Houston: Master Plan City, USA

March 1, 2003 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

“Blueprint Houston” has just released its plan for a better city with clean air, more parks and fewer crimes. The 450-page report was the work of a blue-ribbon committee made up of the city’s business leaders, academicians and public officials with input from 23 average citizens selected at random.

We must not confuse “Blueprint Houston” with the plan “A Better Houston: Fact or Fiction?” which was put out last year by a blue-ribbon committee made up of leading citizens with input from two public officials. That report called for turning Buffalo Bayou into a San Antonio River Walk complete with boutiques, cafes and kiosks selling “Deep Bayou Off!” by the gallon.

Then there was “Houston – Better than Bangladesh,” which was the work of a California consulting firm hired by City Hall. That $450,000 study found that Houston is hot and humid from June to September. Recommendations included moving everyone to Aspen for the summer.

Another consulting company hired by the city dealt strictly with the city’s image. “We want others to think of Houston as having the charm of Vidor and the efficiency of Laredo,” said one council member. The consultants interviewed a number of people, some of whom had an opinion, and recommended that Houston forget about its image, stating, “Does Dick Cheney care about his image? Does the World Wrestling Federation? Did the KGB? It’s better to be feared than loved.”

Houston may have various problems, but one thing we have in abundance is plans. They are well intended, but most are never heard of again. How can we forget “Houston Proud,” “Expect the Unexpected” and “Imagination Houston?” I loved the Houston and Harris County Committee for a Better Houston and Harris County. It spent five years coming up with a plan to clean the air, build more parks, put a statue on every street corner, do away with computer spam and turn Buffalo Bayou into a Braes Bayou-like river walk only with more concrete.

We all remember the Space City Committee which drew up a plan to turn 47 square blocks of downtown streets into pedestrian malls with fountains and flowers. When merchants and office workers asked how deliveries would be made, not to mention how firetrucks, police cars and ambulances could operate in the area, it was pointed out that the Subcommittee on Picky Points was working on the solution (there was the suggestion that criminals, arsonists and sick people be banned from that part of town). It also called for restoring Buffalo Bayou to its original pristine condition, but the city could not find enough buffalo.

One of my favorites was the Luv Ya Blue Ribbon Committee which, after careful study, said that Buffalo Bayou was meant to be turned into something; otherwise, “Why do you think they call it ‘the Turning Basin’?” The study also called for new sports stadiums for every one of the city’s professional teams and the abolition of public education. “We must prioritize,” the report stated. When it was pointed out that all our professional teams had new facilities but our educational systems did not, the committee adjourned to its suite at Reliant Stadium.

Remember, if you will, “Operation Clean Air,” which listed, among other ideas, a ban on all vehicles, leaf blowers and sweat, not to mention preventing the consumption of chili and cheese hot dogs.

We also had the World-Class City Committee made up of urban planners. Their report called for planning more urbs.

There was the Houston 2002 Committee (originally the Houston 1961 Committee). “So we’re a little late with our report,” said the executive director. “Sue me.”

You may recall other recommendations made by various blue ribbon groups. There was the Our City is Better Than Your City Committee which came up with the slogan: “Houston – Gateway to Galena Park.” (This barely nudged out “Free the Loop 610.”)

The Council for a World-Class City, made up of former Kmart executives and day traders, recommended that Houston should be more like international cities such as London, so everyone should drive on the left-hand side of the street and have bad teeth. The council also recommended that the San Antonio River Walk be turned into another Buffalo Bayou. ih

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