Climate change meets sprawl at the synthetic waterline along the Gulf of Mexico. Perilous developments these days for the Houston Ship Channel and places like Rockport, Texas, seen in the image above from a Google Maps screen shot. Turning away from the spectacle of Hurricane Harvey’s wet trek into Texas is just about impossible.
A changing world asks questions about the way we build communities and operate their economies. America’s fourth largest city is also a source of the fossil fuels that helped make sprawl and climate change possible. Business as usual this time next year?
Boom town, flood town. Climate change will bring more frequent and fierce rainstorms to cities like Houston. But unchecked development remains a priority in the famously un-zoned city, creating short-term economic gains for some while increasing flood risks for everyone
Hell and high water
propublica.org – this is a map/graphics rich feature from March 2016
A woman in Texas is ten times as likely to die due to pregnancy than a woman in Sweden or Spain. This morbidity is right at the top of the ”developed” world’s list. Among other things, it defies the experience of countries where maternal mortality can be zero in certain years.
If Americans love moms, why do we let them die?
A new medical school in Texas takes aim at the societal underpinnings of poverty and social difficulty. And get this, it does so with support from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
In Texas, cross-sector partnerships to fight suburban poverty
image: Jeremy Keith via Flickr/CC
”That’s how life goes along the poverty line in car-centric cities like Dallas, whose 20th-century growth birthed highways that became developmental skeletons for suburbs where the middle class have fled for decades. Left behind is an urban core with housing and socioeconomic problems — and infrastructure built for cars that many poor people can’t afford.”
Reminicisent of other encounters with what it’s like to get to work in the sprawl, a feature from the Dallas News follows a worker to work. And it ain’t easy.
Stemming poverty in Dallas requires rethinking mobility
image: Broken Piggy Bank via Flickr/CC
Austin, Texas has raised its profile among the cities of North America in an enviable kind of way over the last few years. Even Toronto’s uncool, anti-urban mayor lumbered down there recently to see what the buzz is about. Popular music, culture and university life as well as a tech-driven commercial bustle there have become a calling card for Austin, the state capital, which has a metro area containing about 1.8 million people. Visitors are drawn to a kind of prosperous liberality and local pride that sustains an atmosphere many cities find elusive.
A recent two-part feature from the Austin Chronicle describes the challenges of moving forward with transportation and development projects to meet Austin’s metro area needs well into the twenty-first century. For decades the city has been chopped in half by the I-35, a classic example of 1950s highway building. State and local officials are hoping to reengineer the I-35 into a smarter artery that will enhance rather than hem in downtown living. Accommodating growth while preserving liveability and economic success through sprawl repair, highway removal and below-grade infrastructure, public transit, changes in density and general community aesthetics are combining into an exciting mix. It won’t be cheap or easy for Austin but the city is better placed for success than most.
image: Seaholm power station in Austin, TX by roxannejomitchell via Wikimedia Commons
Dead malls, obsolete warehouses and passed-over big box retail outlets aren’t hard to find in North America. What to do with all that space, all that land? McAllen, Texas took the depressing carcass of a dead Wal-Mart and refitted it as a public library. What an improvement: the largest library in the country, and an interior design award winner.
Last year the Urban Land Institute produced a document with a half dozen case studies of communities doing sprawl repair, adding transit infrastructure, and undertaking suburban retrofits. It’s nice to see these projects because it seems logical that a better designed community offers its residents some insurance against difficulty compared to poorly thought out, low density, car-dependent ones, the kind that are everywhere. These projects and their various components represent at least a good attempt at adapting the lived-in North American landscape to an emergent future which doesn’t really support the things that made suburbia possible any more, namely E-Z money and cheap energy.
Our relatively limited experience of these refitted places is that they rely too much on retail and ironically, cars. What will happen to the major continental chains like Starbucks or The Gap as we move forward is not fully clear. They and their global supply chains may contract along with everything else. A coffee bar an upstairs tenant can walk to doesn’t mean much if the windows are boarded up. One of our interns was in Toronto’s Liberty Village this weekend. Liberty Village is not so much a refitted suburb as a refitted industrial area but it models many of the same attributes as ULI’s case studies. “Don’t know when I’ve ever seen so many luxury SUVs, Minis, Japanese sports cars, German sedans in one place, ever,” said our intern. The very success and enjoyability of the area’s renovated buildings, its retail opportunities and so forth attracts loads of people, many of whom arrive by car even though there’s multiple possibilities for arrival by public transit.
Shifting Suburbs: reinventing infrastructure for compact development
uli.org 56 page .pdf file
image: dead shopping mall by Augustawiki via Wikimedia Commons
The matrix of issues regarding suburbia and energy merge nicely in this item from the Guardian. Residential suburbs in Texas find natural gas fracking operations crowding towards them. Sometimes they are resisted, sometimes acccepted. Fracking of course is the process of getting at natural gas and oil from so called tight formations of shale. Water and chemicals are injected into drill holes at high pressure, and some expense, to bust up the shale and release the hydrocarbon goodies The result is a lot of exclamatory language about the United States turning a corner to energy independence. This talk is less tangible a thing than the risk to drinking water and earthquakes already asociated with fracking. Fracking also requires extra allotments of steel piping and capital compared to past efforts at extracting fossil fuels conventionally. If fracking crashes it will remove one of the last schemes for supporting suburbia as we have come to know it. Economic growth expressed as a suburban/consumer/automotive undertaking requires constant new inputs of cheap energy, particularly so that the credit/financial component of it all will continue to function and interest continue to be paid on debt.