Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Two excellent stories

I read two articles today that really made me happy.

First, there was an excellent article about Commuter Rail in Cite Magazine. Author and new Metro board member, Christof Spieler says “Rather than rush ahead with a system based on preconceived, often faulty assumptions [about transit] and driven by political urgency, we need to engage in a discussion about what we want to accomplish and how best to do that.”

Mr. Spieler is absolutely right. Metro needs to have an honest dialogue about its transit system. I would hope that includes average Houstonians. Neighbors should be asked “where do you travel to and from? How do you get there? If you drive, what’s keeping you from taking transit?” I’ll bet the answers would be surprising, and very informative about how to improve transit in our city.

Also today, Mayor Annise Parker announced her new choices for City Attorney and director of the City’s Department of Housing and Community Development (David Feldman and James Noteware respectively). The choices weren’t as interesting as what the Mayor said: “We can put more housing out for more people if we upgrade the multi-family housing we have and we do whatever we need to do to remove the really terrible multi-family apartment complexes in our city that drag down the neighborhoods around them.” I’ve been advocating for this all along; most recently in this thread on HAIF. It’s a relief to have a Mayor that understands.

There are three caveats on this. First, apartments need periodic reinvestment or they deteriorate. It’s not enough to just upgrade apartments and then walk away. Sooner or later, they’ll be back where they started. Second, like Mr. Spieler said about transit – we need to carefully study which apartments are demolished and which are upgraded. Neighborhood Protection has data on the worst apartments; the Department of Housing and Community Development should use that data. Third, they need to do these things in ways that are welcomed by neighbors; not in ways that anger neighbors. This last piece may be the most difficult of all.

These are two very important things. Houston really needs good transit. We absolutely must replace slums with quality, affordable housing for working people. It will be very interesting to see where these two initiatives go.

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