Houston’s General Plan

For decades, various politicians, activists, and organizations have been pushing for Houston to develop and adopt a general plan. In September 2015, City Council did so.

When the city officially began the process in 2014, Mayor Annise Parker said that “planning does not mean zoning.” In the most literal sense, this is true. However, Parker and her cronies were not and are not being honest about the purpose and intent of planning.

In this series of posts, I will examine the nature of planning and what it actually means in the context of a government plan. We will see that planning without land-use regulations (whether they call it zoning or something else) is an exercise in futility. We will see that the advocates of planning will ultimately have to call for more land-use regulations in Houston or abandon the entire concept of planning.

The Planning Process

One of the primary organizations behind the effort to create a general plan was Blueprint Houston. Their mission is “to assure the creation of a general plan for the City of Houston based on citizens’ vision, values, and goals.” On the surface, this ambiguous statement might sound like a good thing. But muddy waters often appear deep, and it isn’t good to dive into waters whose depth is unknown.

Houston is a city of more than 2.2 million people. Houstonians come from every state in the Union and most of the countries on Earth. Houstonians include Catholics, Protestents, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, and atheists. Some Houstonians are gay and some are heterosexual. Some like baseball and others like the ballet. Some Houstonians prefer shopping malls and others prefer mom and pop stores. Some want children and some don’t.

In short, Houstonians have a wide variety of values and goals. Houstonians have very different visions for their lives. While Blueprint Houston and its allies champion the cause of a general plan, they fail to address the real issue: whose vision, values, and goals will shape the general plan?

The website for Blueprint Houston lists a number of meetings in which citizens had a chance to voice their thoughts on the general plan. As an example, a conference in 2007 was attended by “more than 100 people to refine and affirm citizens’ vision for Houston.” One hundred people—less than .005 percent of Houstonians–were asked to “refine and affirm citizens’ vision” for more than two million other Houstonians.

Undoubtedly, a multitude of visions were presented during that conference and at other gatherings. Indeed, the PlanHouston.org website lists more than 130 plans submitted by various organizations and government bodies. Even a small sampling makes it clear that many of these plans are at odds with one another. So again, which will prevail? Whose vision, values, and goals will shape Houston

One doesn’t need to have a degree in political science to answer that question. Those with the most political clout will shape Houston. Those who attend the most meetings, make the most noise, and have the best connections with policy makers will shape Houston’s future. Their vision, values, and goals will become the city’s policy and all Houstonians will be forced to abide by it.

But what if those policies conflict with your vision, values, and goals?

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