Why Planning Matters?
I have served on the Blueprint Houston board for several years. Its mission is “to assure the creation of a General Plan for the City of Houston based on citizens’ vision, values and goals.” So, why do I think it is important to advocate for this? I’m not a professional planner or architect. I’m not an environmentalist or futurist. But, I am a Houstonian who cares about how this great city survives and thrives successfully in the 21st century. And, I do not see an overall vision for our city to guide us in the decades ahead through the dynamic changes, good and bad, happening all around us.
What is a General Plan? Some think it’s a complicated, detailed document saying exactly what the City would and would not do. Some think it is an arduous process taking years to complete and many millions of dollars to conduct. But, it does not have to be any of this. Blueprint Houston conducted a series of workshops and Citizens’ Congresses over the last several years that culminated in a document that expresses citizens’ vision, values and priorities (www.blueprinthouston.org). This document has been offered to the City of Houston as a good start to have a general plan.
A general plan provides a roadmap for the city that guides planning, public improvements and development in a city. It encompasses all parts of the community and addresses interdependent quality of life issues including transportation, land development patterns, parks, streets and infrastructure, housing and neighborhoods, recreation and community facilities, downtown and other urban centers, the environment, public health and safety, education and flooding. Once adopted, the General Plan becomes the official policy guide for a coordinated approach to deal comprehensively with all issues. It gives us a strategic direction and framework, based on citizens’ visions and values, by which we can direct our progress and development. The many patchwork individual plans for major roads and thoroughfares, public transportation, housing, parks and bayous, business development, etc. are well thought-out and feasible in their own right but they are not weaved and coordinated into an overall general plan that reflects the vision, values and priorities of our citizens.
Being a native Houstonian, I’ve I have seen Houston grow during what I call its “adolescent phase,” like a teenager, enjoying its new found freedom and opportunities—an “anything goes” attitude. Now, it has matured into a more sophisticated adult phase and, as a grownup, has to assume responsibilities and think about the future.
That’s where I feel we are in our great city. We’ve been used to uninhibited growth and development, which has often been attributed to Houston’s great success. But, have we reached a point of diminishing returns? Is it time now to more strategically plan our growth and development? The wide-open spaces we once had around the city are filling up. That’s not all that’s filling up! So are the roads, freeways and parking spaces. It is estimated that by the next 30 years we will have added a population the size of Los Angeles. We have got to plan better if we want our great city to survive and thrive in the 21st century.
That’s why I serve on the Blueprint Houston board. That’s why I feel that Planning Matters. I hope you will also see the urgency and necessity for our great city to have a General Plan to help lead the way for us to become even greater.
Rogene Gee Calvert