Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Responses to Randal O'Toole

The Chronicle's letters-to-the-editor section was full of responses to the Randall O'Toole editorial in the Sunday paper. They were all critical. Obviously letters to the editor are not the same thing as a poll, and represent a self-selected sample that is further filtered by the editors themselves, but I was still shocked not to see one letter in favor of O'Toole's article. The letters were generally of the "calling a dude on his bullshit" variety. I was heartened to see another Portlander (not an ex-Portlander like me) write in:

As an individual who lives most of the year in Portland, Ore., but who also lives several months each year in the Houston area, I've come to learn that Houston isn't as bad as the rest of the country (and, indeed, even Texas) considers it to be.


I challenge O'Toole to find a single Portlander, businessman or other-wise, to agree with his gloomy depiction of Portland's progressive land use and development vision. Indeed, these decisions have been made and supported by citizens through the elections of officials that fulfill this vision.

The other letters are more-or-less the same: "I love Houston, but Randal O'Toole is nuts." Great Houston political blogger (and fellow Rice grad--I'm biased towards bloggers who went to Rice) Charles Kuffner also cries BS on O'Toole:

[Kuffner speculates that] O'Toole is playing a little fast and loose with his terminology here. I haven't seen the Coldwell Banker report that he references, so perhaps I'm about to make a fool of myself, but I'd bet that the $170,000 average price for a four-bedroom, two-and-one-half bath, 2,200-square foot home isn't for the city of Houston only. I'd bet it takes in a good chunk, if not all, of the eight-county greater Houston area, which needless to say is quite a different animal than the city of Houston. If so, this is not even close to an apples-to-apples comparison.

As such, if I'm right then O'Toole's argument pretty much falls apart. If we're not just talking about Houston here, but also Sugar Land and Pasadena and Spring and the Woodlands and Dickinson and Pearland and the vast stretches of unincorporated county lands, then we have to take into account the laws and regulations that those places have. Which, as David Crossley and Christof note, may be as strict or stricter than what Houston has, and may include both "planning" and "zoning". And yet the region continues to grow like gangbusters.

Now of course, Houston is the focus of the debate here, because Mayor White has, however gingerly, suggested that maybe we ought to give some thought to what we're doing in certain places, which has some fat cat developers' panties in a wad. The point we're making here is that this issue is a whole lot more complex and multi-faceted than just "planning" versus "not-planning", and I think it's a disservice for folks like O'Toole to characterize it that way.


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