Looking at Houston from Vancouver

<p>A Canadian's perspective on the "planner-free" city of Houston, America's fourth most populous city.</p>
April 6, 2008, 1pm PDT | Nate Berg
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"More than any American city save perhaps Orlando and Phoenix, Houston has cast its urban lot with the car-fired, no-deposit-down, suburban dream. I was surprised to learn this is the fourth largest conurbation in the entire U.S. - only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have more residents."

"You would never know this from driving the Sam Houston Tollway - the freeway surrounding the city - because the lush magnolias and southern pines are only occasionally interrupted by shopping malls or oil field service towers. Everything else cowers under this green canopy, with most of the buildings being somewhere between the height of a Cadillac Escalade and two-storey executive rancher."

"Houston provides a useful contrast with Vancouver, home of superstar city planners. Our urban expertise is now jingling the bling of global attention and rich Emirati imitators - a Vancouver clone in the UAE is marketed as "Dubai Marina," but I prefer to call it "Very False Creek" (our former head planner Larry Beasley is now an urban consultant to the Emir of Abu Dhabi.)"

"To begin with, Houston has no city planners, at least not those all-powerful czars of condo-town we worship in Vancouver. What is more, Houston does not have land-use zoning as we and most other North American cities know it. What, a city without the civic leadership provided by edict-issuing urban planners? What, a metropolis without the framework of rigid classifications of what can, and what cannot, be built on each and every plot of land?"

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Published on Friday, April 4, 2008 in The Globe and Mail
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