Thursday, 26 November 2015

Anarchy as an incubator of innovation

Charles Montgomery (2013, p. 67) wrote that, “Despite their love of liberty, Americans have embraced the massive restriction of private property rights that the separated city demands.” Texans must love their freedom more than anybody else in being the last frontier where planning is almost non-existent. There is no zoning and until recently there have been disparate uncoordinated plans, but no overarching plan. However, there are development controls regarding major thoroughfares and freeways.

Conservatism has held back planning however the pressures of population growth are forcing change. The group Blueprint Houston has long advocated for a general plan and have produced their own visions and goals for the city. Houston recently produced its first city plan that has been adopted. There have been numerous plans in the past which haven’t been so lucky, such as the general plan created for city in 1913. In formulating the plan Design Workshop worked with the City to determine the needs of a 21st century city. While this sounds ambitious, the actual contents of the plan were a bit underwhelming.

Less than a year was allocated to make the plan as it needed to be adopted by council before Mayor Parker left because she wanted to leave it as her legacy. Also, with a new mayor comes a new agenda so this was the only way to be certain the plan would be created. The City required the plan to be flexible so it would not be scrapped in the future. This resulted in a document of mostly broad and vague statements containing nothing particularly groundbreaking.

The abundance of wealth accumulated by the energy industries, particularly oil, is being poured into redevelopments and green projects. This is somewhat perverse considering it has long been the main perpetrator driving urban problems. Houston has an anti-transit disposition however this is beginning to change, at least in the cashed up area of Uptown where in Post Oak Boulevard bus rapid transit modelled on light rail to include 3 exit/entry points and use of platforms is in the works.

The anarchy of Texas is an incubator of innovation, at least in the private planning realm. Even though Texas defies planning theory its cities still seems to function, albeit a bit slower when stuck in traffic.

Angela Plazzer

Reference:

Montgomery, C. 2013 Happy City, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York