Signs of Hope

Houston's city planning commission is trying to change the rules for new development inside the 610 loop, the Houston Chronicle reports today. This is a welcome sign; development in the Midtown area has been disappointing because true urban developments are currently illegal. Unless a developer goes through the costly process of getting waivers, they've got to build suburban-style crap with parking lots in front of everything. Midtown has the potential to be a great pedestrian-friendly neighborhood (especially with the light rail system running right through it) but that hasn't happened yet.

There's still a lot to be done on making the streets support that goal. Many of the main streets in Midtown are four or five lane one-way streets with few lights or crosswalks, so walking becomes rather dangerous. I'd like to see those streets become two-way streets with more frequent lights and clearly marked pedestrian crossings. Given the immense amount of street parking available in the neighborhood, it would also be wise to develop more retail space with less parking than is currently allocated; the land can better be used for other things, and Midtown is far from having a parking problem. People can park on the street, with parked cars providing a barrier between traffic and pedestrians that will make the sidewalks more walkable.

It's unfortunate that this plan would only relate to "transit corridors." The 2003 plan would have covered everything inside the loop, which is entirely appropriate; Midtown is just one place where more urban development makes sense. There are plenty of in-the-loop locations that would benefit from better development. But it is a start.

All of this stuff, which seems so obvious in other cities, is new to Houston. They're learning, slowly but surely, how to do this right. Let's hope it takes.

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