Cul de Sac City: Houston’s Ban on New Street Grids

Working from a remote and undisclosed location, the now-expatriate Houston engineer known as Keep Houston Houston puts together a rough diagram identifying the city’s “traditional” walkable neighborhoods, and comments:

Houston has no shortage of gridded, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. Thing is, they’re all kind of squished together. And with a couple of exceptions, they were all platted out before 1935. What’s there is there. We’re not adding to it.


Developer conservatism plays a role, but is ethereal, subject to evaporate as soon as *someone* steps up and proves that suburban [Traditional Neighborhood Development] is sufficiently profitable. But several city standards and rules are standing in the way.

Are Houston’s development rules really the obstacle?

Keep Houston Houston scans through the city’s development ordinance, then throws together a quick design for a residential neighborhood following the basic requirements. What does that end up looking like?


100′ Arterial (with 2000′ radius curve) leads to 100′ entrance road, which in turn feeds 60-foot collector “loops” and 50-foot local “lollipops.” Detention pond is repurposed as a water feature, adding value and “curb appeal.”

“Master planning,” by the book: Loops and lollipops!

Diagrams: Keep Houston Houston

53 Comment

  • Yeah Home-buyers like the cul-de-sac arrangement for quiet & safety. Also, cropping & doubling-back of streets results in statistically lower crime rates.
    Because everybody has cars and doesn’t have to walk to destinations, this sub-division cancer IS our Trend.
    But it’s CARS that brought an end to gridded neighborhoods. Blame GM & politicians who dismantled the streetcar systems in the US…

  • Cul de sacs, a dead-end idea; and it only took the American suburb 50 or so years to realize that there may be less traffic on our streets, but isolation is really lonely. In addition, statistics don’t really back up the perception that a cul de sac is safer. In fact, we’re running over the children in reverse, backing out of our drive ways, at a far more prevalent rate than hits while facing forward. I would support a ban on the developer friendly street pattern (like Austin did).

  • I think the other reason developers like cul de sacs over grids is the grids consume more land, and streets don’t generate any profit, unlike having room for an additional house.

    As for walking to nearby destinations, who really wants to do that? We could walk to the grocery store, and to the cleaners and a couple of fast food places. But we don’t want to carry heavy grocery bags back to the house, it’s too hot to walk for half the year unless you plan on taking a shower, and we tend to run many errands per trip.

    I asked my 79 year old Dad about walkable neighborhoods. His reply was that he spent the first 20 or so years of his life walking everywhere he went. He’s tired of walking, and thinks most subdivisions are just fine. I suspect there are many who feel the same way.

  • I may be in the minority here, but I *hate* cul de sacs for many reasons, (besides their “suburban-iness”). For one thing, they’re really pedestrian-unfriendly — it takes forever to walk to a place, due to all the “detours” you have to take, and shortcuts aren’t possible unless you want to risk trepassing through someone’s backyard. Also, unless you look at a map, it’s easy to get lost in that kind of neighborhood. Not to mention, it can be hard to find an address there. About 10 years ago, a realtor and I were looking at houses in Westminister, Colorado (a suburb between Denver and Boulder), and one house was in just about the cul-de-sec-iest area I’d ever seen — we’re talking about cul de sacs opening off cul de sacs. Of course, the realtor couldn’t find the house at all. My thought was if the realtor couldn’t find the house, nobody else — friends, pizza delivery guys, emergency personnel, etc — could. So, the house was crossed off the list.

  • This subject isn’t that complex. Cul-de-sacs are built because most people don’t want people from outside the neighborhood walking or driving through. It’s not some conspiracy by GM, the government or developers.

  • About Austin banning this type of development:

    It forced developers to develop in unincorporated Travis County our move to the incorporated and unincorporated sections of Williamson County that allowed this type of development.

    So in some minds Austin to the high road, to the municipalities around Austin they are happy to increase their tax base.

    If I did live in a walkable neighborhood, I would only occasionally walk to a restaurant, but I would never use it for common errands. My grocery trips are monthly. A monthly trip is a lot of groceries. I can’t carry that. Also, I can pick one day out the week for errands, and the rest is time for me outside of work.

    The walkable neighborhood concept is good for a small number of people. The rest don’t want it. And cities that force it on people will only see the move out further.

