sometimes soaring four levels into the sky. These are images which provide the most obvious impression that planning in Texas is anarchy.

Conversely, Steve and Rebecca explained how Austin maintains a more alternative nature in comparison to other Texan cities, largely due to the migration of many ‘hippy’ rock stars to the area during the 1970s. The more liberal ideals of this movement has certainly influenced the way Austin residents interact with the city, and to some extent, the built form of Austin as well. This is especially evident in a strong live-music scene and the presence of associated venues in some surprising places – e.g. former warehouses and residential streets.  Austin has been successful in delivering a range of sustainable developments in inner cities districts, especially due to the city’s ability to operate Tax Increment Financing initiatives – e.g. Midtown and Mueller. However, for the most part, the progressive residents on the left, continue to lose out against the motor-maniacs on the right. Additionally, a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin explained to us that Texas has no capacity to plan at a larger metropolitan or regional level. In Texas, we saw some great examples of urban planning and Texans were quick to call themselves innovative, especially regarding their role in the tech industry. Although Texas is eager to integrate its many cities via the automobile, it lacks broader integration at a governance level.

Rainey Street Historic District: A residential, inner city neighbourhood reimagined with shipping container bars.

Harry Bell