Klineberg: A mature Houston is a Houston that embraces planning

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Today’s Outlook section runs an op-ed by Rice University’s Stephen Klineberg about how his annual Houston Area Survey shows that experts and residents agree that the health of Houston’s future depends on higher taxes and urban planning:

The emerging consensus is echoed by the goals articulated in the Greater Houston Partnership’s “2005-2015 Strategic Plan,” in speeches by Mayor Bill White, and in virtually all the communitywide envisioning efforts undertaken in recent years. Just about everyone now recognizes that if Houston’s prosperity is to be sustained in the 21st century economy, we will need to make far more substantial public and private investments both in the region’s aesthetic and environmental qualities, and in education and other forms of “human capital.”

Part of what makes this consensus so impressive is how different it is from Houston’s traditional conception of the “good business climate.” The city was built almost entirely by developer decisions, by a business community seeking above all else to maximize its short-term, firm-level profits. As Robert Fisher, then a professor of social work at the University of Houston observed in 1990, “the ideological thrust in Houston in the 20th century has been anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-planning, anti-taxes, anti-anything that seemed to represent, in fact or fantasy, an expansion of the public sector or a limitation on the economic prerogatives and activities of the city’s business community.” Houston has benefited tremendously from the vision and generosity of the civic and business leaders who built this city, but today’s challenges call for a decisive maturation of such a narrowly conceived “pro-business” agenda.

Did you catch that? Klineberg says the “pro-business” agenda, which has made Houston as successful and wonderful as it is today, is immature. The mature agenda is the urban planner’s vision, which, according to Klineberg, is what Houston needs now, along with substantial public investments — taxes! And to back up his assertion, he cites the results of his 2007 Houston Area Survey:

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.