How New Harris County Developments Are Hugging the Grand Pkwy.

Within 3 miles of the Grand Pkwy.’s completed sections, more than 50,000 acres of development have sprung up in the past 5 years; they’re indicated by the pink patchwork in the map above, put out by Houston’s planning department. In following the highway, construction activity passes through 5 watersheds — Spring Creek, Cypress Creek, Addicks, Barker, and Brays Bayou — that aren’t seeing nearly as much concentrated development in non-roadside areas.

In order to plot out development across all of Harris County between 2013 and 2018, the map takes into account activity concerning “platting and general plans” over those years. That means the highlighted sections include parcels on which developers requested changes (for example, to merge adjacent properties or gain permission to build new types of structures), that often precede building.

Map: Houston Planning Department

Development Birdseye

27 Comment

  • Knew the Grand Parkway would generate a lot more sprawl. This is why every time you build a freeway it seems to fill up with traffic almost immediately, within a couple years at most. Developers are chomping at the bit to build more shoddy, generic subdivisions along these corridors even while the freeway is in the planning stages.
    If we want to start getting away from the sprawl pattern, step one needs to be to stop building and widening freeways. Step two is to build more trains and bus rapid transit lines instead. And step three is to reform building codes, especially by reducing off-street parking requirements. Only then can we start to rein in this destructive, wasteful behavior.

  • @Christian: We don’t want to get away from the sprawl pattern.

  • Actually, what expanded highways do (besides, yes, fill up quickly) is enable capital to create higher quality sprawl (masterplanned communities and mixed-use) than what you get otherwise, which is your basic non-amenitized single family subdivision. The lack of a nearby limited-access highway doesn’t stop development, it just limits it to lower-value single family and small scale industrial.
    And yes, allowing uninhibited development on the fringe (highway or not) does allow housing supply to keep up with demand, so I’m just fine with it. As long as the folks who live in such places understand that their commute can very, very easily turn completely hellish, and it doesn’t take a lot of development to cause that.

  • @christian, sometimes best to focus on the end goal and not the means in which you get there. I would say that first, the developers are just trying to meet demand rather than actively seeking to build shoddy, generic subdvisions. They’re investing and developing based on what their customers want and what americans say they want time and time again is more shoddy, generic subdivisions built in outer ring roads / suburban areas that can be priced affordably.
    The city will never be able to afford BRT / rail options without far higher rates of density and regional population growth. Sprawl is a needed ingredient for the mix.
    Density is not something that should be imposed on the market, but as you stated something that should be allowed for within building regulations to meet market demand. Considering most residential redevelopments in the inner loop are for both smaller lots and larger square footage, your mileage will vary.

  • @Christian. Houston is flat with Prairie all around it, why would we not want to spread out? Do you enjoy congestion? Houston will never been NYC, in terms of public transportation or density. It doesn’t want to be a a gridlocked East Coast or Rust Belt city. Houston’s success has been low cost housing and the ability to grow outward. In addition, The Grand Parkway creates jobs and often affordable new housing. That’s exactly why this parkway was built in the first place. I’m baffled at your comment

  • @memebag, who do you mean ‘we’ Swamplotter?

  • Christian – Totally.

  • @Thayer: Both low-density sprawl cities (TX, California, Atlanta etc.) and higher-density Rust Belt / East Coast cities get plenty congested. Congestion just happens, you can’t get away from it, no matter your urban form. It is an integral part of the single-occupancy-vehicle system, in any metro with a thriving economy. It’s an annoyance we’re perfectly willing to put up with.

  • @TimP: By “we” I mean the majority of Houstonians. The people who live here. We live here because the benefits of sprawl outweigh the costs.

  • If you dont like urban sprawl, you must really dislike chapter 19.

  • I wonder how many of you have been around the country looking at the quality of Master Planned Communities. Well I have and I’d rank Houston number one. Developers here often have to have a pond or water feature to control drainage, they also often have to a lot park land for runoff as well. All this leads to aesthetically pleasing subdivisions. Houston is also flat, which allows for varied designs in traffic flow in and out of the community. The Woodlands has won numerous awards for design as has Kingwood, Clear Lake and Sugar Land. The comments on this site often are very down on Houston, but this is an area of excellence, no doubt.

  • @Thayer: Rewards from whom? Certainly not city planning professionals. I’m not particularly fussed about what rewards these types of developers vote to give themselves.
    @Everybody else: Sprawl is not necessary to keep housing prices down. We have tons and tons of room for more infill inside 610 alone, let alone within the Beltway or god forbid the Grand Parkway. We could infill at the current rate for the next 50 years and still not be at the density level of even Chicago, which is not particularly dense by global standards.
    You go denser, that’s all there is to it. Some ordinances may need to be changed to make that easier, but that should’ve been done ages ago.
    As to the whole “this is what people want” argument, it’s only what they want in a skewed, heavily-subsidized environment which has been regulated into insanity. If it were as easy to build dense city housing as sprawling suburban housing, and if suburban infrastructure wasn’t being so heavily subsidized by society, you’d see a huge shift in apparent preferences. As it is, the whole reason walkable urbanism is so expensive is that the demand far, far outpaces the supply. If there was enough of it to go around, it wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
    Expensive housing isn’t a required feature of urbanism–it’s a side-effect of the legal environment we’ve constructed in North America.

  • More sprawl, more concrete, more flooding

  • @Thayer
    The developers are REQUIRED to build those water features by the county to help mitigate flooding risks, they would rather not do so as it could otherwise be sold off ….. the result is higher lot prices throughout the subdivision.
    In addition, many of those neighborhood parks are actually reserves for future oil/gas drilling operations. Nice to have until someone decides to bulldoze the park and set up a rig. At that time it is a little too late.

