Ugly real estate is worth less than pretty real estate — it’s one of the basic tenets of property valuation. Wouldn’t we would all be better off if Houston erased its ugly blight? Yeah, sure.
So why don’t we do something about what former mayoral candidate Peter Brown calls “litter on a stick” — a cute name for the visual pollution that Houstonians have chosen to live with for decades? The “litter” is all the poles and overhead wires that line our streets. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Litter on a stick is a good term for the makeshift, poorly constructed and unsightly tangle of overhead utility poles, wires and transformers that blemish the city’s landscape,” Brown wrote in an opinion piece in several publications.
The ugliness of poles, wires and easements knock off $30,000 to $100,000 per acre in value, Brown says. And the lower property values caused by utility lines cost the city $50 million to $70 million a year in tax revenue.The ugly factor gets even worse when the utility companies send in contractors to whack our trees. The tree butchers cut huge v-shaped swaths out of the trees to protect the wires.
At my home near Loop 610 they would swoop in every couple of years and massacre the old oaks on the perimeter of my yard. I called the utility company and begged for mercy, but there was none. The wires must be protected from the branches in case there is a storm, the guy from the electric company said.
“I like trees more than I like wires,” I said. “I’d rather have nice trees 365 days a year and just do without power for a couple of weeks when the next hurricane comes.”
Then the tree butchers would come. I would take cold Cokes out to the workmen and ask them to go easy on my oaks. But they would give my trees a bad haircut anyway, and the foreman would say no branch, leaf or twig can be retained within five feet of any wire.
Houston doesn’t have to be uglified by utility wires. There is something that can be done about it – bury the power lines. It makes a lot of sense in cities where hurricanes come along every few years. New development should be required to have buried power lines. A lot of Houston suburbs already have buried lines. Older neighborhoods can be retrofitted. It’s expensive, but possible.
I’m glad Peter Brown is on the case. Utility companies are a powerful lot (no pun intended) and they aren’t going to bury the poles and wires unless Brown, other politicians and thousands of Houstonians get involved.
Brown asks you to send him an email, if you care, at Peter@betterhouston.org. I hope Brown and other civic leaders and business people get involved.
Houston can be a better place. Bury the wires.
Speaking of Wires.....
The Leaf and the Volt are charging into our city.The Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt are pioneers in the mass market for electric autos. The electric vehicles leave a small environmental footprint and their fuel cost is about one-fourth of a traditional combustion engine car burning gasoline.
Electric vehicles need a place to plug in for the night, of course. And that can be a problem for apartment dwellers.The next thing for multi-family developers is placing charging stations at apartments complexes. The new Ralston Courtyard apartments in Ventura, Calif. is one of the first, if not the very first, apartment complex in the nation to have charging stations for electric vehicles.
Expect to hear more about apartment charging stations locally as the electric vehicles penetrate the marketplace. Maybe vehicle charging stations will be as much of a necessity as parking places and laundry rooms someday.
Earth Day and Earth Hour
Earth Day, our nation’s day of green celebration and awareness, isn’t until April 22. But office building developers have already been celebrating with a nod to environmental awareness with what’s called Earth Hour. In case you didn’t notice, developers around the nation, including Hines and Wells Real estate and dozens of other skyscraper owners, turned off the lights from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. last Saturday.
Earth Hour began in 2007 when the people of Sydney turned off the lights for one hour to draw awareness to climate change issues. Since then, the practice has taken off and organizers say 422 cities and towns participated this year. And it’s not just office buildings. The lights went out at the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, Niagara Falls and Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, B.C.
But participating skyscrapers are the most visible participants in most cities. Office building developers take energy efficiency and sustainability very seriously. It lowers operating costs, keeps tenants happy and is excellent fodder for marketing programs.
For example, the Hines organization, the Houston-based real estate developer, just announced that it was ranked No. 1 in Commercial Property Executive’s rankings of the “Greenest Companies.” Hines, with 200 buildings certified or registered by the U.S. Green Building Council, topped the other 35 real estate companies ranked by the publication.
Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is editor-in-chief of RealtyNewsReport.com.