From The Economist:
Houston, in other words, is going green. Laura Spanjian, the city’s director of sustainability, says that businesses are increasingly likely to get on board if they can see the long-term savings or the competitive advantages that flow from creating a more attractive city. She adds an important clarification: “We’re not mandating that they have to do this.” That would not go down well. Houston is the capital of America’s energy industry, and its leaders have traditionally been wary of environmental regulation, both at home and abroad.
In fact the city has been sceptical of regulations in general, and even more of central planning. Houston famously has no zoning, which helps explain why the city covers some 600 square miles. It is America’s fourth-largest city by population, but less than half as densely populated as sprawling Los Angeles. People are heavily dependent on cars, the air quality is poor and access to green space is haphazard. At the same time, Houston has jobs, a low cost of living and cheap property. Many people have accepted that trade-off. Between 2000 and 2010 the greater metropolitan area added more than 1.2m people, making it America’s fastest-growing city.
Still, the public is taking more interest in sustainability, and for a number of reasons. As the city’s population has swelled, the suburbs have become more crowded. Some of the growth has come from the domestic migration of young professionals with a taste for city life. And despite living in an oil-industry hub, the people of Houston are still aware of the cost of energy; during the summer of 2008, when petrol prices hovered around $4 a gallon, the papers reported a surge of people riding their bicycles to bus stops so that they could take public transport to work.