Sunday, June 24, 2007

Houston is... a big city

First, consider these facts:
  • Houston is larger than Los Angeles (but has just over half the population).
  • Houston is almost twice as large as New York City (yes, all five boroughs) in land area.
  • Into Houston, you could fit...
    • Philadelphia, 4.3 times
    • Seattle, 6.9 times
    • Washington D.C., 9.4 times
    • Boston, 12 times
Now, I just want to know how many roads Houston has--as far as just square footage, or even just length. For those of you who ever played SimCity, it reminds me of when you would build too many roads and maybe try lowering road payments under 100%, and the road would start turning into rubble. Yeah. That actually happens somewhere... it's called Houston.

Past that, though, is the question... why is Houston so freaking big? Turns out (not surprisingly) the answer has something to do with Texas annexation laws and such. All the information that follows can be accredited to what I gleaned from a Texas Municipal League document I read on the Web a few weeks back (the TML is pro-annexation, note):
  • First of all, there are two kinds of cities in Texas: home rule cities (I think that's what they're called) and other cities (I don't remember the name... general law cities I think). Anyway, point being that home rule cities can make their own ordinances, and general law cities can't.
  • But also, home rule cities can annex up to five miles beyond their limits, pretty much whenever--although some laws have made it a bit tougher. The only thing they can't do is annex another home rule city. They have the obligation to provide services within a couple of years to whatever land they annex.
  • The point of this (according to TML) is that cities don't get screwed over: they get the tax base of an expanding area, unlike in other metropolitan areas, where these areas would incorporate into suburbs and not give the city any tax revenue, hence making the city a blighted area and downward spiral, etc. (so if this is where we are with annexation, imagine where we'd be without it...)
  • TML also states that cities don't really get much revenue from the state government; hence, they need that local tax base to keep going. (I would argue that a probable effect of some of this is to hinder improvements in more well-off areas, whose inhabitants are more able to collectively act and otherwise don't want to pay more taxes to improve poorer parts of town. Hence why the roads suck even in good parts of town--if the city were able to raise taxes to pay for them, that still wouldn't be the infrastructure most in need of work.)
Now, what would I say if I were dictator? I'd say that at least some zoning regulations are in order, and the ridiculous growth out should stop in favor of "filling in the gaps," i.e. the vacant lots that are everywhere. But hey, what do I know?

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