Fri 29 Apr 2011
In the new services-based economy, local growth politics is starting to take a new shape. Growth machine politics are now more likely to promote a “good business climate,” an abstract concept constituted by a number of factors that make a city attractive to outside investment. With an increasingly diversified economy, the climate for business is increasingly more defined by quality of life factors. A piece of city publicity media we watched in class advertises Houston “diverse, progressive, economically thriving, affordable, and the next great world-city,” calling these and other features the “Texaplex advantage.”
This new focus and direction for Houston’s image creation can also be seen in efforts to revitalize downtown, expansion of the light rail and the Urban Corridors development plan, new attractions such as the eco-friendly Discovery Green park downtown, new bike trails, and emergence of organizations such as Keep Houston Beautiful and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership that are trying to make Houston more aesthetically appealing and a more pleasant place to live.
A first impression of Houston viewed from its highways, the ugly featureless sprawl of parking lots, big box stores, and chain restaurants, would suggest that there is not much here worth caring about. An unofficial resident-led campaign for Houston has emerged as a parody of Houston’s self-marketing strategies that leave out the city’s major drawbacks, such as its heat, humidity, traffic, sprawl, and pollution. But the campaign’s main purpose it to show the sides of Houston that Houstonians genuinely love by providing a platform for their voices to talk about the many things the city has to offer from an insider’s perspective. The campaign is called “Houston: It’s Worth It”
Houston is a treasure trove of diverse, well-hidden attractions that can only be discovered little by little by living here.I personally appreciate Houston’s wide range of ethnic cuisine, the live music scene, the world-class theater and museum districts, the charming historic houses, the beautiful Rothko chapel, the vibrant venues for salsa and country dancing, independent coffee shops, the underground tunnels downtown, the art scene in the Warehouse district, farmers markets, Rice University’s campus, and so much more.
Stephen Fox, a historian of architecture at Rice characterized Houston as “insular,” in its total abandonment of public landscape for any use other than automobile traffic, lack of aesthetic consideration in its development, and the visual and spatial disconnect between its places. However, there are many signs that Houston is coming to a self-conscious realization that in order to continue its economic prosperity it is going to have to become a world-class city that the new workforce of the information age will choose to live in. It will have to capitalize on the positive features it already possesses but also turn its eyes toward improving quality-of-life factors.
One of the biggest challenges Houston will face is improving mobility for Houstonians. Houston is hopefully nearing the end of its highway building and suburban expansion age. Now it needs to focus on improving what it already has. Houstonians don’t need more highways and parking, they need better ways to get to the store, interesting places to walk around and enjoy Houston’s cultural offerings, and beautiful public spaces for their children to play.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jjsala/3159037956/