  • I live in a walkable neighborhood (Midtown) and love it way more than when I lived in a suburb out along 249 in Cypress.I put gas in my car about once a month (sometimes twice if I’ve driven out to the burbs to visit my parents)… so I could care less if gas goes to 10 bucks a gallon. I walk/bike tons of places, and I can get anywhere I need to (stores, restaurants, museums, sports/concerts, parks) in 5-10 minutes. When I lived in the burbs, it took me about 15 minutes to get to a mall or stores. Anywhere else (i.e. an Astros game) was an ordeal just to get to.Keep in mind that people in the burbs do walk… it’s just across large parking lots filled with cars pulling in and out, gas fumes, and heat. Then they walk across a couple of football fields within a Walmart just to buy a DVD for 5 bucks.

  • Go to the grocery store once a month?!? You must be buying some highly preserved and processed foods there.

    I go to the grocery basically everyday and more than often walk. I buy what I want to eat for dinner and then I go home and cook it. Carrying everything home is no problem, especially once you convert to cloth bags. I eat better food (not the processed garbage) and I get a little additional exercise. You couldn’t pay me to live in once of those suburban wasteland neighborhoods.

  • Hey kjb434,

    How is that milk after about three and a half weeks?

  • Swamplot asks “Are Houston’s development rules really the obstacle?”

    Well – who writes the rules? The developers do! That is why they make large contributions to politicians. ( We had a candidate in District H a few years back who got 70% of his money from the Perry family, i.e. Perry Homes. I personally did the research.)
    Furthermore, the city Planning Department is a rubber stamp agency. They do not have ideas. Anyone who does soon quits and moves on.

  • It’s not hard marvin to get quality food and go once a month. You just have know what to buy.

    Wheat bread easily freezes. Buy in bulk and store it.
    I don’t drink milk, but use it to cook. I buy organic because it last forever. The last half gallon was purchased just before July 4 and it last until August 8th. It’s the only thing I can justify buying organic.

    Vegetables are bought frozen (not canned) which still keeps their nutritional value.

    Boneless, skinless chicken breast bough frozen. Ground chuck bought on sale in bulk is broken up and individually frozen. Homemade sausage I bring in from Louisiana (can’t stand pre-cook store shelf sausage) and freeze. Pork chops, and occasionally steaks are frozen individually also.

    I’m more of a rice eater than a potato eater, so it’s easy also to have that in mass.

    What about salads? I’m not a big salad eater, but when I crave it, I go get some and make it (not a real shopping trip there to go through self checkout with three or four items).

    My office makes fruit available instead of candy and often has some leftover at the end of the week. Pick up organges, apples, pears, and bananas that. I have to make banana bread with the bananas though.

    A lot of this I learn from my mom. With three kids that were extremely active after school, she did not want to go to the store often. She figured out how to buy good quality food (not processed) and do it on a monthly schedule with only an occasional trip for one or two items during the month.

  • Finness,

    How is the Planning Commission a rubber stamp agency? Is it just because you don’t approve of the development?

    If the developer follows the rules, there isn’t nothing to question. If the developer wants a variance on the rules, they have to make their case and the public can be heard. The make up of the board is mixed. Several of the board members are big proponents of the walkable neighborhoods movement and often are on the side of the citizens that challenge the developers.

    The issue is that most citizens would complain on a blog versus object through the planning commission.

    The Chapter 42 code (subdivisions and platting) is developed through stakeholder groups which include citizens and developers. There are comment periods (which any of us can contribute to have our argument on the record).

  • kjb434,

    I’m with you on the buying in bulk and minimizing trips to the store, but even with the most careful planning I find one or two items that I’ve run out of that I then have to go out for. And its just those “Little” trips that walkable neighborhoods make easier. I live within walking distance of a Kroger, a drycleaners, a Walgreen’s, a library, a clothing store, and of course, a Starbuck’s, and a couple other things (also a bar, yay!). If I could just convince my employer to let me work from home I could basically get rid of my car. Okay, not really, but almost. But the other great thing about walkable neighborhoods is that they’re more like, well, neighborhoods. I’m getting to know the people on my street, which is my best defense against crime, because we all watch out for each other. I get to check out all the cool or weird things people have done to their houses or gardens. Plus, I can tell people how to get to my house without their having to rely on GPS.

