Comment of the Day: The Diluted Center City

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE DILUTED CENTER CITY “. . . Maybe Houston’s growth seems slower . . . compared to other similar sized cities because Houston is almost unique in that our growth spreads out radially from the downtown core. There’s not a socially defined ‘good’ side of town where 98% of development takes place. In Atlanta, most of the growth is north, with a little bit to the east. In Dallas, the only ‘right’ place to live is north. LA favors its Westside, and most of the high dollar real estate in Chicago marches north up the Lakefront. Houston has long had a bias toward the west side of town, but the Museum District/Med Center to the south has grown, EaDo is moving ahead, and The Heights and The Woodlands are doing just fine. So instead of concentrating the development dollars in only one favored area of the city, growth here happens in all quadrants.” [ShadyHeightster, commenting on Stadium-Side Apartments in EaDo a No-Go] Illustration: Lulu

26 Comment

  • this is news to me, I thought all of the growth was on the west side where I cvan see 4 cranes from my office in greenway. On a side note I had a meeting downtown yesterday @ 3 pm. I couldnt believe how many homeless/bums are downtown. Even for Houston, the numbers are staggering and the sights unbelieveable. Id bet there are more homeless roaming the streets downtown than actual employed tax paying citizens. This is why everyone stays in tunnels and no retail will ever work

  • Actually, Los Angeles spreads in every direction, much like Houston with the inner city money affluence, also like Houston on the Westside. True the suburbs go in all directions but mostly concentrated on the West, Northwest, and Southwest. In the city core all the big money is West and Southwest and the major growth in Houston and most on the construction is still to the West. Granted you have some investment in the Eastwood and the Heights, but Dallas has Swiss Avenue and Oak Cliff that are not North, San Antonio has King William, Austin has South Congress, Los Angeles has Hancock Park, Palos Verdes, etc. I don’t see Houston has so outside the norm and really don’t totally agree with your thesis, still good comment of the day.

  • I think this not only helps dilute urban regeneration across a larger part of the inner city; it also is healthy at a regional scale. The CBDs of Dallas and Atlanta have had a notoriously difficult time competing for corporate tenants, at least partly because those locations end up being much more peripheral to desirable white collar suburbs, which are mostly on one “side” of the region. In Houston, we have those types of suburbs on every side but due east (Barbers Hill is still too small to be relevant at the regional level) – even the northeast side is gaining strength in this regard. That means our CBD, along with Uptown and Greenway, remain in centrally accessible locations for the bulk of the educated professionals residing in the suburbs. (It doesn’t mean they necessarily have a pleasant commute, however.) They therefore remain competitive locations for office-type employers – which in turn helps feed demand for more inner-city living for those working in the core who don’t want the suburbs.

  • It is a common misconception that downtown Houston is the “center” or “core” of this great City. Downtown is IN the core of the city, but downtown is in fact the farthest east PORTION of the core.

    Draw a ring around Downtown, the Med Center, Uptown, Memorial Park and (maybe) the Heights. THIS entire area is the core of Houston. Downtown is the eastern edge of the core. Just like Downtown Manhattan is the southern edge of Manhattan.

    Downtown is a very important part of the City, but is not the core. It hasn’t been the core for decades. It will not be the core in the future.

  • Houston’s skyline pattern is almost exclusively West (except Hermann Park/Medical Center South and the most unfortunate Greenspointe North). Houston’s pattern is no different than Atlanta, Chicago, San Antonio, and Dallas’ going North, Los Angeles going West like Houston. The big money in Houston has always gone West, look at all the building in the Galleria Area and along the Katy Freeway, I mean do you see that on Baytown East, 288 or the Gulf Freeway? The COH is still very much a Westside town, just like LA.

  • I have a theory about this. Like most of my theories, it was hatched after several pints of beer, so its credibility should not be questioned.

    Most of the other cities we look to as some kind of ideal in terms of development have some feature that forms the central focus. San Francisco has the bay. Chicago has the lake. New York has the island of Manhattan and the harbor, and Boston and Baltimore have attractive waterfronts as well. Austin has the river and the capitol building and UT. San Antonio has the Alamo. I don’t go to Dallas so to heck with Dallas.

    What does Houston have? We have a waterfront, which, being basically a swamp, is not much good for anything but the heavy industry that surrounds it. Will there ever be a time when our Ship Channel loses its industrial flavor and transitions into a more residential or tourist enclave? I can’t picture it.

