Director, First Stop Portland
CEO Angela Baker welcomed us to Houston’s celebrated Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center. “Big is the only standard we have,” she told our Portland delegation. “Houston is a city with no limits.”
|Neighborhood Center CEO Angela Baker tours Marc Jolin, Multnomah County (center) and Dave Nielsen, Home Builders Association (right) through their 'wrap-around services' facility|
But after three days of Randy Miller’s recent “best practices” trip to Houston, I had to privately eat a little crow. No limits? Well, in Houston I also learned, it means some positives – like no limits to the size of philanthropic gifts annually contributed to hospitals, art museums and universities. And, according to one Houston expert, it means no limits on vision or bold ideas. “We experiment a lot more here than you (Portlanders) do.” Ouch! Did he just call Portland parochial?
|James Koski (left) Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Annise Parker opens morning plenary alongside Randy Miller (right)|
Houston, Texas sprawls (they call it ‘outward urban expansion’) over 656 square miles. Houston Mayor Annise Parker qualified the development pattern by acknowledging, “We have very liberal annexation laws,” she told us. And when questioned by Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt if there were conflicts with neighboring cities she answered, “No, we just bring them into the city.”
|Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt (standing), PDC's Kimberly Branam (left), AAA's Sarah Lazzaro (center), and Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen (right)|
Is there an up-side to this un-zoned approach? Actually yes. Here’s another paradox: “Housing is affordable, here,” Mayor Parker told us. “Property values are pretty close to market, so it’s affordable for our workforce sector, and our young creatives.”
|Houston Mayor Annise Parker shares Houston's 'multi-nodal' approach to development|
"Houston is business-friendly," we heard multiple times from multiple speakers. Houstonites don’t speak in terms of livability. Houston home builder Will Holder bristled at the comparisons between the two cities, labeling Portland’s dense neighborhoods as “urban concentration camps.” That comment brought audible gasps from several Portlanders in the room, including green experts like Mark Edlen and Nolan Lienhart. “In Houston we build exactly what the customer wants; the worse thing we can do as a city is try to influence the market,” affirmed Houston City Councilor Steve Costello.
|We all wanted to clone Houston's Angela Baker and bring her to Portland. We had to settle for a photo op. From left, GPI's Janet LaBar, Nancy Hales, Angela Baker, Gerding Edlen's Mark Edlen, and Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle|
|Rice University Kinder Institute's Bill Fulton opened his comments with this question|
|Feedback from City of Roses Disposal and Recycling's Alando Simpson|