    But I’m wondering if this is a dichotomy between and older and younger generations? I love walking, even in the heat, but I don’t think it would be good for some older people. I’d be interested to know other people’s thoughts.

  • Maybe I am missing something but it seems to me that people who like one pattern (cul de sacs or grid) or the other should live in a neighborhood with that pattern and let the people feeling the opposite way do the same. Why should I care what the street pattern is in your neighborhood?

  • I understand MStark.

    But I never understood the argument that if you live in a suburban style neighborhood that you don’t know the neighbors or have a community feel.

    My partner’s sister just bought a house a week ago in a brand new subdivision out in Katy. She is on a cul-de-sac. She knows all the neighbors within days and they are already transferring numbers. She already know that she has a cop, a nurse, a doctor, and a teach living close to her (I would never have that kind of luck!).

    To me, the extent a neighborhood feels like a community is truly based upon the residents and not the street patter. If you are a loner and routinely shut yourself to the world, it wouldn’t be any different if you lived on a grid or a suburban pattern street. If you are outgoing or just moderately friendly, you’ll know more people near you.

  • The city fabric impacts all of us. How we move around and enjoy what is around us is a collective experience. “You buy what you want, I buy what I want” just doesn’t cut it for me. There is a collective experience that I would hope is protected and understood by our planners that write our ordinances. I want a city that impacts all of us in a mostly positive way — financially, practically, all of it. I also want a smart consumer that doesn’t just accept out of hand that cul-de-sacs, by nature, are safer, less ridden with crime good for the home owner. It’s VERY debatable. Much of that perception is developer driven…and facts (after fifty years of development of this mature pattern) suggest none of the perception is true. The lonely ladder dwellers accept isolation and a lonely sub-urban lifestyle as a consequence to FEELING safe. And they are not really safer. Now most of our urban fabric and housing stock exists as ladders. It’s a sad inheritance.

  • to kjb434
    I have sat through many hours of Planning Commission hearings and it is very rare that a variance is denied. Since the Commssion usually takes the advice of the Planning Department, the Department is the one rubber stamping.
    I further contend that Planning does no planning. This is an unplanned city. The department should more accurately be called Chapter 42 Compliance. And it is the builders who write Chapter 42.
    I have also sat thougyh ‘stakeholder groups” meetings. Are you saying that citizens have equal clout with the Houston Builders Association? Puleeeze!

  • “collective experience”

    Oh how many things are just completely wrong with that! May you should move to Cuba, Venezuela where communism is in full force.

    I’m an individual within a community. My community doesn’t define who I am, how I think, and how I act. I show respect to others, but that respect does not mean I change who I am.

  • It’s funny how only one side of this debate wants to force it’s choice on the other. You don’t see anyone trying to outlaw walkable neighborhoods.

    Maybe the best defense is good offense. Should we start forcing cul-de-sacs in Montrose?

  • HAHA,

    Good point jgriff!

    I can relate that point to so many things also.

  • jgriff and kjb434,

    You’ve got it exactly backwards. The point of the article is that the city’s development rules effectively outlaw new gridded neighborhoods. If you were in favor of a freer choice, you would encourage those restrictions to change.

  • “Blame GM & politicians who dismantled the streetcar systems in the US…”

    Or blame the car for being such and awesome alternative to buses and trains. Public transit sucks. Cars rule.

    Suburbs and cul-de-sacs and semi-isolation are what most families with 2.2 children want. I live in an extremely walkable neighborhood inside the Loop. It’s great for me and my neighbors, but I can’t imagine my kids (if I had any) tooling around the streets on their bikes, playing ball in the street. Forget playing in front yards because they barely exist.

    I grew up in a suburb and it was an ideal environment. Lots of other families with kids in close proximity. I could walk out my front door into a virtual playground of streets and yards. Backyard pools. Quiet streets. We knew ALL the neighbors because most them were either my friends or my friends parents.

    If people didn’t value suburbs, developers wouldn’t build them.

  • Actually, I grew up in a cul de sac neighborhood in Colorado that was (and still is) kind of isolated, and guess what, I hated it. It made me feel kind of isolated, and you had to rely on your parents to drive you *anywhere* at all, even to school. It was like being in a small town in the middle of nowhere, except that there was nothing in it except miles and miles of houses.

