No need to wait 50 years
A Blueprint for Houston's future: What most of us want
What will Houston be in 50 years? Whatever we make it.
Blueprint Houston, a citizen-based organization, has a single mission: To assure the creation of a general plan for the city of Houston based on citizens’ vision, values, and goals.
We have spent the last several years in meetings of Houstonians, in groups as small as a dozen and as large as 1,000, documenting their points of view. Participants in these discussions have been broadly representative of Houston — in age, ethnicity and race, income, place of residence.
We know that more than 83 percent of Houstonians agree that Houston needs a plan (documented repeatedly by Stephen Klineberg’s Houston Area Survey).
This is what Houstonians want:
• Diversity — in opportunity, in population, in housing choices, the arts and culture
• Sustainability and growth — in the economy, neighborhoods, the environment, education
• Coordination —in land use and transportation, in home, work, and entertainment locations
• Good government — wise, responsive, efficient, transparent, accountable and creative
This vision of the city is hard to argue with. The devil, as they say, is in the details — the details of exactly what these words mean and how we get from where we are to where we want to be. Someone, perhaps it was Mark Twain, said that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will do. But Houstonians know where they want to go and are asking the city for a plan — a broad framework for action — to move us along the road toward our preferred future.
Examining one of the aspects of the vision, we can see the devilish details.
One vision of the ideal place to live is a townhouse in a vibrant urban neighborhood with a diversity of population and income levels and ready access to a light rail stop that connects to a city-wide transit network. People can walk to shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, a library, the pharmacy — perhaps even to work. Children can walk to school or a park. Medical facilities and other large commercial venues are a train ride away. The one car comes out for weekend excursions, to visit friends in the suburbs, or for occasional business use.
Another vision might be a suburban, single family detached house with a large back yard and two cars in the garage. Convenient commuting routes as well as access to the regional transit system are nearby. The neighborhood is a real neighborhood with sufficient amenities — schools, a library, small shops, maybe an ice cream shop, a park — so that a kid on a bike can go where he or she needs to go without crossing a major thoroughfare.
The cars come out more often here, for work, major shopping expeditions, kids’ after school activities.
And of course there are more family types than couples with kids — there are the childless couple, single parents, empty nesters, young singles, seniors living alone, large extended families, and more. There are more neighborhood types than transit-oriented development and suburban subdivisions. Houstonians like diversity. They also like sustainability. They like change and neighborhood preservation. And they want that wise, responsive, efficient, transparent, accountable government to sort all this out.
A general plan would include neighborhoods, transportation, the economy, the environment, community, and government. (For citizens’ specific goals in each of these sectors, see the Blueprint Houston website.)
Such a plan would provide the framework, the set of guiding principles, for both public and private sector decisions balancing the needs and wants of the people in an efficient and effective manner. It would coordinate development, residential and commercial, with infrastructure improvements (streets, storm sewers, and the like) and transportation decisions. It would clarify processes through which neighborhoods might undergo change in response to changing times as well as ways to preserve stable existing neighborhoods. It would provide some predictability while including flexibility to modify the plan as needed.
A city with a general plan is not Utopia. Cities by nature are a bit messy and that’s what make city living interesting. But a city with a plan based on broad citizen input charts a course toward a sustainable, diverse, coordinated, vibrant, empowering place to live.
That is what Blueprint Houston sees in Houston’s future. While it can’t happen tomorrow, it can start tomorrow.
We don’t need to wait for 50 years.
Martha Murphree is executive director of the nonprofit Blueprint Houston.