We speak for our prairies, our forests, our wetlands, our bayous and our farmlands: Landscapes that we depend on and that make southeast Texas so special. Collectively these places form our heartland - a place where we derive our character, where we play, and where we find a break from our hurried modern life. These places also serve as the last, best refuge for wild ducks, bobcats, eagles, otters, deer and other beloved creatures.
We also speak for our neighborhoods, our jobs and for our diverse communities: Houston’s major urban centers and their hinterlands - the economic and cultural lifeblood of our region. Walkable places serve as the last, best refuge for tomorrow’s innovators: the entrepreneurs, architects, lawyers, accountants, engineers, computer scientists and artists this city needs to survive the next decades.
Some of the very best wild places left on the Texas coast are found right here in Houston. Most of them, however, will be paved over in the next 20 to 30 years, if current trends and policies continue. More than 1,000 additional square miles of these natural gems and critical farmland will be lost forever with 3 million people coming our way.
Most of our growth in the last decade or so has been in unincorporated areas that generally have little or no existing infrastructure. However, we have significant and underutilized infrastructure in place, within Houston itself and within the additional 133 towns and cities in the greater Houston region.
By developing mostly suburban areas, we have lost irreplaceable farmland and natural areas.
Losing money and habitat to the diversion
Back in 1978, people in 15 cities and parts of unincorporated Harris County voted to tax themselves one penny of sales tax to create a regional transit system. This funding remains the largest source of funding for transit in our region.
If all of this money had gone to mass transit, Houston would already boast a robust transit system that could have helped us create more complete neighborhoods in Houston’s urban core (like the Heights) - with shops, restaurants and cultural events within easy walking distance. These types of neighborhoods just happen to be what a majority (51 percent) of Harris County residents prefer.
Such neighborhoods would create a stronger Houston core that is vital to the entire region. A stronger core means higher salaries across the region. It also means many more recreational and educational choices, and much greater socioeconomic mobility. You simply can’t have a strong, competitive core without vibrant, walkable centers.
Unfortunately, not all of the money that we voted for back in 1978 actually goes to provide transit service. A huge sum has been diverted to road building outside of Houston - inducing sprawl that both destroys our heartland and decreases tax revenue for the city of Houston by encouraging business and home buyer flight to the suburbs. Since 1988, a staggering $2.7 billion has been paid to 15 cities and unincorporated Harris County to do road and other nontransit projects, rather than help build our regional transit system.
What difference do transit and walkable communities make to the prairies, farms and other greenspaces? Walkable neighborhoods use less land, because everything is in walking distance from where you live - the cleaners, restaurants, supermarkets, you name it. A walkable neighborhood might take as little as one-tenth the space that a suburban neighborhood would for the same amount of people.
Ultimately, there is nothing we can do that would be more effective for building vibrant, equitable walkable neighborhoods than building a complete, robust transit system. And there is absolutely nothing we can do in terms of preserving our natural heritage more effective than building walkable neighborhoods in the urban core instead of on virgin earth.
The ecological value of transit
Now there is an opportunity to return those funds back to transit projects (such as highly valuable light rail lines), and it comes at a critical moment. Without the use of all of our one-cent transit taxes, the transit system administered by Metro is probably not going to expand any farther - after the current rail line construction is finished. The funds just aren’t there for important projects like the University rail line and the Uptown/Galleria line.
Fully funding transit would mean more of our job centers would be accessible across the region. More of us should be able to reliably use public transit to get to work and to lunch and meetings on time. Without fully funding transit, more unchecked sprawl will continue chewing up more and more of our heartland and more of our money will continue to fly away from our city coffers.
On Thursday, the Metro Board of Directors will decide what to put on the ballot for the November election. Should the money continue to be drained away or not?
We believe it is time to end the drain on the transit revenues and invest now in transit, as originally intended by the voters so long ago - for our heartland, for our tax base, for our future.
We encourage the mayors, county commissioners and Metro directors to do the responsible thing: Invest in the health and prosperity of all the people of the Houston region by vigorously creating a robust transit system more accessible for Houstonians of all ages and classes. No more important decision for the nature of our region will be made in our lifetimes.
Save the ducks - fully fund transit!
This article was submitted by John Jacob, Texas Coastal Watershed Program; David Crossley, Houston Tomorrow; Kay Warhol, richmondrail.org; Jay Blazek Crossley, Houston Access to Urban Sustainability; Mary Lawler, Avenue CDC; Amanda Timm, LISC; Monica Savino, Washington on Westcott (WOW) Roundabout Initiative; Keiji Asakura, Asakura Robinson; Riley Anderson, LANDology; Rick Lowe, Project Row Houses; Tyson Sowell, Texas Campaign for the Environment; Peter Brown, Better Houston; Daniel Barnum, FAIA, HBL Architects; Michelle Barnes, Community Artists Collective; Brandt Mannchen, Houston Sierra Club; Robert Rayburn, Bayou Preservation Association; Heidi Vaughn. HIVE; Matthew Tejada, Air Alliance Houston; Jim Patterson, White Oak Studio Landscape Architecture; Margaret Robinson, American Society of Landscape Architects - Texas; Kolby Davidson, Davidson Landscape Architecture, LLC; J. Tynan (Ty) Kelly, Bayou Preservation Association; Kevin Shanley, SWA Group; Rusty Bienvenue, AIA Houston; David Boles, HOK; Kathryn Baumeister, Bike Houston; Jaime González, Coastal Prairie Partnership; Maria J. Pesantez, USGBC Texas Gulf Coast Chapter Emerging Professionals; Marci Perry, Citizens’ Transportation Coalition; and Lawrence Spence, Environmental Educators’ Exchange.
Full Story: End the drain on Metro money and improve lifestyles
Source: Houston Chronicle, June 24, 2012