    By the way, here’s a thought…if walkable neighborhoods are supposed to be undesirable, why are they generally more expensive than unwalkable neighborhoods? (And it’s just not Houston — San Diego and Denver are like this as well, just more expensive.)

    And to change subjects, I’m amused by the black-white thinking of some commenters here — for example, if you live in a walkable neighborhood, you can’t have a car at all and must walk everywhere, which is silly reasoning. (This silly thinking also applies to public transportation — some people seem to think that if you add more public transportation like light rail for example, you’re not allowed to have cars at all.)

  • Collective experience, I stand by it, YES!
    I’m not immediately a socialist or a communist or a fascist just because I want my government to represent the unrepresented in order to arrive at a true democracy. I’m a realist. Government, politics our representation, “The system” isn’t inherently fair if we just let it run it’s course. One of the most important duties for government to represent the under-represented.

    How you arrive at the extreme characterization “collective experience” as communist is perhaps a good politcal debate tactic, but it’s not good in negotiating real issues at play.

  • Is it an accident that the most valuable (desirable) real estate in most every big city in the country is in neighborhoods laid out in grids, not cul-de=sacs. Even in Houston proper; River Oaks, West U., Southhampton, Heights, Montrose, Meyerland, etc. are all laid out primarily in grids. The most desirable (expensive) neighborhoods in NY, San Francisco, Boston , Chicago, London, Paris, etc. are all laid out in grids.

    It is interesting to me that people that I talk to who swear by suburban cul-de-sac living have very often never lived in any other situation, certainly never in an truly “urban” area of any big city. They’ve often never even experienced it, except on vacation as they walk through NY or SFO or London.

    They pay to go experience these gridded wonders and usually love the places and spaces, but somehow can’t imagine living in them. Conversely, most people that I know who swear by urban, walkable, gridded neighborhoods actually grew up in the suburbs, but have either lived in big cities at some time or travel extensively and cannot imagine going back to a suburban cul-de-sac.

    I’ll also say that it seems to be human nature to defend your own choices and to need validation for your choices, so people tend to take it personally when someone derides where they have chosen to live.

    I have very good friends and colleagues who live inside the loop and far outside the beltway. Most love where they live and that’s all that really matters. Houston and most American cities are large enough to offer a neighborhood design to satisfy us all.

  • The issue at hand…should our government play an active role in shaping the landscape of our city, it’s infrastructure, it’s fabric, it’s sustainability. I say yes. I would expect them to. There are financial, as well as safety and social burdens exposed. So yes.

  • Radburn,

    I agree that the city should. My point is that in a city that is more than 600 sq. miles large, there is no need to have a singular vision or plan.

  • Walkable neighborhoods need some places to walk to. How many in Houston can walk to get common necessities, like groceries or drug store items? I live in one of those walkable areas, and unless I need alcohol, an espresso or prepared foods, there is not much to walk to. That remains the stumbler in Houston.

  • Several posters are spot-on about walkable neighborhoods commanding a premium over traditional suburbs, if all else is equal. Unfortunately you can’t have it all in Houston – neighborhood charm, architecturally interesting houses, walkability, safety, good public schooling, AND affordability. Our growing family is being “forced” out of the Heights for several of the above reasons. If a New Urbanist development existed in the Houston area that was priced similarly to the traditional lollipop surburb, we would go there in an instant. Instead, we’re moving to what we see as the best suburban compromise – the Woodlands. Outside observers will no doubt think we are going to the suburbs because of the cul-de-sacs, but the truth is, we are going despite them.

  • Radburn,

    Your description of the what the government ought to do goes against the very foundation the US form of government was built on. There volumes of writing from the founding fathers that insist the government never do what you are wanting them to do. That all started to fall apart when political parties were developed.

    Progressives from the late 1800s to the present have done there best to completely alter the original concept of the US government to their thinking. And by Progressives I include Republicans and Democrats. The Progressive movement is centered on using both parties to change the US from the place of opportunity to the place where the government chooses who wins and what social results are warranted. What you are describing is not much different than what I already called it in my previous post.

    The city ordinance about cul-de-sacs affects new development where street are being platted. It makes no sense to put a grid in the far out suburbs. Places with grids already are changing to higher density for the people that want them.

  • It’s a shame this discussion isn’t going on at KeepHoustonHouston’s blog.

