Monday, January 08, 2007

Major city, no plan

Houston has nearly 2 million people, making it the 4th largest city in America. With all that size, it has to plan the layout for what business goes where, what residence goes where, etc., in order to lay out a structured, perfectly planned city. But not Houston. Houston is the only major American city without a zoning code.

Since Houston has no formal zoning plan, it has an unregulated, unplanned real estate market. In other words, Houston is the epiphany of the free market at work.

And the people of Houston want it that way. The last time a zoning referendum appeared on the local ballot, it went down in flames: 47% for, 53% against.

So, what's the result? Some would say, "If there is no zoning plan, it will be a sporadic lumps of population everywhere, and the land area per population would be astronomical!" But, according to infoplease's profiles of the 50 largest American cities, Houston looks normal. Now, because it's large, there are a multiple of suburbs, but the City of Houston itself, it looks like any other city. In fact, I live in Midwest City, a suburb of Oklahoma City (population a fourth of Houston), and Oklahoma City has a larger area than Houston!

And because of a free-market approach, home-ownership seems the most affordable. Take Houston with its polar-opposite--Portland, OR. According to the Houston Chronicle, Portland is held as the "Mecca of highly prescriptive and restrictive urban planning" in the country.

As such, land prices are more expensive in Portland than in Houston. According to Coldwell Banker, when you buy a 2,200 square foot, four-bedroom home, the price in Portland is $357,000, and the price in Houston is $155,000.

And Houston has a vast diversity in its architecture. A driving tour of Houston is a great to explore the city's colorful history. Look around Houston--really look--and you start to see the picture. You think, "Hmm...why is that gas station next to a turn-of-the-century Italianate mansion?" Then again, perhaps the burning question should be, "What's this turn-of-the-century Italianate mansion doing here in the first place?"

It goes to show you: when you apply the free market to anything (e.g., real estate, in this case), you get the best quality with lower prices than any other system. And Houston is the proof.


At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol -- Houston has some of the most restrictive home owners associations and deed covenants in the country. Laws governing parking minimums and building set backs force developers into building unsustainable large-lot, boring buildings that create a city that discourages walkability, density and makes mass transit impossibly expensive. Houston may not have zoning, but they have plenty of restrictive building laws--bad ones. I'd rather live in Portland -- who says cheap housing is good housing?


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