Local Host Sessions and Mobile Tours



On behalf of the Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University, we want to invite you to Houston and the 55th Annual Conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. Thanks to the hard work of the conference planning team we are excited to offer you a diverse and engaging program.

The theme of this year conference, Justice and the City is a topic that warrants our attention and it will be discussed in conference sessions, panels, roundtables and addressed by our guest speakers.  The theme begins in the 1960s which will forever be remembered as a tumultuous time, a time of change and a time of progress.  Fifty years later we will look back to assess the progress we have made from the groundwork our predecessors laid, as we plan for the future. 

What better place to have this discussion than in Houston, Texas.  Houston is ranked by Forbes to be the fastest growing city in the United States and is considered to be the most diverse. city in the US; where every ethnic/racial group is a demographic minority.  In the next five years we anticipate a city population of 2.5 million and metropolitan area of over 7.4 million.   What steps must we now take to ensure social, economic and environmental justice for those that are here and those who have yet to come?

Houston has operated without a comprehensive plan for decades and is the largest un-zoned city in America, but it is far from unregulated, as is commonly assumed. The city is currently developing a General Plan, and is updating its Park and Bike Plans with equity as one of the goals.  The city is also transforming its Museum District, envisioning the district’s role as a social condenser. Amidst these changes, Houston must address the resiliency of its neighborhoods and coastal neighbors as we face natural disasters and climate changes that have an unequitable affect across the region. These topics and more will await your input in locally organized sessions and tours.

As co-chairs of the Local Host Committee we are honored to host the 55th ACSP Conference.  While you are here, we hope you enjoy the stimulating discussion but also we want you to take the opportunity to enjoy what Houston has to offer.

Sheri L. Smith, AICP
Department of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy
School of Public Affairs
Texas Southern University

Cecilia Giusti
Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning
College of Architecture
Texas A&M University

Mobile Tours

Tour 1: Astrodome

Tour Leaders: 

  • PARSONS, Jim [Preservation Houston]
  • MILLER, Mark [NRG Park]
  • SOLITAIRE, Laura [Texas Southern University]

The NRG Houston Astrodome, nicknamed the Eighth Wonder of The World, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 in an attempt to prevent its seemingly eminent demolition. The Astrodome, once a major league sports stadium, has sat virtually unused for the past 12 years, during which time it has suffered major decay. Over the years there have been numerous proposals to renovate “the Dome”.  It's been considered for a luxury hotel, a movie studio, and even a multipurpose convention facility.  In 2013, Harris County voters rejected a $200 million bond initiative to renovate the Astrodome.   In 2014, Harris County, which owns the Dome, announced its latest $250 million reuse plan - a massive indoor park, parking lot, and multi-use facility, to be financed through philanthropy, bonds, tax increment financing, and taxes.  On this tour, participants will learn about: 1) the past history of the Astrodome and the previous failed attempts to revitalize and reuse the space; 2)  they will then tour the inside of the Astrodome -- which is closed to the public; and 3) the  current indoor park proposal.   This is a mixed mode tour – we will walk a few blocks to the light rail, take a 20-minute ride through the Medial Center, and then walk around NRG Park to arrive at the Astrodome.

Tour 2: City-wide Bike Planning in Houston?

Tour Leaders: 

  • HALKA, Cathy [City of Houston]
  • BLITZER, Mary [Bike Houston]

Bike friendliness is not typically synonymous with the city of Houston.  However, city and regional planners, civic clubs and bike advocacy groups are working together to transform Houston’s streets from a car-centric to a bikeable city that connects all communities to destinations of interest.  In May 2015, the City embarked upon a 12-month planning effort to update its comprehensive bikeway plan originally adopted in 1993. New trails are being built along the bayous, the first protected bikeway has been installed and funds for bike supportive infrastructure have been appropriated.  Ride with us through downtown to see Houston’s first two-way protected bike lane, tour part of the bayou trail system, connect to the sports center and nearby neighborhoods.  You will experience what has been accomplished thus far and see areas that have yet to be included in the bike system.  Along the 8.5 mile route you will have the opportunity to question planners about the process followed to involve a broader spectrum of people and communities into the city-wide bike plan.  Participants will be riding cruisers and mountain bikes, helmets will be provided.