  • John,
    Variety is good. But I’m for cleaning up mistakes if it makes collective sense to do so. By mistakes, I mean if the extent of suburban fabric taxes an entire city collectively, then let’s fix it. Who knew how the suburban experiment would play out in its mature form. Is it good? Is it bad? Can we continue to support the continued evolution of this pattern? Walk-ability, safety, stretching infrastructural boundaries, school systems, sustainability in terms of services as well as environment, these should be a part of the collective discussion and ultimate decision.

  • What about the satellite cities that exist? Let’s say Houston didn’t allow suburban style development, then the satellite communities will and families will move out there. It’s pretty much happened since Houston does have much empty space in it city limits anyway and has no intention of expanding them. Pearland, Sugar Land, Missouri City, League City, Tomball, Conroe, Montgomery County, Waller County, and Fort Bend County look at pretty much any residential development as good. Many of these communities have active programs to encourage more development (typically suburban style) to expand their tax base. If Houston says no, they’ll say yes.

    It’ll be like Portland, Oregon where new suburban development went gangbusters when Portland decided to restrict all suburban style residential development and force more urban development. People would rather sit in horrendous traffic to live in a nearby state where housing is cheaper (because it’s plentiful and not restricted).

  • Weren’t the subdivisions designed to beat communism? Give the populace something to do to keep them busy – mow a yard, make a house payment, buy a new car. I think I read about this in college.

  • kjb434,
    Great. A point made beyond our political differences and beyond even a financial argument.

    Gosh, though. Portland, Oregon? Did you have to go there? I would hope that there could be something in between a planning heavy jurisdiction/city/region/state like that and Houston, Texas! I mean our Extraterritorial Juisdiction is their Urban Growth Boundary. They don’t get to move/expand the UGB unless they fill up their current urban area — if they can’t meet a 20 year supply of land for future residential use inside current boundary as dictated by the STATE. They speak a different language there! Isn’t there a better example?

  • Our ETJ is a much different animal than their UGB. Our ETJ is no limit on development growth. In fact, many developers try to get out of the ETJ if they can since they avoid the Planning Commission and extra steps for plan approvals.

    Portland’s UGB severely restricts property use outside of the boundary. So if a developer wanted to build a subdivision far from the city as some customers want, the UGB will prevent them from doing so.

    I understand Portland and particular its using the state to mandate limiting of property use (extreme version of zoning) is an extreme example of the problematic length planning can go to. If the discussion regarding suburban style development is going to lead to talk about rules and regulations, then bringing in examples like that is warranted.

    It’s one thing to discuss the style you like to live in and why. Houston offers both in plentiful supply. It’s another thing to go on and discuss how to restrict one to favor another. People want both and should have the option.

    The issue is that Houston has a very large inner grid pattern that leaves it open to creation of dense walkable neighborhoods as it’s needed. Houston’s lack of restrictions also allow convenience store developments to occur so short walks are possible. I have lots of friends that live near Montrose and Fairview. None of them own cars and several don’t own bikes. They live, work, and play in the same area. They have two convenience stores, large grocer, and several restaurants in walking distance. Nothing in our development code prevents this type of development. Even in new developments in the suburbs, our development code doesn’t prevent grid style.

    A variance could be granted and has been for the the Woodlands (on the Harris County side) along Kuykendahl Road. A gridded public street town center is being designed and will be built on a major thoroughfare. The Woodlands worked with the planning commission and the county to variance this. Denser townhomes and apartments will be built near the town center with typical suburban style developments surrounding it. Kuykendahl road will be split into one way streets as seen in many small towns. Commercial development will front the one way streets with the speed limit severely lowered. All of this was describe as not possible, but it is happening because a developer decided to do it and figured people want it. It also fits into the Woodlands Villages Concept. Each Village has a commercial center with a community center.

  • Radburn,

    I apologize in advance for the length of this post; just have a lot on my mind.

    If the boundaries of Houston ended at Loop 610, your argument might have a chance. It is precisely because Houston is 65 miles long from one end to another and encompasses more real estate than many counties in other states that a consensus regarding what is “good’ vs. what is a “mistake” is highly unlikely.

    Ultimately and unfortunately in my opinion, these determinations are made because of financial reasons above all else. Having worked in city government for many years (though no longer) as an executive in a planning and development capacity, I know that after all the speeches are made publicly, most decisions are made primarily for near-term political,and short-term economic reasons in this town.

