Houston Growing into a Polycentric City

Houston has grown in a way that could put it on the very threshold of future urban development. The Gulf Coast Institute's publication "Tomorrow" describes a planning concept called the "polycentric city." Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports that Houston may be ahead of the polycentric curve.

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Most urban areas have developed with a downtown surrounded by ever growing suburbs.

"Houston has never really looked like that except a long, long time ago."

David Crossley is president of the Gulf Coast Institute and editor of "Tomorrow."

"It has now places like Uptown/Galleria, the Medical Center, Greenway Plaza, Westchase, Greenspoint and Downtown. All of those places, all six of those places, each of those places, has more jobs than downtown San Diego or downtown Miami. They are all cities in their own right. We have more of those giant places than any other city in the United States."

The polycentric concept would have each of these areas developed to make them more like small towns; places where people live, shop, work and play. Where they know each other and can walk and bicycle to more places. Each would be surrounded by greenspace and connected by transit systems. Crossley says we could be a leader in the way American cities develop.

"This is already happening in Europe. This very idea is already official policy of the European Union, the polycentric sustainable city, so we could be first."

But even though more transit, smaller town centers and more greenspace are what people say they want. It is not want they may be getting. Crossley says the 2025 regional transportation plan calls for the greater Houston area to get 11-thousand lane miles of new highways. That compares to cities like Atlanta and San Diego who are planning for 150-to-200 lane miles. Crossley says there is no other city with such a huge amount on new roads planned for the future.

"So the conflict between what citizens want, and what elected officials can just says they are na?ve or whatever, but what they want and what elected officials want us to have is getting to be huge."

Crossley says policies have to change to give people what they want and to place "quality of life" as the main goal of planners. For example he says if the Grand Parkway is built it will take the wind out of the notion of building town centers and the area will end up with more developments that require a car to get you anywhere for anything.

"So if we decide to build the Grand Parkway that means we are deciding to not pursue the future as a modern city we'll be taking the old road which almost no city thinks is the right way anymore."

The latest edition of "Tomorrow" is available by contacting the Gulf Coast Institute.

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