Tour 3: Disaster Recovery Housing

Tour Leaders:

  • VAN ZANDT, Shannon [Texas A&M University’s Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center]
  • MUELLER, Liz [University of Texas]
  • PALAY, Chrishelle [Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service]

This tour features social justice and fair housing issues related to post-disaster recovery. Poor neighborhoods in Houston were hammered not just once by 2008’s Hurricane Ike (the third-costliest storm on record), but again when disaster recovery funding failed to be distributed equitably in the region. Using funds from a historic conciliation agreement between HUD and the State, community partners are pioneering a novel and truly grassroots approach to housing recovery for these neighborhoods.  Community organizers with the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) engage with residents and connect them with community designers from bcWORKSHOP and the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio to design and construct new homes on infill lots to replace homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Ike.  The approach attempts to overcome many of the obstacles faced by low-income owners not adequately served by market-based approaches to housing recovery.

Tour 4: Houston Style Transit Supportive Development -- Sans Zoning

  • Tour Leader: LEWIS, Carrol [Center for Transportation Training and Research, Texas Southern University] 

Houston is well -known for its lack of zoning.  However, the City functions by a code of ordinances that provide a framework for development.  Since 2004, the city’s transit authority, METRO, has opened three rail lines;  the 7.5 mile Red Line began in 2004 and connects downtown, the Museum District, Texas Medical Center and the NRG stadium complex.  A 5.3 mile extension of the Red Line connected neighborhoods and opened in 2013.  In 2015 two additional rail lines opened with the 3.3 mile Green Line linking neighborhoods and the city’s soccer and baseball stadiums, and the 6.6 mile Purple Line serving neighborhoods, Texas Southern University and the University of Houston.  The City passed a Transit Corridor Ordinance (TCO) in 2009 that enables developers at their discretion to design transit supportive development if their property abuts or is proximate to any of the METRO rail lines.  A few property owners took advantage of the TCO along the Red Line.  However, it is anticipated that community and civic organizations in the neighborhoods near the Green and Purple lines are poised to take a more active role in encouraging transit oriented development at stations along those newly opened rail lines.   Participants on this tour will ride the Red Line and see developments where property owners opted in to the TCO; those properties can be viewed in comparison to those not aligned with the ordinance.  Also, those on this tour will ride the Purple Line and meet with community representatives active in helping to shape development near their rail proximate neighborhoods.

Tour 5: Innovation District

  • Tour Leader: FULTON, William [Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University]

While innovation districts, characterized by the presence of anchor institutions, incubators, starts-ups, and transit, are on the rise in major cities nationwide, Houston has had its own innovation district for more than 50 years.  This tour is of TMCx accelerator which includes the Texas Medical Center's life science business incubator that provides medical startups with clinics, advisors, and office space.  Included within the District is  Rice University's Kinder Institute, a leader in urban research; Hermann Park, Houston's oldest urban park that just completed its centennial master plan; and the Houston Museum District, one of the largest walkable cultural district's in the country.  Participants will learn about how these visionary campuses work together and what the future has in store. This is a mixed mode tour – walking and light rail.  

Tour 6: Landscape Urbanism, Waterfront Development, and Conservation

Tour Leaders: 

  • Buffalo Bayou Partnership
  • LLI, Ming Han [Texas A&M Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning]
  • GRIFFITH, Lauren [Lauren Griffith Associates]

Houston features an impressive system of urban bayous that were critical in the early settlement of the area and continue to be relevant to Houston’s economy as a shipping channel that reaches Galveston Bay.  Buffalo Bayou, the largest of Houston’s bayous, runs through downtown and connects with a number of signature urban parks, including Houston’s Memorial Park (one of the largest urban parks in the world), Market Square Park (winner of the International Downtown Association’s Pinnacle Award for Public Open Space), and the newest addition, Discovery Green.  Tour participants will walk from the conference hotel to the Sabine Promenade in Memorial Park on Buffalo Bayou.  There, half of the participants will board a pontoon boat to see downtown Houston the way few get to do, from the water.  Planners from the Buffalo Bayou Partnership will join to describe the process required to acquire land needed to restore the Bayou.  The other half of the participants will tour downtown by foot, learning from Texas A&M faculty member Ming Han Li and local landscape architect Lauren Griffith, who worked with Hargreaves on the creation of Discovery Green, a fine example of “Landscape Urbanism,” featuring high-density programming to connect Houston’s residents to their environment.  Returning back to Sabine Promenade, participants will switch to enjoy the other half of the tour.

