Comment of the Day Second Runner-Up: Things To Think About Before You Start Planning Under-Freeway Developments

COMMENT OF THE DAY SECOND RUNNER-UP: THINGS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU START PLANNING UNDER-FREEWAY DEVELOPMENTS “One conclusion I’ve made about the U.S., compared to European countries, is that we don’t use space efficiently. We’ve got all these open ditches, grass patches . . . along our roadways. So this Tokyo solution appeals to me. But while I haven’t traveled extensively, I feel that selling/renting under-highway space to retail smacks of third-world. Would Houston ever go for that? There is so much filth that washes off roadways and would filter into/onto these shops. A friend has his bike storage cage under the apartment driveway. It’s just a drive! yet the bikes always have a greasy blackness on them. Ever park in an airport garage for more than a couple days? Your car is filthy. Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat a taco made under the Pierce Elevated.” [movocelot, commenting on Midtown Sears Closure Nets Rice 9 Acres near the Wheeler Transit Center] Illustration: Lulu

8 Comment

  • Remember that an economy largely manifests itself as a budget function of available land, labor, and capital. If land in Houston cost as much as land in Tokyo, we would apply more labor and capital in order to economize on the use of it. To describe either scenario is wasteful is lazy.
    Public policy also is shaped by different forces. For decades now, Japan has been forcibly pumping stimulus into its economy, albeit not very efficiently, to try and prevent or reduce deflation. Projects tend to be capital-intensive in part because labor is increasingly scarce. (They’ve even opened up some immigration policy for reform, despite a relatively xenophobic history.) The government of Japan has also for a very long time held grave concerns regarding resource and energy security, and so policies encouraging near-term investment in long-lived capital-intensive projects that enable higher density cities or improved energy efficiency may fulfill objectives that are not purely aesthetic or environmental — but that also fulfill defense strategy. To put that logical framework in some kind of perspective, consider that in an entirely different context from Japan, the United States undertook what remains the world’s largest and most expensive public works project for purposes that were ostensibly defense-related…and that is our interstate highway system.

  • If you want to develop under-utilized space, you don’t need to start with the area under freeways.
    How about surface parking, which accounts for 1/2 to 3/4 of the land area of a typical development? We can’t be that desperate for develop-able land if we’re willing to dedicate 70% of what we already develop to machinery storage.
    How about roadways? A typical major thoroughfare in Houston has at least a 70-ft right-of-way, with 25-ft setbacks on either side. That’s 120 or more feet between facades. It’s entirely possible to make do with 20-ft between façades, which makes 2/3 of the right of way wasted space.
    Or how about front yards? What a ridiculous waste of space! No one ever goes into their front yard except to mow it. Let people build straight up to the property line so they can have more BACKyard space (which is the outdoor space people actually use).
    We don’t do any of these things because we don’t REALLY care about wasted space, because the space we’re wasting isn’t worth enough not to waste it. And since we waste so much of it, it never will be.

  • Funny, I pretty much thought to myself, “Houston almost seems like a third-world country” when I moved here. The city in general is in such neglect and is a mess of ugly infrastructure — unless you visit exurban/wealthy enclaves. I don’t think putting shops under the freeway would make much of a difference.

  • Third Coast- I was in LA not long ago and felt a lot better about Houston. Every Houstonian should try it.

  • The third photo “waterjournalistafrica” from MissCleo is the best. I have seen places like this in China, and in Mexican border towns.

  • You know this gave me an idea. That land under freeways isn’t good for retail or anything inhabited. But it could be a perfect place to dig down and create auxiliary storm water detention facilities.
    Yeah the water will be filthy, like your friends bikes usually are,but floodwater usually is. And as auxiliary detention they would only be used in extreme rainfall events (once or twice a year during so-called “hundred year” storms)

  • I used to live in a place that was quite similar to that shot of Africa. And let me tell you, the downside of third-world infrastructure is having line attenuation so severe that even the smallest ductless A/C cannot function, coping with days-long blackouts made bearable only by tapping a golf cart battery, highly contaminated totally undrinkable groundwater, and potholes such as Houston cannot fathom which are invisible during frequent episodes of street flooding. Only, I lived out in the sticks…so according to lore I have probably been possessed by evil spirits by this point. Goodness knows that there were times that I had wondered whether they had possessed my GI tract. Despite all that, I rather enjoyed my time there. (My perspective may have been quite different, admittedly, if I wasn’t comparatively privileged and well-off, but that’s true of anywhere in the world.)
    Suffice it to say, I am an advocate for grit as an element of urban form. Houston retains some of that, and a lot compared to some other large prosperous growing cities — like Dallas — but let’s just dispense with the recurring ‘third world’ rhetorical claims. For better or for worse, nothing about Houston resembles anything of that sort.