Houston – Hey Look No Zoning

The Preserving the American Dream Coalition  held its sixth annual conference in Houston Texas last  weekend.  The first day was filled with touring the city of Houston and its surrounds to see what a city with “No Zoning” looks like as compared with other cities.

Houston does have a permissive regulatory environment but also has required setbacks and follow the international building code.  One other aspect of Houston surprised me — it is really flat.  We toured one planned community, Sienna Plantation of over 10,000 acres which had less than 10 feet of elevation change within the property.  When this project is completed, likely 15,000 residences, it will double the population of Missouri City, TX.  This master planned community, complete with walking trails, golf course, street trees and parks, was built without government direction.  Not to suggest this master planned community is without stringent codes of its own but the code of development that was developed was market driven and to date has been very successful.    

The other interesting observation from the Houston tour was the market driven approach to mixed use.  Rather than government mandated lofts over restaurants (i.e. Portland), the buildings with different uses (retail, service, residential) seem to be well intermingled in terms of use in the denser areas.  As you reach into the suburbs, in both planned and organic neighborhoods, uses are much more traditionally segmented — without prescriptive zoning.

Houston is not without its problems but the pattern of development is market driven and their market has weathered this latest housing crunch better than most.

The lesson I took from my time in Houston is land development depends on a wide variety of ever changing variables, the best mechanism to address such chaos is the free market.  In the free market, land owners that choose the development vision consumers want are rewarded, those choosing less popular styles are proportionally punished. 

Regarding planning reulation, Houstonians really are getting more by doing less.

 

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