Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Texas - Planning at its extremes

After our short visit to Texas I can safely say that this place is like nothing I’ve seen before. This car dominated, concrete jungle somehow just seems to work, even in the absence of a formalized zoning structure. Houston has only recently developed a ‘General Plan’ which took 9 months to create primarily thanks to the city of Houston and there contractors, led by DesignWorkshop. The plan was developed after community advocates campaigned for a plan and local community members were asked if the plan was truly needed. The plan states framework for planning and policy and is a tool for effective governance. It is similar to a comprehensive plan, but is all online which allows it to be easily modified and updated.

When walking around the streets of Houston it quickly became clear that motor vehicles were the main form of transportation. The streets were lifeless and lacked pedestrian activity due to a series of underground tunnels. These tunnels provided an escape from the hot Texan climate as well as supplied commercial space. This removed the need for ground floor retail in the business district.  

Whilst in Houston we also heard from Uptown Metro, who have planned on using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district finances to fund a $200 million dollar Bus Rapid Transport System (BRT). The proposed project is been developed to help ease congestion on the Post Oak Boulevard. It was interesting that the concept of light-rail was dismissed as an option, especially as it’s working well in nearby areas such as Austin and downtown Houston. It becomes apparent that this decision must be influenced by the large oil corporations in near vicinity.

I concede that before arriving in Texas, I didn’t know what to expect. My short time in Texas has shown me planning at its extremes; From a system that does not have zoning, to a master planned redevelopment where green spaces are activated by a range of public and private uses. Texas truly offers a wide range of perspectives in terms of planning!

Allistair Krause