Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Who needs zoning in a metro area that has been an exemplar of sprawl, and where land uses have been separated well by covenants and culture? These are some of the reasons why Houston has resisted thorough zoning and land use laws for so long. But things may be changing, as explained in this recent article from the Houston Chronicle. One reason that the topic is gaining more traction: the rise of new dense construction plans in a city traditionally famous for its low density.
Houston’s decisions will be fascinating politics and law, because the adoption of new land use laws could go in various directions: traditional, anti-density laws to help affluent homeowners; laws favoring “smart” density; laws that give local autonomy; and an infinity of variants.
To me, the outcome of this debate in Houston and elsewhere is more fascinating, and more important for the future of the typical American, than the squabbling of presidential candidates about who is more in touch with the average Joe and Juanita. But that’s just me ….
Monday, April 21, 2008
Is the idea of density really causing significant changes in land use law and practice in the United States? One example of a possible missed opportunity has been the rapid development of Homestead, Florida, south of Miami. As much as any metro area of the country, greater Miami holds nearly impenetrable boundaries of sea and enormous protected areas (the Everglades). One of the last undeveloped locations has been around Homestead, which was until very recently surrounded largely by farms. But population pressures have led to a rapid build up; by some estimates, Homestead grew faster than any other city in the nation of at least 50,000 people since 2000. But most of this development has been in the form of single-family houses –- often small houses, to be sure –- but many more single-family houses than multi-family units. If any place called for a change in thinking, and greater density, it would be Homestead …
But maybe things are changing. NPR reported today that high gas prices, combined with a downturn in the economy, is propping up the prices of houses in close-in neighborhoods in many metro areas, especially those areas close to public transportation. If this trend continues, we may finally see greater pressure for truly dense in-fill in old American cities.