• Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, the built environment, planning adjacent topics, and anything else that comes to mind. No ads, no spam, and it's free. It's easy to join!

Houston and December Planning Magazine


One of my co-workers (a frequent lurker, btw) is an ex-East Texan. We were discussing the rather positive spin on Houston's "planning" in this month's rag. He was appalled by the article-its a good way for me to "get him going" by asking the simple question: Is Houston really that much worse (or even different) than most suburbanized sprawling sunbelt metros? I've always expressed some skepticism to him about how different Houston is from, say Sacramento County (unincorporated, not the city), Las Vegas, or especially Phoenix, Tuscon, or other major Texas metros (like Dallas).

I've never been to Texas. My question for the throbbing brain is:

Is my coworker right, and Houston is an absolutely awful justification for planning and zoning as practiced in most cities, or is the sympathetic article in Planning more "correct" and the flexibility of Houston's planning has some serious benefits? Is Houston that much different or worse than, say, Phoenix?


No one else replied to this thread, so I'm going to chime in. Every time I visit Houston I am once again amazed at how similar it is to other cities in Texas. The Houston experience is very much like Phoenix. Houston is similar to other Texan cities, although the individual character is somewhat different; for example, Dallas is really one of twins with Ft. Worth not being much smaller. The only thing in Houston that really struck me was large tracts of poverty that reminded me of what you see in very depressed towns in Arkansas or Mississippi or Louisiana, or the parts of Texas that are in the desert.

Someday I hope to come across a decent explanation of why Houston looks so similar to other American cities despite its radically different approach to planning and zoning. (There are some similarities: for example, neighbourhood convenants were a tool for maintaining the ethnic "purity" of a neighbourhood, done in the name of sustaining property values. Planning in the early 20th century was often done to achieve the same purpose.)

Suburb Repairman

moderator in moderation
Staff member
I guess I'll try to step out on this one...

Things closer together tend to be more similar than things further apart. So you still end up with the same contiguous tracts of residential sprawl, just it's left to the free market instead of through zoning.

Houston relies on private covenants through HOAs to provide their "zoning". My Urban Sociology prof mentioned in class that the City of Houston was actually listed as a party to enforce the deed restrictions for many subdivisions, but I haven't checked that.

Houston really looks no different than any other Southern/Western city that faced most of its growth following the 1950s. Saying zoning laws aren't necessary because they achieve the same results would be inaccurate. However, Houston is a good condemnation of zoning as it is practiced in most American cities (especially Southern).

On a side note, I don't like the pretty picture that the article's author painted of Houston. It's almost like he's never been there based on what I've observed on my visits. Chalk it up as one more reason I consider Texas A&M one of the most overrated schools in the country. ^o) (Sorry Aggies)