    There are very few visionaries, public or private, who think and plan long-term. George Mitchell was one of the last. The Woodlands continues to evolve to include all types of neighborhood experiences including neo-urban, who’d have predicted that?

    With that said, two comments:

    1. Developers today in general will not do more than they are required to do by law, code, or ordinance. For instance, CVS claimed that it needed to build a suburban style store and parking lot in Midtown because that is what its customers expected. They’ve done it twice now. However, in many other cities, they are not allowed to build stores like that because of codes, laws, and ordinances in place in urban, walkable areas put in place to promote the same; and more important to developers,to level the playing field so that they are all playing by the same rules. They still build in those cities. They are still successful.

    CVS didn’t follow Post Midtown’s urban scale approach even though its lot was right across the street and the collective wisdom at the time was that Gray and Bagby would be built out with mid-rise, mixed-use developments right up to Main and the new rail line. It seemed so obvious and for those who longed for true urban living in this town, it was a dream coming true. CVS didn’t play ball simply because they didn’t have to. No code required them to build in any way, shape, or form that might have benefited the collective vision of Midtown. So be it, that’s Houston.

    However, after CVS bucked the urban trend, so did most every developer after them. So instead of all or most of Midtown being walkable, populated with street life like just the 3 blocks developed by Post ultimately became; Midtown’s blocks are populated with suburban style apartments complexes with no street life whatsoever, just block after block of gates and fences. If Houston had had the guts to enact urban design strategies then, Midtown would be the success that similar areas have become in Dallas, Atlanta and other cities. Houston punked out and we are all the losers for decades to come.

    Ironically the very same developers who fought urban guidelines in Midtown were building successful urban properties in all those other cities at the same time. Why did they fight it here? It does cost more to build up than out. It does take longer and the return on investments takes longer to realize, in general. Today’s stock market rewards quick returns and very few publicly owned devlopement companies invest for the long term. Most every development in Midtown has been flipped twice already. The money is made in flipping, not owning.

    To at least be fair, I completely understand that land is so cheap in Houston relative to other major cities that building parking lots, even in downtown and midtown is still considered to be a financially viable. However, with urban guidelines in place, every developer would have had relatively equal increased requirements and costs. The investment playing could have been leveled had the city acted. In 20 yrs, those lots will likely, hopefully be replaced with stores, homes, and other businesses as the land becomes too valuable to be used as a single layer parking lot. I expect those unfortunate CVS stores and their outsized parking lots to be replaced with mid-rise development one day too, just not soon. The blocks of suburban style apartments are likely here to stay for much longer.

    2. You only have to fly over Houston once to observe the enormous amounts of undeveloped and under-developed land within its limits. With the exception of the areas between downtown and 610 West, this city is one of the most undeveloped (I would also say under-developed) big cities in the country. Until there is an actual shortage of available, developable land like New York and San Francisco (especially), or even Austin have, there will be no concerted political effort to institute the kinds of policies that many of us believe should be put in place now to guide development instead of later to correct problems.

    This may never happen because Houston’s habit is to just annex more land in order to increase the tax base rather than to enact polices that would make better use and subsequently higher tax value of the property already encompassed by the city. I assume that the only way Houston will change its ways is if gasoline returns to $4- plus per gallon and stays there relative to inflation. Frankly, I’d welcome it. We’d see real change to Houston’s laissez-faire planning efforts then.

  • kjb434 — the new Creekside Park village center is going to be a “gridded town center?” Did I read that correctly?

  • John,

    Houston has no real plans for future Annexations. After the Kingwood and Clear Lake fiascoes, state pretty much made it very difficult for the city to annex more neighborhoods. It’s now a 3 year process with many ways to stop it. The city used go through the process (as I’m sure you know) of annexing adjacent utility districts and incorporating them into the city. The city started running the number and realized that the costs of supplying service the new utility districts outweighed the tax base. This stunted the city’s need to grow. Now the city dabbles in limited purpose annexation where they share commercial sales taxes with local MUDs that can’t collection sales taxes. The city and MUD get money and the city doesn’t have to provide a service.

    I should know about the town center road layout since I was involved in the drainage design and fellow co-workers are working on the roadway design. The Woodlands is not moving aggressive right now to build it out and the County will built it’s part of Kuykendahl Road on it’s time schedule (I need to look that up).

