Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Last Days of Empire

At the risk of sounding like yet another Cassandra, planning in Texas is neither innovation nor anarchy, it is hubris before the fall, Rhonda Rousey before Holly Holm.* Not unlike the decadence and opulence of Rome in its final years Texas is drunk on growth and cheap energy, led on by blind solipsism and belief in American exceptionalism it has rushed headlong down a path that the world can no longer afford to travel. Welcome to the Lone Star State, welcome to the last days of empire.

Unlike the rest of the US, Texas shrugged off the ‘Great Recession’ that has blighted most of the world since 2008 and grown in every which way imaginable. A fortuitous pivot by the Obama administration to address energy security and decrease American reliance on OPEC oil came just as the economy was tanking, leaving Texas perfectly placed to cash in and cash in they have. Twinned with the tech boom Austin and Houston have flourished, the influx of energy money accompanied by tech refugees; libertarian-tehno-utopian-randites fleeing the socialist tendencies of Californian beurauczars have flocked east following the money which has in turn fuelled the Texas construction boom.

Viewed in this context planning attempts to provide ‘sustainable’ green streets and LEED rated buildings feels like window dressing at best, or greenwashing at worst. Where the greatest irony is that even these limited projects are often funded through the proceeds of oil money. Flat rejection of even some the most basic forms planning controls or public investment in transport has condemned Texan cities to the automobile and left them with immense structural vulnerability to any increase in energy prices. For planners there is likely more to be learned observing the new forms of urbanism that are forming in fallen cities like Detroit and cities in the global south. 

Will Bakes

*That fight would have sold on alliteration alone.