Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What is demanded is the correct business solution

Over the past few weeks there's been much hue and cry over Houston's proposed parking revisions and how they'll work to transform our fair city into a veritable Houtpia of pedestrians coming to and from businesses surrounded by bicyclists in very Euro spandex singlets and a wisp of old-school automobile traffic that the modern, hip-eyeglass wearing, new-urbanist set will laugh and shrug their shoulders at as they while away the hours looking for someplace to park their carbon-spewing behemoths with much frustration.

The Chron has spent some considerable time dwelling on this ($$$) unfortunately much of it has been behind their newly-minted pay wall which means that (judging by the lack of comments on such stories) few, if any of you, have been willing or able to read their missives.  The above link is no different then most of what's been written however, choosing to view the parking regulations as 'reigning in' automotists with the worst of driving habits, and making the city center something of beauty, rather than something of business and convenience for most.

Imagine my surprise then to be greeted with this headline, as part of the Chron's pay-walled opinion pages:

Let Businesses decide on Parking.($$$)

I was even more surprised by the headline when I viewed the names under the byline.  Former Democratic candidate for House Dristrict 7 (and current alternative energy executive) Michael Skelly & Environmental design and living activist/executive Jeff Kaplan.

I was less surprised when I read their editorial, which basically asserted that business should be able to decide their parking regulations, provided they decided in what is considered to be the "correct" (read: automobile unfriendly) manner.  Apparently, under their thinking, a business that decided to cater to the car, and hideously add to the climate change monster and "visual blight" would NOT be allowed to "make up their own minds" but would need to see things the way of the new urbanists in order for their complete streets dream to unfold properly and (forgive the pun) completely to a manner that automobilists are not to be prioritized.

It's very easy to wax poetic for a complete streets Houston where automobile space is minimized in favor wide pedestrian and bicyclist walkways with young live oaks beginning their spread down green-spaces designed for picnics and, presumably, peaceful protest rallies, but it becomes harder to imagine these concepts actually working in a real-world environment.

As an example, I give you Central Market Houston.  At current, this is (and has been) Houston's best farmer's market.  And, currently, there is only one of them located just inside the Loop in Highland Village. For people who live in and around the Galleria (and for the rather well off who live around Highland Village) walking here for your produce shopping is an adventure all it's own.  With complete streets it would be easier, but even if MetroRail were expanded it still will not run a train down Westheimer so walking there would be pretty much out.  When you add in the fact that Metro doesn't take advantage of the concept of circulator bus lines, it becomes near impossible.  For someone in say, Midtown, walking or biking to Central Market in any month not named February, March or October it could be downright drenching.  Because of this, Central Market has a very large parking lot attached to it allowing people from all over the city an opportunity to go there and purchase white and purple bell peppers from Holland.  The absence of the parking lot would mean that fewer people would shop there, and it would be far less of a success economically.

Unfortunately, this side of the debate is shuttered by ChronBlog, an organization whose willingness to present both sides of the new-urbanist debate has been lacking for over a decade.  Adding to that mess, is that they are now airing a majority of the debate behind a pay wall, where most Houstonians choose not to participate.  While not the point of this piece, I do believe that their shuttering the information behind this wall is outside of their claimed goal of providing journalism in the public interest.  Of course, their journalism on this has never been in the public interest in the first place, it's been carefully parsed over the last decade to promote and sustain one point of view: That there's only one solution to Houston's new-urban future to the exclusion of all else. That this one point of view is often driven by self-serving business interests (a fact oft used as criticism (rightly) by new-urbanists against developers promoting sprawl) gets swept under the rug with nary a peep.

It would be nice if, one day, the debate over Houston's future was truly open and honest regarding programs that could help Houston grow. Until then, we're stuck with activists with financial stakes in the game telling us that we all need to shoe-horn inside the Loop and be happy living and dying in our proper social circle.

Ironically, that's the same criticism new-urbanists level against the promoters of sprawl.

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