  • You know a better term for “Loops and Lollipops” – MAZE

    That’s what it looks like, and that’s what it feels like when you go visit friends in one of these developments – a maze. If I didn’t have a GPS, especially at night they’d be nigh impossible to find.

  • Andres Duany and his firm did some work for Frank Liu (spelling?), and made public presentations both before and after the firm’s visit to Houston.

    He is a great critic of the cul de sac, lollipop design. His designs don’t use that concept. You can see his Houston area efforts on the firm website,

    He did express amazement at how easy it would be to work in Houston. During one of his presentations, he held his fingers about 2 inches apart and noted, “In Houston, this is about how many rules and regulations we have to comply with.” Holding his hands two feet apart, he said, “Most places, it is this.”

  • Don’t let Frank Liu working with Andres Duany fool you.

    Mr. Liu is one of “those” developers that most people don’t like. My guess is that his calling on Duany was to provide proper cover so he can say, “look, I like urban walkable streets!”

    I actually live in some patio homes his group built. I have no problem with the build quality and those kinds of issues. I share a driveway with 7 other homes. We are gated. Per city rule, the developer is required to plant so many trees for the size of the development. Ours was 4. Mr. Liu and his brother (who runs the sub company that built my home) had to be fought on getting the trees put in. The city didn’t catch, but me and my neighbors did. We initially just tried asking Mr. Liu and his company, there response was that they don’t like trees. I couldn’t believe that. After that we just went to Code Enforcement and he was ordered to plant acceptable trees. Now we have 4 Oaks in the front along the street and sidewalk that are doing great.

    Mr. Liu’s company has been the bane of active Cottage Grove residents who want the developers to actually follow the rules. I think some of these residents ended up having some of the inspectors on speed dial. The got more red permit tags than you can count.

    To Mr. Duany’s point, Houston does have lots of regulations, but we don’t have the inspectors to fully implement it without active citizens.

    Also, Joel Kotkin and Tory Gattis have written several articles to counter Mr. Duany. All good reads to see some opposing view to Mr. Duany.

  • I’m all for regulations that are so few you can count them on one hand. Ease of development is a good thing. I do have a healthy skepticism of what a gov’t agency can accomplish with simply MORE regulations. I’m now thinking of Sugar Land, Pearland or the Woodlands. I’m not sure additional regulations and hoops=utopia. The regulations that we’re talking about in this discussion is grid vs. cul-de-sac. I believe there is enough evidence on the table (and I haven’t studied it other than a dozen or so years of reading journals) that suggest that the current thinking is cul-de-sacs aren’t all that safe and sustainable as a growth pattern when strung out 65 miles across the landscape (excluding the donut hole in the middle called inside the loop).

    I’m for the grid — but that doesn’t mean I’m in the Smart Growth or New Urbanism camp. As far as urban/suburban CVS buidings, If allowed to play regulator for a day, I would still stop short of telling developers what their building has to look like and where they have to build it. Give developers set backs and parking criteria and building codes. OK. Let’s let the professionals do the job after that. Living in Houston and loving it, I’ve decided the benefits of fewer regs. greatly outweigh over-dictating development. The current Ordinances seem a good enough tool to ramp up and ramp back on patterns that emerge. I’m for a collective vision of all stake holders. Let’s just be sure that it’s not only the loudest mouths (or deepest pockets) that are heard. Kum Ba Yah CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! CLAP! Deep in the heart of Texas.

  • The first phase of the first project Duany has designed for Lui can be seen here:

    The best thing about the site plan is that the home sites all have alleys and rear-facing garages so that the streets are not just a landscape of garage doors and driveways like most every redeveloped street in Rice Military and Cottage Grove. It’s a step in the right direction.

  • John,

    My home is an Intown home.


    Woodlands is not a city and has very little regulation governing it. It is under Houston ETJ, Montgomery County, and Harris County development rules. Anything outside of these regs are strictly put in by the developer themselves and not a government entity.

    The same philosophy governing the Woodlands is also being applied to the Bridgelands.