  • Some of the worst congestion in Houston is on roads like Fry Rd., Kingwood Blvd and Woodlands Pkwy/Research Blvd. It can rival the worst traffic in any major metro during rush hour. And all of these new layers of sprawl are following the same patterns as Katy, Woodlands, Kingwood, etc. A few subdivisions go in supported by strip mall retail. Then, a few more and a few more, all being built along a thoroughfare that was not designed to support unending growth. A small suburb quickly turns into a small city with minimal public transportation and no real alternative to driving. The Grand Parkway just aids and abets the continual development of the same bad model of residential housing in gated communities served by strip mall retail with giant parking lots.

  • @Thayer: Why wouldn’t we spread out on the prairie? Aside from ecological impacts, which I know some people simply don’t care about, what about flooding?
    “Affordable” is fine if it was actually affordable, and included all the hidden costs. But those of us living downstream are paying for their cheap, uncontrolled development by lower property values and lost property (not to mention lives) from the increasing runoff and flooding. If all those developments actually had effective, enforced flood mitigation requirements built into the cost of the houses, instead of passing that cost off downstream, then I wonder how affordable they’d all be?

  • @Christian: So if there are a bunch of people who want to live inside the loop, what is making them move to the suburbs? Regulations? Subsidies? Or do they want things the suburbs offer that the urbs never can? As someone who has moved from dense to less dense, you’ll need to persuade me that my desires are not what I think they are.

  • @WR Having lived in both Kingwood and The Woodlands I have yet to see an oil derrick go up in my local park (or any park in any master planned community for that matter) I get where your going with your explanation but in most of the master planned communities parks are amenities to draw in the customer.

  • @Christian, “We have tons and tons of room for more infill inside 610 alone, let alone within the Beltway or god forbid the Grand Parkway. We could infill at the current rate for the next 50 years and still not be at the density level of even Chicago, which is not particularly dense by global standards.
    You go denser, that’s all there is to it. Some ordinances may need to be changed to make that easier,”

    Seeing this it’s helpful to remembers that large sections of the inner loop may never have the demand for densification despite the regulatory pathways having been laid. Development is also heavily tied to city infrastructure and resources. The areas that are densifying are incredibly expensive. Some areas that could densify don’t have the demand to.
    It’s just not a simple issue. If schools were equal and we didn’t have exceptionally high levels of economic segregation things may be different, but regulations alone will not fix the issue.
    As far as suburban developments being subsidized I’d be interested in what other aspects you have in mind? I tend to think of societal subsidizations being tied more to utilities; things like water, energy and fuel which should come with higher taxes to mitigate the negative impacts of their existing supply models.

  • This comments on this site no doubt skews anti developer and developerment, which is hilarious since this is site dedicated to new development. It’s like most on here wish Houston were static like some Allentown, that time forgot. No sprawl there, because its dying. Houston is vibrant and always reinventing itself. It’s not for everyone, move to ole San Antonio, where little ever changes and it always feels like its going backward.

  • Living in a suburb means being locked into that suburb. Get transferred to a job anywhere else in the metro area? Then waking up at 5am – or earlier – every day is the norm for the sake of having a reasonable non-enraging commute.

  • Seems we need another reservoir in NW Houston. I notice a pattern of water draining into the Gulf, perhaps if we build more reservoirs upstream (say out past the Grand Parkway) iit can manage the inevitable flow of water into the Gulf?

  • @Thayer: That’s a straw-man argument. I’m not anti-development, and neither are most advocates of dense urbanism. I’m anti-sprawl. I am extremely pro-development in and near the city center–I just don’t want those dollars spent on greenfield developments out at the edge of the metro area.
    @Memebag: I’m not going to try and say everybody wants to live in the city, that would be ridiculous. Many people, probably around half of them in this region, truly do prefer the suburban lifestyle. The problem is that sprawling suburban-style development is 95+ percent of Houston’s built environment when only about 50 to 60% actually want to live like that. Most of the people who would like to live in a dense urban environment are being priced out.
    And the reason that’s happening is because vast sums of money are being spent subsidizing the infrastructure for sprawl, because lending laws vastly favor single-family detached homes, because the regulatory framework inhibits density (e.g. extremely high off-street parking requirements)–and so on.

  • @MadMax ….. there are instances of companies who announced several wells in the Clear Lake area and at least one gas/condensate well drilled in The Woodlands several years back which drew quite a bit of neighborhood ire. Just because these “Reserves” are there doesn’t mean that they will be used, but be suspicious of any “Reserve” in neighborhoods developed by subsidiaries of oil companies …. that is the real reason they are there.

  • @Christian if by “the legal environment” you mean extremely favorable tax code + extremely favorable monetary policy + extremely favorable pro-fossil-fuel industrial policy (actually, more like military-industrial policy since the military is the single largest consumer of fossil fuels) — then I would be 100% in agreement.

  • @Christian
    Don’t worry, once the inner city renaissance reaches peak, the sprawl pattern will start to die off. And that’s if future weather events don’t do the job.

  • @Christian: But all of that infrastructure and law were put in place by us, the majority. I don’t know where you get your numbers, but just by looking at how people vote and live in Houston, it seems obvious that the majority want a big house, a big yard, good schools and maybe a pool.
    And it isn’t a conspiracy that keeps central real estate expensive. It’s just physics and math.