Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: Things New Urbanists Like

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In New Urbanist language, there are things that are “good” (mass-transit, density, local control [when their inner-city, suburban modeled neighborhoods are threatened], sidewalk cafes and Tesla) then there are things that are “bad” (people choosing to live in single-family homes outside of the urban core, cars, fast food [excluding Chipotle, which is “good”], Whole Foods, and restaurants that do not follow the old “locavore” trend).  Sure there is often nuance to these rules — take support for development in the Near East side of Houston vs. enraged opposition to the Kirby high-rise as an example — but over the entire spectrum of “good vs. bad” a few key themes begin to appear.

For example:

Good: Tax Subsidies to provide low-cost housing to starving artists.

New Urbanists like this very much. In fact, they like it so much that they actively lobby for more of it.  The reason for this is because artists are typically clean, keep up the place, and make things that relatively well-off New Urbanist Caucasians like to view at outdoor festivals or buy for their homes. Having a piece of local art (even if that art is an indeterminate picture painted with chicken dung) hanging on your wall is as cool as being a member of the local produce collective.

Bad: Tax subsidies to provide low-cost housing to poor, predominantly minority families in up-and-coming areas.

There is currently a trickle of New Urbanist Caucasian families relocating to the East Downtown Houston area. There are also plans to build subsidized homes for low-income people. Unfortunately, these people don’t generate art. Instead they are more likely to either (A) be on entitlements, or (B) be on entitlements and work jobs in the service sector. Unlike artists who paint and draw pretty things, people who work menial jobs in places New Urbanists enjoy frequenting are too often shunned and excluded from the Houtopian vision.

Good: Mobility Transit Plans that emphasize mass-transit, bikes and walking for recreational purposes.

Increasingly the definition of “transit” means fewer people moving to and from their homes to businesses, and more towards the nuptial needs of relatively well-off, Caucasian members of the New Urbanist set. Getting married on a train is not what a train should be for, even one as poorly designed as Houston’s Danger Train. The problem is that planning of this type (Buzz-word dependent candidates [Turner, Bell, Garcia] like to say “multi-modal”) is really designed to get people to/from places to play, and very little to do with getting people from place to place for other reasons.

Bad: Transit plans that increase roadway capacity to bring people into work from outlying areas.

For Houston’s planning set, people coming into town to work is a bad thing. They don’t drive the economy, they don’t contribute to the tax base, they pollute the air (as do Houston’s many trees) and they generally bring their slack-jawed, unsophisticated families inside the Loop to share oxygen with the smart set. Not only is this unacceptable, but it’s typically viewed as an opportunity to project your smug feelings onto people you’ve never met.

These are just a few of the examples that we’ve seen of late demonstrating the devastating effects to a community that result when only one point of view is given serious consideration.

And yes, as do most things, the root cause for this lies both with Houston’s relative lack of leadership at all levels, and our lack of a locally-invested and intellectually honest news media.

We’ve tilled this ground before, so it shouldn’t surprise you to find that it’s only continuing to get worse over time.  At some point all of these attempts to change the fabric of what makes Houston unique and great are going to start having some real-world impact.


This post was originally published at Your Drink Order Please