The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


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Respect the Renter

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Over the last decade, the percentage of renters in America has fluctuated between 33 and 36%. Yet, in spite of the fact that ⅓ of all Americans are renting their housing, there seems to be a notion in many neighborhoods and towns that owners are the main people who matter and the only ones who are going to be valuable members of their communities.

Indeed, I have encountered many community development organizations whose entire focus is increasing the amount of homeowners in a given neighborhoods and connecting them with grants, loans and classes to help them keep their houses looking nice and safe. This is an admirable mission and clearly has a positive impact on the people and communities that it serves. However, I have also encountered the opposite end of this owner-centered sentiment: an utter dismissal of renters as merely “transient” and “disengaged” in their communities, which sometimes becomes outright anger and prejudice towards them…

Read the rest on the Strong Towns blog.


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A Week in Houston

A classic plate of beef brisket at Houston's Goode Company Barbeque.

A classic plate of beef brisket at Houston’s Goode Company Barbeque.

It’s been a while since I visited a completely new city—much less spent a week there—so I particularly enjoyed the chance to help my aunt, uncle and cousins move to Houston, Texas this past week. Due to the nature of this trip, I can’t pretend that I’m about to give a thorough or comprehensive portrayal of Houston. We spent the first half of the week in a La Quinta hotel with three cats, three kids (all under 4) and the goal of moving them and their parents into a new house by Thursday. It’s been a little haphazard and a lot of time spent at the hotel pool. Nonetheless, I was able to experience many aspects of the city and what follows are a handful of observations I’ve collected.

  1. Low density. Houston is definitely a sprawling metropolis where the city limits stretch for miles. Buildings are low and spread out. After a week in the city, I’m still unsure where the downtown is, or whether Houston even has a traditional downtown.
  2. No zoning codes. Houston is mostly flat, but after driving or walking several blocks you’ll suddenly come across a twelve-story office building. Noticing this, I mused that perhaps Houston didn’t have many zoning laws, to which my native Houston friend replied, “Actually we have zero.” It makes the place look a bit random but it also means many opportunities to try new types of development and build whatever is needed for a particular time and place.
  3. Car city. Houston has completely embraced the car culture, widening its highways to six lanes in some places and utilizing complex interchanges that at times confused me as a driver new to the city. Some neighborhood streets seem not to have adjusted to this car-centric attitude, but that just means that drivers come barreling down the narrower streets at alarming speeds. I am told the bus system in Houston is passable, but I certainly wouldn’t count on biking or walking anywhere—what with the heat and the domination of automobiles. Continue reading