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Urban Planning

Westward to Katy… and Beyond!

Go West, Young Man, for adventure, for big square footage, and schools for the tykes.  

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Katy, Texas!

It’s known by city dwellers generally as that region about 30+ miles from downtown where people can buy large houses, with yards and swimming pools (!!!) for the cost of a condo close to the urban core.

The 1950 census put the population of Katy, Texas at 849 people.

Needless to say, Katy wasn’t one of the original suburbs of Houston.  That honor goes to places like Meyerland, Spring Branch and a host of other places currently with skyrocketing housing costs and original housing stock stubbornly holding on amidst a sea of rising stucco McMansions and town home farms.

From 1980 to 2010, this far flung satellite of Houston increased in population from 5,660 to 14,102 people.

From 2010 to 2015, Katy added another two thousand people to rise to 16,158 people.  But, that’s just within the city limits.

Yes, Katy is an incorporated city that lends its name to the entire region past the Grand Parkway, closing hugging I-10 until you hit the Rooms-to-Go outlet center in Sealy.  That’s the unofficial border anyway, from the perspective of your average city dweller.

Those numbers don’t tell the story of Katy.

A driver going west to San Antonio is treated to nearly endless strip centers for miles and miles, starting outside the city limits.

Behind those strip centers lie a burgeoning population base, not of surbanites, but exurbanites.  The denizens of the Katy region were populating far west even before the term “exurb” was even created.

And the building is still going strong.

It’s going stronger more than ever now with the Grand Parkway (Highway 99) connecting Sugar Land to Katy to the Woodlands.  Gone are the days when commuting between Houston’s powerhouse outer regions required driving in to the Beltway, or, in earlier times, the 610 loop.

Master planned Cinco Ranch off of the Grand Parkway boasts a well regarded school district, upscale shopping (including a Trader Joes!) at La Centerra, and home prices that taper off on the low end at $300,000.  Million dollar homes are in abundance.  And, the homes get big.  Way bigger than what you can buy inside the loop for the same price.

The realtors on HAR like to show them off:

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That same stucco McMansion that would hug the property line on a lot in-town just got supersized.

Yard space, square footage, stucco.

More.  More. More.

While inner ring suburbs built in the fifties get passed over, the building is hot out West.  Prices are up.

To get the same deals that existed in Katy five years ago, many are now going even further out…

To Fulshear.  To Firethorne.

Don’t know where those places are?  Just spend some time on Google maps and get caught up to speed.

What could go wrong, heading west to the lands of milk and honey?

The West side jobs are still in Houston.  Downtown, Galleria, Energy Corridor, etc.  

Oh yes, there is that.

The realtors and new home developers sell places like Firethorne as being pretty darn close to downtown Houston.

All those new Energy Corridor workers coming in from elsewhere see the big lots and the fudged-up realtor maps showing their developments two inches from the Museum District, and they buy.

But, then there’s the traffic.

Or, more accurately, the gridlock.

Sometimes on a work morning it can take an hour or more for home owners out west to reach their offices in the Energy Corridor on the west side of town.

The gridlock heading into town is brutal.  Don’t even think about leaving your house at 7 a.m. to get into your downtown office at 9 a.m.

Of course, there are metro buses, but sometimes just getting out of your neighborhood can take half an hour.

No one wants to live on a major street, so the developers create just a few major entrances and exits to their neighborhoods.  Guess what, they get gridlocked.  Bad.

Everyone around you is thinking the exact same thing if you live in the outer ring but work in the central core: Leave the house early, to get to work.

Some people cope by getting into their cars as early as four in the morning.  Then, they skip out early after they’ve put in their nine to ten hours.

That’s an extreme adjustment from the typical 9 to 5 which is essentially dead for the office workers living beyond the outer reaches of the city of Houston metro but still working in Houston.

But, even that way of life may be dying.

Policy makers keeps pouring concrete to go further and further west, and builders are building as far west as the government will build roads.

Office holders take checks from developers and there is no end in sight to westward expansion.

There’s even talk of a fourth outer “ring” around Houston that goes even further west than the Grand Parkway.

Lord have mercy.

It must be stopped. 

As the Katy area gets in-filled with even more developments and builders gobble up more cheap land west and plop down developments, the traffic congestion will keep getting worse and worse and worse.

Ride sharing doesn’t happen much on the HOV lanes.  There’s no plan to build a train where the HOV lane currently exists.

Interstate 10 is already one of the widest freeways in the world.

Sure, there are new efforts to add an extra lane or so by re-painting and making existing lanes narrower.

But, the wound is gaping.  And, nothing on the books right now is going to stop the bleeding.

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Westward expansion has simply got to stop.

It isn’t sustainable.

The problem isn’t limited to Katy, of course.

Houston is known for its sprawl.

290 Northwest is seeing many of the same issues as Katy, but without the major employment center in the Energy Corridor and something similar to all the office space that sprawls out west along I-10.

The Woodlands also presents a killer commute to downtown Houston but it also has its own economic center north of Houston, as well.

The big answer to the dwindling way of life on the Western prairie is not to keep building roads to connect to new housing developments, but is instead to build up housing closer inside the city that will take cars off the road and create more realistic, more sustainable commutes to the office.

There are other solutions, also, which Microscope Houston will be examining.

In future reports Microscope Houston will be exploring how to make living more sustainable and realistic, in stark contrast to the traffic nightmare that afflicts large portions of the office-going population as it seeks to obtain high quality housing and high quality schools, and also to balance those with quality of life for the breadwinners working in the urban core.

This has been a Microscope Houston report.  

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