To the astonishment of many, the American Planning Association's 2009 list of Great Neighborhoods in America includes Montrose in Houston. The surprise comes when "Houston" and "planning" occur in the same sentence. Houston is a sprawling unzoned bricolage of people, places, industry, commerce, arts, and academia. Planned it is not. It may not even be a city, if you define city as an urban entity where there is sensible zoning and mass transit such that you don't absolutely have to own a car.
The APA designating Montrose a great neighborhood was reported in the Houston Chronicle this week. "One of Houston's original streetcar suburbs..." says the APA. "Eclectic and urbane, the neighborhood is a fusion of architectural styles, land uses, and people."
Enormous credit goes to the gay community, which has made Montrose its Houston heartland since the 1970's. Countless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people and groups poured their creativity, labor and money into these city blocks over the years, because they felt they had a right to live in a classy and congenial area. Along the way, a number of remarkable institutions decided they could coexist with the GLBT community and practiced vital commitment to the neighborhood too. These were museums, schools, businesses, and churches (one of which I belong to - St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.) All of these stakeholders together proved capable of planful urban vision in the absence of same at the city level. The APA designation bestowed on Montrose should not be seen as sanction for Houston's general planlessness, which much of the time has dreadful results. No, it's a salute to Montrose!
For more details on the 2009 Great Neighborhoods visit the APA Website.