Texas Liberal

All People Matter

Measures & Philosophies Of Progress In Houston

A contentious urban planning issue in Houston in recent months has been the so-called Ashby High Rise.

Houston has no zoning codes. You can build pretty much what you want where you want. 

Sleazy developers want to build an absurdly tall building in a residential neighborhood. The building is planned at 23 stories.  

On the other hand, many people of the targeted neighborhood are affluent and strike me as annoying. I just can’t believe, as they assert at times, that they also care about other parts of Houston.

I’m certain many of the individuals fighting the project are decent people. But I’m not aware that this neighborhood was organized before to assist people who live near the stench and toxins of the Houston Ship Channel.

Folks opposed to the high rise have the resources to print up bumper stickers and yard signs. They have a web page. 

A few months ago I suggested the tallest building on Earth should be built in this community.

Maybe a compromise could be that the Ashby high rise is built, but all profits from the project are stripped from the developer and architect.   

That way everybody loses.

I was taking a walk a few days ago and I asked myself why I support the construction of the tallest building on Earth at the Ashby location.   

The most positive outcome of all this seems to be that the City of Houston use the issue as a starting point towards increased regulation of development in Houston.  If people I don’t like are the first to benefit, so be it.

But I just can’t get myself there. 

One sometimes appealing aspect of Houston—when I am feeling the small measure of self-loathing that I see as essential to the broadly healthy personality— is that little pretense is made that it is a decent place. 

Many of Houston’s people are poor and the city is often quite ugly. These facts have been the case for many years now.

A small bit of increased regulation holds out the dispiriting hope that things can be better, when what you really feel is that the people proposing the small changes are not at heart sincere.

You could argue some progress is better than no progress, but I’ve seen many times that a little bit of progress often benefits those who least need the help.

A little bit of progress provides political cover for politicians who at heart lack the political will and imagination to advocate for more substantial change. A little bit of progress allows people to think that things that are bad are instead okay.

The other problem with the some progress is better than no progress point-of-view, is that it is often put forth by people who call themselves “moderates” or “pragmatic.” This implies that others are extremists and off the charts. Only the moderate is being “reasonable.”

Yet in many cases the more moderate position involves letting ongoing wrongs go unaddressed.

This is why Martin Luther King often spoke of “The urgency of now.” (Please click here for my Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List.) 

Also, I find it is often those who already hold power who define what moderation and pragmatism are for the rest of us.   

The people living around the Ashby high rise seem to have been done okay by Houston. So let them have Houston  in all its forms. Build the damn building.

Life is, of course, often a series of incremental steps, and if I had final say-so over the Ashby high rise I suppose I’d veto the project. ( Though I’d squeeze the neighborhood for some cash for other parts of Houston.)

Yet I also know that mammals would not have been able to rule the Earth unless the dinosaurs had gone away. Sometimes—if only just sometimes– life requires sweeping change.

To show I’m reasonable, I no longer support construction of the tallest building on Earth at the Ashby high rise location.

Instead, I now support construction of a biosphere. ( See picture below.) With this compromise solution, local residents who feel the neighborhood would be diminished by a large out-of-scale structure, would now at least have the option of moving into one of the many environments contained within the biosphere.

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March 28, 2008 - Posted by | Houston, Martin & Malcolm | , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. a biosphere would be nice. or a bi-bar or a park or another starbucks or a new super hooters, the options are endless.

    Comment by bill brady | March 29, 2008

  2. I think those folks might enjoy a Super Hooters.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | March 29, 2008

  3. What is interesting is that in cities with zoning controls, the built environment is generally no different than in Houston. Just as ugly.

    Comment by D White | March 31, 2008

  4. With a neighborhood full of V & E lawyers, who have prospered tremendously from a ‘developer friendly’ Houston and the president of their civic club being the lead lawyer for the Port of Houston, how ironic that this neighborhood is now suffering from the same environment that has allowed their success.

    Comment by J. Joseph | April 3, 2008

  5. D.White–its true that many cities with zoning are just as bead and have many of the sdame urban ills.

    J. Joseph–Nothing I can add to that.

    Thanks for both comments.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | April 3, 2008


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