Leon casino, Suburban Houston. Photo: Christoph Gielen

 

First, Pedestrian Pete would like to ask, “would you like to live in this tract development?” If so, which house would you select?

 

At first glance, it is all new and maybe a decent place to invest and live, but there are some serious, serious flaws!

 

Note here that the “price might be right” (cheap), but that also means that the construction quality would likely be cheap! Also, note that in the City of Houston — with only reactive building regulations but no zoning — this type of “cookie cutter” project could be built most anywhere in the city! It is certainly prime for the unincorporated parts of the suburbs where land is cheap.

 

Okay, here are Pedestrian Pete’s comments:

  • No place to walk: First of all, this is no place to walk to, even though there are sidewalks. Sidewalks do not necessarily mean there are people out walking, getting exercise and enjoying the sights.
  • Nothing much to see: The street frontage consists primarily of repetitive garage doors, similar housing types and facades. The relentless architectural monotony prevails.
  • Limited on-street parking: As you can see, because most of the curb space is taken up by driveways (“front-loaders”), very little curbside parking is left. This spells disaster if two or three owners on the same block have a big party!
  • Extremely long block lengths: Terrible for walking, especially if there is nothing to see. Monotony!
  • Absence of basic landscaping and lighting: Builders save money by skimping on the landscaping and substitute garage lights, for need street lights.
  • Narrow lot sizes: These lots seem to be 30 feet wide. Aside from the monotony, so what’s left of the front yard is a 2-car concrete driveway, and not much else.
  • The crowded feeling: This is the worst of all possible worlds, the congestion of the city (without the walkable mixed-use benefits), and the isolation of the countryside.

 

There are some other concerns here:

  • High Homeowner Association fees and property taxes: These are some of the hidden costs to watch out for!
  • Long commutes: From the looks of the layout, it is probably out in the far suburbs, built on cheap land, far from jobs, shopping, parks and schools. It’s a totally auto-dependent setting, where residents are forced to drive everywhere. Car dependence costs are $10 - $15,000 per year per car. Subdivisions like this means a lot driving - long commutes to jobs and activities for kids.
  • Ironic loss of the sense of community: There is just no There There! The place just doesn’t have much to recommend it, except “shelter.” Human beings need a lot more than shelter. They need “community!”
  • Cost of suburban living is deceptive: It looks like an inexpensive place to live but wait, there are hidden costs like car ownership, homeowner and maintenance fees, and taxes (Houston is not low tax). If you add driving cost, Houston is about as expensive as Boston, where you can walk to many places and ride a great transit system.
  • Foreclosures: Projects like this are the most vulnerable when renters move in, the game is generally over!

 

Pedestrian Pete advises: Do not “drive until you qualify” (for a mortgage). Instead, find a fixer-upper in an urban area, where you can walk to school, shopping, recreation; and maybe take MetroRail to your job. It should be a good investment.

 

All of this makes Pedestrian Pete wonder — what is the purpose of city-building? Is it to line the developers’ pockets? Is it for the people who live here now, or for those who will come later? Or just maybe, it is for wonderful neighborhoods, where people, all sorts of people, are so happy to live, work and enjoy life in a real community? Just maybe?