    This, combined with our dislike of central planning, means the city grows and declines at various paces in various places. Sure, the west side saw a lot of growth over the last few decades, but there are pockets within that vast region that have gone downhill and others that have come back. Which is always something I think about when people tout our strong local real estate market. Overall, it’s outstanding, but you never can tell how a neighborhood is going to pan out in a decade or two. It might be a nice little neighborhood still, or it might be a ghetto. Perhaps that’s true of most cities to varying degrees but it seems especially true in Houston, and it makes buying property here a bit of a tricky proposition.

    If you’re still reading, you must be as bored as I am today.

  • @ Local Planner – What do you consider a suburb?

  • Wrong, wrong, wrong, except for Anse, in part.

    Many cities have a half-moon development pattern that has some roots in segregation and other roots in simple city planning keeping the industrial parts on one side and the residential parts on the other. But outside that metropolitan development patter, all bets are off. Atlanta’s version of the Woodlands (Peach Tree City) is south of the city. And there is plenty of sprawl to the east around Stone Mountain.
    Save and except a small pocket of development on the near east side, most of Houston to the east and south is pretty dead until you get outside Beltway 8 or west of 288.
    I also disagree with the premise that Atlanta is growing faster. It isn’t by any measure. Atlanta’s growth is very strong, but it looks more impressive because zoning and the natural land environment create fewer opportunities to develop. In Houston, you can pretty much build anything anywhere–no zoning and every inch of land is flat. In Atlanta, it is very hilly with creeks and rivers running through the low lying areas. Land available for retail/commercial corridors is limited. Thus, Buckhead and Midtown in Atlanta get built up more than the Galleria area and Midtown/Montrose in Houston.

  • I disagree with you. While there may be pockets of growth elsewhere, the great majority of development is occuring on the west side. Sure that may bleed NW or SW, but it is still primarily west. What is occuring on the east side is miniscule compared to west side development. The Woodlands doesn’t fit in this analysis because it is a satellite city in its own right. The squeaky clean Woodlands attracts peple who want a disneyfied city vibe without any of the perceived or real hassles of being in an actual city. Between 610 and Spring there is little if any ongoing development. Seeing a couple townhouses being built on the east side is in no way comparable to the explosive growth going on south of I-10 from downtown west.

  • I disagree that Buckhead is built up more than the River Oaks/Galleria Area. The Galleria is much larger then Lenox Square (much nicer too) and nowhere do I see a 900 foot tower in Buckhead. I was recently in Atlanta and frankly Houston has more construction going on, the Atlanta economy is slowing and with it construction. I don’t see any 750 foot buildings (609 Main) (Chevron) being announced in Atlanta. I don’t see a 375 million dollar campus (Exxon/Mobil) being built in Atlanta. I think the media (CNN) gives Atlanta too much good ink. All the feel good New South Bullshit. When I was in Atlanta I saw there instances of Black on White crime and my friend who I was staying with in Buckhead said black on white crime is out of control in Atlanta, he has a security system on his house that would make Ft Knox take note. He’s looking to move back to guessed it..Houston.

  • Anse has a point. If you look at aerial images from the middle of last century or street plans going back even earlier, it’s clear that West Houston along with Southwest Houston were the least developed parts of town. There were early developments in the Heights and points north, and also a gravitation towards the southeastern suburbs. There’s a reason that the Gulf Freeway was Houston’s first freeway! As one side gets overdeveloped, development will follow the path of least resistance, which in some cases means living further in.

  • No mention of the explosion in residential and retail in League City over the last several years?

  • Houston moved west because of…RIVER OAKS!!! geez, does anyone in here know anything! about the history of Houston growth

  • @ Mr. Clean: I consider Clear Lake, Atascocita, Kingwood, League City, Pearland, The Woodlands to all be suburbs, even though two of those are within Houston’s city limits.

    @ Old School: I wonder if you consider Clear Lake / League City, Pearland, Atascocita, etc. to be “pretty dead.” Now, apart from some small-scale things occurring in EaDo, the East End, and the CityPark area on the south, what you say is pretty true once you come in from the “outer ring” of suburbs on the east and south sides.

  • Texpat is right on about growth being primarily on the west side. There is a reason why the CityCentre development was given this name. Within a 7 mile radius of CityCentre there is a population of 700,000. Also, this project is located in 77024, which is one of the wealthiest zip codes in Texas. According to the CityCente web site, it can be reached by 2 million people within only a 20 minute drive. For all of these reasons, I believe that the population center of the region is near the intersection of I-10 and Sam Houston Tollway.

