Monday, February 11, 2013

Lisa Gray suggests Houstone Tango Blast as a foundation for "world class" culture.

Of course, it's hidden behind the Chron's new paywall, which ensures few will read it, but the Chron's Lisa Gray took a lot out of some gang graffiti and decided to use it to define Houston culture. 

And what IS Houston culture?  Well, we're given a pass, seemingly deemed too adolescent to rise to the level of our (supposedly) intellectual betters in New York, Chicago etc.  Which brings to light the bigger problem of Houston for Houston's former newspaper of record.  Houston has always been just a touch unruly, difficult to shoehorn into the new-urbanists' pre-determined molds for a city.  It's a constant and ever-changing recipe of shifting ethnic groups and newly-emerging plurality that's slowly changing how business is conducted.

While Gray chooses to focus on the hip, trendy eyewear wearing, adventurous eater set as an example of Houston's change, I think it's better to look at Houston through her small business culture. More specifically, the increasing rise of Houston's ethnic small businesses, whose numbers are growing in leaps & bounds both inside, and outside the Loop.

More importantly, is what to make of all this change.  To Gray's mind Houston's current dynamic environment is a sign of the city's adolescence, a sign of our inferiority to the more well-established "world class" cities in which new urbanists so strongly wish to reside.  She views Houston current as something that needs to be "ridden out" as we morph into something more palatable from a central-planning standpoint.

I view things just the opposite.  I think Houston's current complexity is a sign of vitality, something that needs to be embraced and held on to, something that Houston doesn't want to lose for fear of becoming stagnant.  Currently, in cities within the North East, we've seen the problems that manifest when a city becomes complacent with who they are, infrastructure begins to crumble, the outside world is somehow viewed as inferior and new ideas are eschewed in favor of more heavy-handed regulation.  Despite the fact that New York is (still) America's greatest city, it's far less nimble and able to react to new dynamics than is Houston. 

I've said before that I don't believe that Houston is a "world class" city and, while that's often taken as a slam against Houston it needn't be. Houston is the South's greatest city despite not having the things most frequently identified under the New-Urbanist code.  We don't have central planning (mostly), we still don't have a regulatory system that's over-burdening (although we're getting there) and we still maintain a majority aversion to zoning (or even, form based codes).  All of this leads to a city that is willing and able to accept all comers, to constantly re-define itself when market forces change.  Think about this, during the great oil-bust Houston stayed afloat, the automobile bust all but killed Detroit.

One city was able to diversify and change itself until the market rebounded, the other is gutted.

In which would you rather live?

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