Urban Notebook

Houston: From Sprawl to City

I live in Houston and I don’t own a car. I know, I know: If there is a more hard-to-believe statement to make about any American city with a straight face, I don’t know what it is. But it’s true.

Last fall, after three decades of living in Southern California, I moved to Houston to take over Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. I had given up my car a few years ago, and now I was moving to the most sprawling, car-centric city in America, a place where well over 90 percent of all residents drive to work in automobiles. Houston is twice the size of New York City, with only a quarter of the population -- and that’s just the central city, not counting the suburbs. READ MORE

San Francisco’s Major Thoroughfare Gets a Makeover

In a world-class city, one might expect that the prime commercial corridor would also be a model public space. But this hasn’t been the case for the downtown stretch of Market Street at the heart of San Francisco. For decades it has doubled both as a traditional main street and an automobile thruway. This combination has harmed aesthetics and produced a dangerous clash of transportation modes. Now, the city’s transportation agency is addressing the problem.

San Francisco, after years of planning, launched this fall the Safer Market Street plan, which designates transit-only lanes, prohibits turns at certain intersections and posts better signage, among other things. The idea is to reduce automobile traffic on a street where 84 percent of the people arrive by foot, bicycle or transit. READ MORE

Immigrants Help Reverse Baltimore’s Decline

For a few years now, a handful of cities have been trying to position themselves as more immigrant-friendly communities. At a time when some states have adopted tougher immigration laws that can make them less welcoming to foreign-born residents, cities like Detroit and Dayton, Ohio, have actively been trying to attract immigrants in the hope they’ll help drive new economic growth.

MORE: Read the rest of the December issue. READ MORE

Remembering Mayor Menino

Newly elected mayors like to be judged, and generally are judged, on the breadth of their vision. They march into office following campaigns in which they promise to produce world-class schools, dramatic new efficiencies in management and spectacular economic development. They deliver inaugural speeches proclaiming that, given enough energy and creativity, no goal is unreachable.

When they leave office, however, it is a different story. By then, the public and most of the pundits have lost track of what the original promises were, and judge mayors on how well they handled the details -- clearing away snow, repairing the streets, keeping municipal employees on the job and a myriad of other administrative challenges far beneath the lofty rhetoric of Inauguration Day. READ MORE

The Website That Could End Homelessness in Los Angeles

It isn’t easy being homeless anywhere, but it seems especially tough in Los Angeles. Despite the dizzying array of services, Los Angeles County is America’s homeless capital, with more than 52,000 unsheltered individuals sleeping on its streets nightly -- many of them settling inside the dangerous downtown tent city of Skid Row.

Now, a collection of public and private groups wants to end homelessness in the region, and it wants to do it with a digital program first tested in Skid Row in 2013. The “coordinated entry system,” a one-stop website for homeless individuals, will essentially link the homeless to the county’s many social services. The L.A. Housing Authority, the Chamber of Commerce and others have put aside $213 million to pay for the new site as well as for housing vouchers. READ MORE