  • Sorry folks, but a mall on the west side of town is not the city center (even though it may seem that way if you live out on the Katy prairie). Stop kidding yourselves and neglecting to notice all development down in Sugarland->Alvin-> Pearland->League City->Woodlands.
    The circle from the Galleria to Greenway Plaza, to Downtown, to the Med Center is the center. Those are the largest job centers, in the middle of everyone. The Med Center alone is another downtown pretty much in and off itself.

  • My comment was a response to another comment regarding a cancelled multifamily apartment development next to BBVA Stadium. My above comment regarding development was in the context of looking at multifamily residential. It had nothing to do with office building construction patterns. Old School does a good job of explaining the differences between Atlanta’s concentrated development patterns and Houston’s lack thereof.

  • @Bill, CityCentreTM is not the center of the city. Not by a long shot.

    The center of population for the the city of Houston is at Kirby Drive in River Oaks (29.750825, -95.419170). This is as close to downtown as it is to Uptown, and it is further east than Greenway Plaza. It makes sense that it’s slightly west because the COH’s annexed land is to the west. Other populated cities to the east – Pasadena, Jacinto City, Deer Park, Channelview, and La Porte – are incorporated separately.

    The center of population of Harris County is basically in the Heights (29.807477, -95.417517). It makes sense that it’s further north since Houston is located in the southern part of the county.

    This is all based on 2010 Census data.

    tl;dr The center of population is not even close to BW 8 West. It’s actually well within The Loop.

  • How does Atlanta have concentrated development and Houston does not? Is the Medical Center not concentrated development? Is Greenway Plaza? Is the Galleria Area? Downtown? Greenspoint? Have you even been to Atlanta? There are buildings everywhere. I don’t see Buckhead looking all that different from River Oaks/Greenway Plaza/Uptown. Houston actually has a more consentrated Downtown than Atlanta, which bleeds into Midtown and you can’t tell where downtown stops. When you look at the Atlanta skyline it’s more haphazard then Houston. If you had to guess which city wasn’t zoned just by judging the skyline, you’d pick Atlanta.

  • It’s true that there’s a lot of development to the northwest (master planned communities around Cypress in various stages of development), Katy, and Sugar Land area (Rosenberg, etc.) as well as The Woodlands and Conroe, but less so on the east side, probably because of the industrial development.

    Is Baytown becoming a trendy suburb with new “bedroom community” style houses being built? I didn’t think so.

  • @CREOLE:
    River Oaks was developed because it was the closest large parcel of available land (a dairy farm) left undeveloped close to downtown. Seems “back in the day” (as told to me by a resident of Houston at the time River Oaks was developed) no one really wanted to live west of downtown as you had to drive into the sun both in the morning and the night, and the preferred direction at the time was down Main St.

    Reasons for directional growth changes over time and currently it is towards the west. If it wasn’t for creative developers selling “new town centers” I am sure that would have stopped long ago. One day I will have to relate my ring development theory ….

  • I just calculated the center of population for the metro area (Greater Houston MSA). It’s at (29.78252, -95.42106), in the rail yard just west of TC Jester about 1/3 mile north of I-10.

    Interesting how by any measure – COH, Harris County, or metro area – the population all seems to be centered inside the loop.

  • River Oaks is west because the Hoggs bought land there, they then got the city to pay George Kessler to design Allen Parkway so the rich could easily get to downtown, before River Oaks was developed all the money was South (Montrose/Rice Area). River Oaks was a huge gamble but it was so spectacularly successful that all the money moved west. That’s the reason the Houston Country Club moved West, the reason the Galleria is where it’s located and Memorial became so affluent–you may want to read Stephen Fox’s great book on John Staub, you’ll get a much needed education on River Oaks

  • Metro Atlanta center of population: 33.81912335, -84.34675085. This is 5 miles NNE of downtown Atlanta.

    Compared to metro Houston, whose center of population is less than 3.5 miles WNW of downtown.

    1.5 miles is somewhat signifcant, suggesting that Houston is a little more centralized, but also don’t think it demonstrates that Houston is well balanced and Atlanta is completely off-balanced to its north.

  • Funny…I would have thought Atlanta’s center would have been further to the right than Houston’s.