Wednesday 1 October 2014

Density happens, if you let it.

For as long as I've been following the politics of urban regulation in New Zealand, I've been hearing Hugh Paveltich lauding the successes of Houston in successfully delivering affordable housing on the city's outskirts through the use of innovative infrastructure funding models, and Kiwi urbanists excoriating the Houston model for sprawl.

And now Houston's showing that up can go well with out.
More Houstonians are choosing to live in high-rise and mid-rise buildings and the trend is about to spread to an unlikely place — outer suburbia.
Consider this: A developer is considering a mid-rise apartment in Pearland, the Brazoria County ‘burb, south of Houston. And a high-rise condo is being talked about for The Woodlands.
Amazingly, a significant number of home buyers have been requesting high-rise living units in the suburbs, realty experts say.
Amazing. Suburban areas where people are free to put up apartment buildings, without NIMBYs blocking them everywhere with complaints about denigration of local amenities or planners insisting that density can only happen in specified areas where they think it ought to happen.
Downtown also has a number of mid-rise apartment buildings underway, typically seven, six or five-story projects.
Two-story apartments just aren’t being built any more. Land is so expensive that developers are forced to build taller buildings to cover their costs and make the project financially viable.
Many of the new Inner Loop apartment projects have at least four floors of living units stacked atop two-level parking garages.  So even though it may not be high-rise, the residences on the sixth level often get a very decent view of the skyline. The Inner Loop of Houston has a significant number of mid-rise multifamily projects under development — the most in decades. 
The trend is even spreading to the suburbs.
Pearland is about get a four-story mid-rise residential building, just west of Highway 288, says realty broker Brad LyBrand of NewQuest Properties.
“It’s a first for Pearland,” LyBrand says.
The dense urban-like development plan for the Pearland site makes sense because two hospitals (read: job base) are under construction within walking distance, says Houston developer Allen Crosswell, who has owned the acreage for several years.
Bottom line: Houston is changing. Houston led the nation in population growth last year. The city is more urban and residential development is more vertical.
I wonder how they've managed to get suburban apartments without NIMBY action.


  1. Since I recently visited Houston, I only have anecdotal evidence of past building activity and no aggregate statistics on the current building activity. From my brief impression, Houston is a decidedly nondense city with ginormous individual family houses in the suburbs that I've seen - about as far from apartment building as you can get. Perhaps this is changing, but note that the quoted text first asks us to "consider" that a developer is "considering" building one, and that a four story mid-rise apartment building is currently in the process of being built. Further note that anonymous "realty experts" such as the developer on this one building has an incentive to claim that "a significant number of home buyers have been requesting high-rise living units in the suburbs", regardless of whether it's true, because they want apartments to appear scarce in order to be snapped up by eager buyers in fear of missing out. So my impression is that this article presents insufficient evidence for this supposed; from my anecdotal impression, I certainly haven't seen any signs of it in Houston.

  2. Sure. Houston is very non-dense. The story here is that apartments are starting to go up anyway. Sure, some of the story is developers trying to shill for tenants in their new buildings. But the new buildings exist!

  3. I am not a super fan of Houston, but it would be great to trial this system in a medium sized NZ city, and a great way for a city to put itself on the map for business.

  4. Probably helps that the main component of the cause of sprawl in Houston are not exactly politically astute. Community action stops at the QuinceaƱera.


    Also, calling the Woodlands a suburb is somewhat of a misnomer as there are a lot of large business campuses up there, so there are some very good O&G and periphery jobs, and not everyone needs to commute all the way to Houston proper.

  6. Yep, there is of course a real demand for apartment living - always has been.

    The argument from people like Hugh Pavletich (and myself) is that planning should be demand-responsive. Let the sprawlers sprawl - and the densifiers densify.

    Co-ordinate demand - don't control it via artificial price-pressures.