BUILDING BLOCK FACTS

“Building Blocks” are the foundation of any development pattern. The goal is to use the building blocks in a way that will maximize our quality of life as we continue to grow. The building blocks under consideration at the Citizens’ Congress II were identified by participants in last fall’s Envision Houston Region workshops. The building blocks include parks and floodplains, neighborhoods, centers and corridors, and a transportation system. Some of the basic facts about the status of these building blocks in Houston are described here.


FLOODPLAINS

Basic Facts (From Harris County Flood Control District)

  1. Out of the 1800 Sq Miles that make up Harris County, approximately 430 Sq Mi (or 20-25%) of that land is included in the 100 year floodplain.
  2. Of the land included in the 100 year floodplain, between 40 – 50% of that land currently has some kind of development on it.
  3. Of the floodplain that has development on it; there are approximately 120,000 single family homes located in that developed floodplain.
  4. Prior to Tropical Storm Allison, the Harris County Flood Control District purchased 440 houses in the floodplain at a cost of $50 million to reclaim that floodplain land.
  5. In a concerted effort after Tropical Storm Allison, the Harris County Flood Control District has been successful in purchasing another 2,149 homes at a cost of $210 million. Altogether, since 1989 HCFCD has been able to purchase 2% of the single family homes located in the floodplain for $260 million.

Current activities in this Building Block:

Besides purchasing homes that are within the 100 year floodplain, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) focuses on three things to improve flood control:

  • Maintaining existing bayous;
  • Building detention basins so that land in the floodplain is less likely to flood. Detention basins are considered to be more cost effective in reducing flood damages.
  • Deepening and widening the bayous.

Additionally, the Harris County Flood Control District is working together with the Parks Board, and Buffalo Bayou Partnership to acquire land along the bayous to increase greenspace.

PARKS AND GREENSPACE

Basic Facts (From The Parks Board):

  1. Houston is ‘parks poor;’ based on a study comparing Houston with other major urban cities in the US. It is estimated that Houston needs to add 5,000 acres of park space to be at the national average for urban cities.
  2. In order to equitably distribute park space around the city, it is estimated that some 80 parks of different sizes are needed.
  3. Right now, due to concerns for flooding, much emphasis is being given to development of linear parks along the bayous. (Linear parks are defined as stretches of land along bayous that connect greenspaces together, like TC Jester or MacGregor Linear Parks).
  4. Of all the bayou areas that could be developed for linear parks (there are 3,000 miles of bayous in Harris County), only about 25% have been developed.
Current Activities in this Building Block:

The Parks Board has conducted an assessment of where there are opportunities to purchase land to be developed into parks and has a $15 million campaign underway for new park land acquisition. Buffalo Bayou Partnership is working on proper development along Buffalo Bayou.

NEIGHBORHOODS

Basic Facts (From Community Management Association):

  1. Deed restrictions are the most common way for neighborhoods to be preserved. However, not all neighborhoods are protected by deed restrictions: less than 25% of neighborhoods inside Loop 610 are covered under deed restrictions. For the most part, using I-45 as a dividing line, most of the neighborhoods with deed restrictions are on the west side of the city and fewer neighborhoods on the east or southeast side of town have deed restrictions.
  2. Where deed restrictions exist, it can be hard to enforce them. Many neighborhoods have civic associations however these are volunteer associations and do not have the power to enforce deed restrictions. Civic associations or individuals that live in the city can go to the City to ask for deed restrictions to be enforced
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  3. Specific entities such as community management associations, management districts, municipal utility districts, and TIRZ’ have been created to help enforce deed restrictions and conduct on-going maintenance for a neighborhood. Master planned communities such as the Woodlands or First Colony often have some entity charged with enforcing the deed restrictions and empowered to levy fees for on-going maintenance and so often are the best protected. Neighborhoods that are managed by community associations with professional or full-time staff are also well protected. However, of the approximately 10,000 community associations in the 8 county Houston area, only 60% have the resources, such as professional staff and fees, to enforce the deed restrictions and perform on-going maintenance.
Additional Information to Consider:

With the amount of growth expected to come to Houston, another way to preserve existing neighborhoods is to create new neighborhoods with higher density, along town centers, for example. These neighborhoods are less likely to have single family homes, but rather would be mixed-used, town homes and condominiums; are in a context of a walkable environment; and are close to employment and retail.


CITIES AND TOWN CENTERS

Basic Facts:

  1. Defining Town Centers as nodes of development that contain a balance and variety of housing, jobs, and retail, there are the beginnings of several Town Centers are already in place around the Houston region. Nodes that show potential for development into complete Town Centers are: the Woodlands, Greenspoint, Memorial City, the Energy Corridor, Westchase, Sugar Land and First Colony, Cinco Ranch, Pearland, Clear Lake, Kingwood, Galleria and Uptown, the Medical Center and downtown.

  2. Many of the existing nodes lack one or more elements of town centers, they lack pedestrian-friendly environments, or they lack variety, such as variety in retail. However, some are more advanced than others and others show potential and movement in becoming thriving Town Centers.
  3. The biggest challenge faced by all existing nodes in becoming Town Centers is the lack of pedestrian-friendly character. Other challenges for these nodes are increasing housing density through mixed use housing, and better integrating the elements of housing, employment, and retail.

CORRIDORS AND TRANSPORTATION

Basic Facts: (from Texas Transportation Institute 2005 Urban Mobility report)

  1. Houston see more short trips on the freeway system than is desirable, caused by development along frontage roads and fewer arterial streets providing access to businesses on frontage roads.
  2. Average peak period trip takes 42% longer than it would in mid-day (free flow conditions) (6th worst in US)
    3. Stop-and-go conditions on Houston roads wastes 81 million gallons of fuel per year.
  3. Travel delay and excess fuel consumption in Houston costs each Houston traveler $1,060 per year (“Consumption tax”)
  4. The greater Houston area has a network of 100 miles of HOV lanes - one of largest in the country – which facilitates over 125,000 trips per day.
  5. Where there is HOV service, 30-40% of travelers to downtown use bus or carpool.

Current Activities in this Building Block:
Houston is looking at diversifying its transportation options:
  1. Metro is investing in the expansion of the light rail and the development of several transit corridors. Five transit corridors have been proposed which would provide Bus Rapid Transit, Light rail, or commuter rail. The corridors are:
    a. University to Uptown Galleria
    b. North
    c. Harrisburg
    d. Southeast,
    e. Northwest out 290 and southwest through Ft Bend county
  2. As well as these transit corridors, alternative transportation options are being developed in parts around the city. In the last 8 years the City has opened more than 250 miles of on-road bike lanes, and 20 miles of off road bike lanes along Bayous and old railroad tracks. Another 45 more miles planned. Across the county, there are more than 500 miles of off-road bike trails have been improved and opened for biking traffic around Harris County.