Sunday, December 10, 2006

All Grown Up With No Place to Go

This proposed deal whereby Houston would forego its legal right to annex The Woodlands in return for the paying of a sizeable tribute by that overplanned suburban community would be a landmark moment in the city’s history, akin to the closing of the frontier on a national scale in the 1890s.

Since World War II Houston’s story has been one of relentlessly outward crazy-quilt expansion from the city’s original core, beginning with the early close-in suburban developments of the 1940s and early ’50s through the mid-’90s bloodletting that ended in the forcible taking of Kingwood by Bob Lanier, with the suburban growth into the far nether reaches accompanied by the predictable sad decline of infrastructure and neighborhoods in the older, mostly black and Hispanic inner-city areas (a state of affairs that has slowed somewhat, if not exactly reversed---partly thanks to Lanier---although the decay has been spreading for the past 25 or so years into the older, apartment-filled areas that were once the far suburbs). Check out a circa-World War II map of Houston (courtesy Bayou City History) and see how compact and geographically coherent---how small, really---the city was in the days before what Jim Kunstler calls the Era of Easy Motoring dawned.

As Matt Stiles and Renee C. Lee reported in Saturday’s Houston Chronicle story on the very tenuous proposal

For decades, Houston annexed aggressively so it could grow without being ringed in by other incorporated areas.

But now, at 600 square miles, it may be about full-grown geographically.

Which means maybe Houston can get around to taking better care of what it’s got, with an eye toward halting the wholesale abandonment of the city by the middle-class (which we can easily see being finalized in, oh, about two or three quick decades).

We’ve got to hand it to Bill White. Although we’re not yet ready to date him---like this guy, or our neighbor who had to stake two White signs in her yard last year, even though he had no serious electoral competition---it’s clear that the mayor’s a master triangulator, of almost Clintonesque magnitude. We thought it interesting that he assigned the task of negotiating with The Woodlands to a Republican and our former representative on city council, Mark Ellis.

As White moves closer to making a run for statewide office, though, it’s the people in his own party he’s got to worry about, such as Houston state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who, according to the Chronicle’s Stiles and Lee is wary of the deal and apparently unfazed by the prospect of an annexation adding a sizable number of white Republican voters to the city:
"From a fiscal standpoint, you want to make sure we are getting the most tax dollars we can receive," said [Coleman].
Oh really?

Anyone in The Woodlands who read that remark would probably conclude that Bill White’s made them an offer they can’t refuse, and whatever the cost they’ll be getting off easy.

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