Houston nightlife fans may remember a time, not too many years ago, when the most popular locales weren’t near Washington Avenue, but out along the Richmond Avenue strip. With Houston’s lack of zoning, businesses are generally free to move wherever conditions are right. And it wasn’t too long before parking troubles and rising crime made Richmond distinctly less appealing.
The current hot spots along Washington, for all their crowds and bluster, have raised property values and transformed a once industrial neighborhood recently dominated by used car lots. And whether or not you actually frequent or enjoy these watering holes, you cannot deny how a stronger tax base benefits the city. So what can Houston do to prevent Washington from becoming another Richmond, and help maintain the impressive growth that this area has experienced?
There is rarely a single clear-cut answer to any policy problem, but we are optimistic about the proposed Washington Avenue Corridor Parking Benefit District that Chronicle writer Chris Moran covered this past Sunday (“Parking plan raises concerns in booming bar area,” Page B1, Sunday). Under the plan, the city will install parking meters in the area and use funds raised from them to meet management expenses and reinvest in local maintenance and infrastructure.
Some local businesses have wondered why the city won’t just build parking lots to accommodate the cars. That would only put a band-aid on the problem. Extensive paved lots undermine the density that helps build successful urban neighborhoods. And parking isn’t free – assigning a cost would throw some needed market economics into a overly regulated field. This parking plan would also discourage regular parkers, such as employees, from taking prime parking spots that should be for customers. But this means that any plan should provide a parking location for the people who work at these businesses.
After the 18 month test period, the city will revisit the plan and determine if it was successful or needs any changes, and possibly apply the lessons learned to other parts of the city facing parking problems and denser development.
The policies laid out in this district plan have been discussed in academic studies for years and successfully put into practice in cities across the country. It is time for Houston to put them to the test, or risk losing the benefits of a neighborhood on the rise.