Friday, February 12, 2016

Houston, we don’t have a problem


Houston, Texas, is the great American city to emulate, according to a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by Joel Kotkin and Tory Gattis.

The authors are enamored of Houston’s growth and the way it has fueled prosperity across the board for the city’s residents. 

“Houston now has among the highest, if not the highest, standard of living of any large city in the U.S. The average cost-of-living-adjusted salary in Houston is about $75,000, compared with around $50,000 in New York and $46,000 in Los Angeles,” they say.

Much of the growth comes from the area’s continuing oil boom, which protected the state from the depredations of the Great Recession. 

But the authors insist that, while petrochemicals are important, “Houston’s growth is more than oil-industry luck; it reflects a unique policy environment. The city and its unincorporated areas have no formal zoning, so land use is flexible and can readily meet demand. Getting building permits is simple and quick, with no arbitrary approval boards making development an interminable process.”

Mr. Kotkin and Mr. Gattis credit the city’s “flexible planning regime” with keeping housing prices relatively low and with helping to attract an influx of diverse new residents.

It sounds like a veritable paradise, unless you’ve been to Houston. 

It is a city of highways with just one light rail transit line a mere 12.8 miles long. There’s a small downtown, but with no zoning, developers have plunked large complexes willy-nilly in far corner which require residents and visitors to go to by car.

Shopping and dining choices are largely limited to big national chains and big box stores.

Is it any surprise that the obesity rate — according to — is 21 percent higher than New York’s?

Here in Riverdale, we’re burdened by  those pesky “arbitrary approval boards,” with two landmark districts, a Special Natural Area District, a burdensome Uniform Land Use Review process, restrictive zoning and a draconian building department. 

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