  • kjb434,

    InTown and Lovett are better than average products. I know many people who work for Frank, and I’ve discussed some of these issues with him at business and social events. He is not one of the bad actors, but he is in the business to make money and is reluctant to spend money if he can’t realize a return, or much more important – if the other developers don’t have to do the same. He and other developers don’t believe that most buyers are willing to pay “extra” for trees, so they avoid them or plant the smallest, cheapest ones they can get away with. If the playing field was always level, it would not be such a problem. This of course doesn’t excuse him or anyone else from not following existing codes, no matter how lame they may be.

  • I hear you.

    I don’t think it comes directly from Mr. Frank Liu. He’s not as involved with the on the ground results of his projects. I think it has more to do with the builders they are hiring. I had to keep on top of them when they were building my house. As an engineering, was pretty much anal about everything they did especially when it went in the wrong direction from the plans. People need to understand that developer and builder are mostly often two different entities. Your home may be an Intown or Lovett, but they didn’t build it. You may have an awesome builder or a crappy one. I have met both on my house since they were going through contractor leads pretty fast.

    As I said, I’m happy with my Intown home. They have done a large portion of the Cottage Grove area. They’ve even platted a whole new section of Cottage Grove.

    He’s purchased a lot of property around the south end of the light rail line. I heard some rumors that he bought the old AstroWorld site, but I haven’t confirmed that.

  • If I suggested Woodlands was a city, I was mistaken. It’s a master planned community with this many (I’m now holding up my hands stretched as wide as they can go, a little shy of six feet apart) Commercial Planning and Design Standards.

  • While the Woodlands has many visual cues of Masterplan Communities, from the engineering design side, they are very shrewd and often try to less where they can. The often challenge county and city rules where it doesn’t fit them. This has happened a lot on the Harris County side more.

  • kjb434,

    We looked at his projects in Cottage Grove (and on the East side, and Hilshire Lakes, and in Midtown, so obviously we liked them),but we just hated the condition of the streets. They are so narrow and crowded, and more disturbing was the overhead views of mangles utility poles and lines. It is so unattractive. (If there are regulations that I wish the city would adopt, it would be to better control the visual pollution of overhead utility lines. I’ll take billboards on the highway over the mangles messes you find all over some neighborhoods, every time) Now granted, we recently bought in Rice Military which isn’t much better in those regards, but we thought that long-term Rice Military has a better shot at street redevelopment. The Washington Ave area HOAs, and neighborhood groups seem to be stronger than some across the freeway in dealing with the city and the C.I.P, but who knows. It can all be just a crapshoot. We are just pushing for the Quiet Zone now. The train horn is ridiculous. I miss Cherryhurst everyday.

  • jgriff: It’s funny how only one side of this debate wants to force it’s choice on the other. You don’t see anyone trying to outlaw walkable neighborhoods.

    Actually, the rules for new construction effectively DO outlaw walkable neighborhoods.

    IN Virginia, the state has decided that any new cul de sac development will simply not receive government services (like snow removal and road maintenace) because cul de sacs increase the costs of providing those services. They also create traffic congestion and slow down emergency vehicles. So, if you build in there, you’re on your own – there’s an official disincentive based on expense and common sense.

    (And yes, this is a state thing in VA because of the peculiarities of how road maintenance is managed there.)

  • Yes, perhaps on the engineering side it is true…that was George Mitchell and his gang’s point, no? to master plan the infrastructure up front, limit growth and once it’s to capictiy, it’s to capacity. Done. Nada mas. Closed for buisines. Move on. So it was very well conceived during Phase 1 of it’s conception. Things have changed since then (the evolution of the town center being one of the obvious “not a part of the original plans” concept, but things change after 30+ years. Covenants, deeds, design review committees, as well as Residential and Commercial Development standards are regulation heavy and are much more strict than what currently Harris County and the City of Houston (since it’s in the ETJ) regulates.

  • LOL John,

    The train horns can be rough for those that aren’t used to them. I grew up with it and had it right next to my dorm room and college apartments (with really heavy trains traffic for the logging industry). So they don’t bother me, but the quiet zones aren’t ridiculous to and railroad companies have been implementing them across the country. I hope you guys succeed.

    I think the businesses help the Wash Ave groups have a little more clout. Cottage Grove is more hidden.

    I agree with the power lines being visually un-appealing. I think the city should focus on commercial corridors for overhead power line reduction. Kirby is getting it with it’s rebuild. Washington Ave would be a good candidate. Westheimer would be a large yet awesome project.