Tour 7: Redevelopment and Gentrification in Houston’s Historic African American Neighborhoods

Tour Leaders:

  • LOWE, Jeffrey [Texas Southern University]
  • VARNER, Jessica [Texas Southern University Urban Planning Alumnus]
  • LOWE, Rick [Founding Director, Project Row Houses]

Freedman’s Town and Northern Third Ward are Houston’s oldest African American neighborhoods.  As the gentrification process has increased the supply of housing and amenities to meet the demands of middle-class households, these two Houston neighborhoods are expected to experience continued economic growth and calls for equitable development.  In keeping with the conference theme that calls for “(re)examining the past to create the future,” participants in this tour will travel to the Freedman’s Town and Northern Third Ward by bus, tour historic sites, and meet with planners and community leaders for a series of presentations and critical discussions about revitalization and preservation within the context of neighborhood planning, social justice, and (what sociologist Joe Feagin refers to Houston as) the free enterprise city.

Tour 8: The Woodlands: Designing with Nature

  • Tour Leader: NDUBISI, Forester [Texas A&M Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning]

Developed on flat, poorly draining soil along the intersection of the Gulf Coast Plain and the East Texas Piney Woods region 30 miles north of Houston, the Woodlands development provided a challenge for environmental planners in the 1970s.  Developed by Energy magnate and philanthropist George Mitchell with a large portion of funding from the Department of Housing & Urban Development, the Woodlands is one of few built examples of Ian McHarg’s ecological determinism, described in his seminal work, Design with Nature.  Built by Wallace, McHarg, Roberts, and Todd, as well as William L. Pereira and Associates, with careful oversight from HUD, The Woodlands opened in 1979 and has continued developing since then.  The tour, led by Dr. Foster Ndubisi of Texas A&M’s Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning (and author of the recent Ecological Design and Planning Reader), will take participants through the struggle of balancing development demands with environmental concerns to produce one of the most high-demand master-planned communities in the state.

Tour 9: Toxic Tour: Environmental Justice, Superfund and the Ship Channel

Tour Leaders:  

  • PARRAS, Juan [Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (tejas)]
  • NIETO, Yudith [Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (tejas)]
  • COOPER, JR., John [Texas A&M University’s Texas Target Communities Program]
  • HENDRICKS, Marccus [Texas A&M Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center]

The quintessential “Oil Town,” Houston is home to much heavy industry, made at home by Texas’ lax approach to environmental regulation. While refineries surround the city on the east and south sides, urban residents within the city are subjected to dumping, run-off, and point-source pollution of air and water.  A majority-minority city, in 2012, Houston surpassed Los Angeles and NYC as the nation’s most diverse city, with large and engaged African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities.  These two features intersect in this tour, where participants will tour some of the city’s Environmental Justice (EJ) neighborhoods.  The tour will highlight the ways in which these communities are fighting back, educating residents, and demanding a more responsive government to address their concerns.


Local Host Sessions


Immigration and Borders: Planning for Diversity, Justice and Sustainability

Room: Cedar, 4th Floor
Thursday, October 22, 2:45pm – 4:00pm

The Houston region has grown dramatically over the past 20 years and has become one of the most racially/ethnically diverse city in the US; now every ethnic/racial group is a demographic minority (Emerson et al, 2012). Immigrants, once more, are reshaping many American cities like Houston and it is critical that the planning community re-think the way we understand and/or regulate increasingly diverse communities.  This session focus on immigration and border issues both in Houston and also in Texas and California and will generate discussion on current policies

Moderator/Organizer: GIUSTI, Cecilia [Texas A&M University] cgiusti@arch.tamu.edu


  • AUDIRAC, Ivonne [College of Architecture and Planning and Public Affairs, University of Texas-Arlington] audirac@uta.edu
  • WEGMAN, Jacob A. [School of Architecture, University of Texas-Austin] jagw@utexas.edu
  • MUKHIJA, Vinit [Luskin School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles] vmukhija@ucla.edu
  • ADAMS, Kimberly [Housing and Community Development Department, City of Houston]

Local Host Session – Houston: No Zoning or Zoning Lite

Room: Arboretum 2, 2nd Floor
Friday, October 23, 8:00am – 9:30am

Houston is the largest un-zoned city in America, and free-market advocates often attribute Houston’s ongoing prosperity to the lack of zoning. In fact, however, Houston is far from unregulated. The city has a wide variety of development requirements, including parking, setbacks, historic districts, and other regulations that limit and restrict land use. The question of whether zoning should be introduced remains controversial, though the city is now pursuing a general plan as an alternative to zoning. In this session, we can learn what land-use regulation really exists in Houston; and whether the current development code and the proposed general plan really serve the city well.

