“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.
Basic Facts (From Harris County Flood Control District)
- 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.
- Of the land included in the 100 year floodplain,
between 40 – 50% of that land currently has
some kind of development on it.
- Of the floodplain that has development on it; there
are approximately 120,000 single family homes located
in that developed floodplain.
- 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
- 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:
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):
Current Activities in this Building Block:
- 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.
- In order to equitably distribute park space around
the city, it is estimated that some 80 parks of different
sizes are needed.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
Basic Facts (From Community Management Association):
Additional Information to Consider:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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.
- 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
CORRIDORS AND TRANSPORTATION
(from Texas Transportation Institute 2005 Urban Mobility report)
- 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.
- Average peak period trip takes 42% longer than
it would in mid-day (free flow conditions) (6th worst
3. Stop-and-go conditions on Houston roads wastes
81 million gallons of fuel per year.
- Travel delay and excess fuel consumption in Houston
costs each Houston traveler $1,060 per year (“Consumption
- 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.
- 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
- 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
e. Northwest out 290 and southwest through Ft
- 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.