Utopians redefine diversity

It's another weekend of urban planning opinion pieces in the Chronicle, including a LiveJournalist editorial on the topic. The headline alone is problematic:

Diverse design
Houston can offer a choice: affordable suburbs and high commuting costs, or improved urban living

How is something diverse if it's an either/or proposition? The correct headline would replace "or" with "and." Not everyone fits into the cookie-cutter mold of wanting to live in a highly urbanized area, and that's what makes Houston so vibrant and energetic. There is growth in the Greater Houston area precisely because we have so many choices.

The LiveJournalists approvingly cite urban planner Andres Duany who spoke to city elites last week about the wonders of New Urbanism:

For Duany, in Houston to coordinate the planning and design of three residential and mixed use projects, diversity is the highest value: diverse designs and land uses combined in a walkable, urban village.

He warns that the worst development danger is the monoculture housing subdivisions that mark the city's periphery. Building hundreds of houses with similar styles and prices that appeal to young parents inevitably causes blight when the style not chosen to stand the test of time goes out of fashion and the neighborhood's value declines as its residents age and grow resentful of their lot.

Another mistake was for Houstonians to build their neighborhoods distant from their jobs and their shopping needs. The result is low density but high congestion because nothing can be accomplished without a car.

The arrangement, Duany told a lecture audience at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is highly unfair to the 50 percent of Houstonians who are too young, too old or too poor to drive.

Better planning and design, which the market is beginning to offer in the central city, would at once reduce automobile use, congestion, human stress and the high cost of transportation, a minimum of about $9,000 per car per year.

All that Duany promotes is anti-diversity. Duany, Councilmember Peter Brown, and the Chron's editorial board want to take away diversity by taking away living choices. Right now the market -- not the government -- is responding to the many different wants of consumers: suburban housing, townhomes, city lofts, inside the Loop, outside the Loop, etc. That's diversity.

And Duany seems to blame suburbanists for the plight of the urban poor. Nice try, but don't blame folks who moved away to find a better living environment. Dig a little deeper to figure out why people moved to the suburbs, and go from there.

As for Duany's concerns about automobile use and congestion, there is no way most Americans will give up their cars. Period. With our cars, we have the freedom to go where we want, when we want. However, there are things Metro and TxDOT could do to make a public transit commute more inviting: (1) Instead of expanding freeways out, expand them up. Isn't that what urbanists want us to do anyway, go up, not out? Make I-45 and I-10 double-decker freeways which would create plenty of room for HOT lanes, express bus lanes, and commuter rail lines; (2) make Metro think smarter and plan better: Have commuter rail link up to a downtown transit center where buses and trolleys would meet commuters to take them to their final destination.

KEVIN WHITED ADDS: This statement from the elitist/urbanist Duany caught my eye:

Another mistake was for Houstonians to build their neighborhoods distant from their jobs and their shopping needs.

That's all well and good, but one of the benefits of not having zoning is that shops and restaurants and such have been free to spring up in neighborhoods in accordance with market demands (you know, responding to people who live in the neighborhoods, rather than the sorts of all-knowing elitists who gather at cocktail parties with Architect Peter Brown). In my view, it's not a bad thing to live in a city where market demand can drive amenities -- and so CVS can move quickly to build a pharmacy in a developing part of Midtown that is desperately short on amenities, instead of being denied a building permit because some planning bureaucrat might prefer that CVS Pharmacy get into the apartment construction/rental business!

That observation from Duany suggests he doesn't understand Houston very well.

BLOGVERSATION: Did Peter Brown Plan This? (Miya Shay's Political Blog)

RELATED: Five good reasons why quality of life is the issue here, by Ed Wulfe and Richard Weekley (Chronicle Outlook)

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 07/08/07 01:26 PM | Print |

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