Friday, June 19, 2009


Just in visiting Houston for a bit as a launching pad for a vacation. Driving around the city, it definitely feels different and to be honest just set my teeth on edge. For a long while I've detested urban sprawl and this combines with my dislike for driving to have Houston give me a bad taste in my mouth. Of all the cities I've been to, I've preferred urban, walkable ones with good public transportation: Portland, New York, San Francisco, pretty much any city in Australia or Europe in comparison to the US. I generally despised LA for this reason, not simply because my parents are ashamed I was born there while my dad was finishing up his doctoral degree at UCLA.

LA though, always just struck me as an absolute mess, where sprawl somewhat happened through accident and incompetence. Admittedly, this isn't exactly true, and I haven't spent all that much time in LA, but that is the feeling I would get.

Houston, on the other hand, seems to be designed for the purpose of sprawl. The massive ring highways are extremely well designed for what they are and the more upper class suburban areas I visited seemed somewhat like resorts, in the vein of Sunriver, only with no sidewalks and no store within miles. There is apparently no public transportation system in the city aside from a few buses. It left me uneasy. I will give them that their housing prices are much much lower than most of the cities I enjoy so much and their traffic does seem to not be that significant, so there is something to it, but I would absolutely hate to live there.

I wonder how much of Houston's development comes from benefiting off of externalizing economic costs that should be taxed away, such as carbon admissions or subsidized greenfield development. Also, it makes me wonder of what would have to be done to reduce housing prices in cities such as SF or NY, or if those cities are simply better at internalizing external costs.

Or maybe I'm just a snobbish urbanite, and the external costs simply aren't that great, and I simply am willing to pay more for an urban environment of my choosing. I hope that's not the case though. Houston just feels wrong, and I would like to think it wouldn't look that way if the true costs of everything were taken into consideration. I'll have to look into it more, given that I've gotten these feelings after only seeing the city for two days.

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