Houston’s famous lack of zoning laws creates some odd bedfellows, such as an adult bookstore next to a department store next to a skyscraper. But locals love the fact that Houston remains the only major American city without zoning laws, having rejected efforts to impose them at the ballot box on several occasions. Yet the city does operate within a myriad of regulations like land-use laws that create the essence of zoning, just without using the dreaded “Z-word.”
While the occasional eyesore contributes to the less-than-visually appealing (some would say ugly) aesthetic of the city, the real problem is the city’s lack of comprehensive planning, which results in development decisions being made without proper examination of their impacts to the neighborhoods as a whole. This patchwork approach combined with long commute times and poor public transit has health effects as well, with Houston traditionally ranked as the fattest city the US (although that title has now been lost to Shreveport, LA). So hey, maybe things are looking up.
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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor, and he’ll take the slanted streets of Missoula over Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway any day of the week. Follow him: @innerviewmag.