Moderator/Organizer: FULTON, William [Kinder Institute at Rice University]


  • WALSH, Patrick Walsh [Planning Director, City of Houston]
  • FESTA, Matthew [Professor, South Texas School of Law]
  • SANDERS, Joshua [Houstonians for Responsible Growth]

Local Host Session – Economic Impacts of Falling Oil Prices on Houston

Room: Arboretum 3, 2nd Floor
Friday, October 23, 9:45am – 11:15am

As the world’s energy center, Houston hosts more than 5,000 energy related companies. Oil and gas business has been the major industry in Houston since the early 20th century. The newest oil boom has boosted Texas’ economy for several years. Although Houston has diversified its economy energy still accounts for almost half of its local economy. Recent falling oil prices may lower the economic boom in Houston and many other cities in Texas. In this session, we will discuss the possible economic impacts of lower oil prices on Houston. We will focus on the following questions: What are the sectoral and spatial distributions of the economic impacts of falling oil prices in Houston? What are the most vulnerable socio-economic groups at current situation? Are Houston communities resilient enough? What kinds of policies can improve the economic resilience? Should Houston further diversify its economy in response to the oil bust?

Moderator/Organizer: PAN, Qisheng [Texas Southern University] pan_qs@tsu.edu

Discussant: SEN, Lalita [Texas Southern University] sen_lx@tsu.edu

Presentations in this session:

  • THE IMPACTS OF CHANGES IN THE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY ON HOUSTON; PERDUE, Adam W. [Institute for Regional Forecasting, C.T. Bauer College of Business, University of Houston] aperdue@uh.edu
  • ECONOMIC RESILIENCE OF HOUSTON NEIGHBORHOODS IN THE OIL BUST; PAN, Qisheng Pan [Texas Southern University] pan_qs@tsu.edu
  • GEOPOLITICS AND ENERGY MARKETS; BARNES, Joe, [James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University] jbarnes@rice.edu


Local Host Session – The Impact of Planning on Civil Rights and Wrongs

Room: Sandalwood B, 4th Floor
Saturday, October 24, 9:45am – 10:45am

How does planning and the built environment impact, extend, or limit civil rights?  Whether discussing environmental justice, affordable housing opportunities, transportation access, or disaster recovery inequities, among others, the Houston area and the state of Texas have experienced adjustments to civil rights and liberties. In this session, we will bring together both scholars and activists to discuss a variety of examples in Texas how civil rights are being enforced. We will evaluate the differences in interpretation of these laws in Texas versus in the United States. Finally, we hope to better understand who is enforcing or ensuring that the intent of the legislation is being met.

Moderator: COOPER, John [Texas A&M University] jcooper@arch.tamu.edu


  • MICKELSON, Kim [Texas A&M University, Olson & Olson LLP, and Texas APA President-Elect]
  • SPURLOCK, Danielle [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] dspurloc@live.unc.edu
  • WHITE, Charles [Texas Southern University Student and Community Advocate]

About Our Local Host 

Texas Southern University

Texas Southern University is an urban university by location and mission. As a Historically Black College/University located in the inner city of Houston, the university has always been charged with educating minorities within the urban environment. However, it was in 1972 when university President Granville Sawyer stated officially that Texas Southern University was an “urban university” and that “everything we do, everything we project and all that we anticipate is to be evaluated in terms of what any given consideration offers toward the resolution of present problems in the urban community”.

In that same vein, the faculty and the student body of the Urban Planning and Environmental Policy Program at Texas Southern University represent the varied mix of race, ethnicities, and ages found not only in the US but across the world.   The program comes together with a primary interest in the urban setting; its people, the natural and built environment.  The program’s evolving mission is to train policy-oriented planners and environmental policy analysts for leadership positions in planning and environmental policy-related organizations with a special emphasis on issues of significance to communities and regions of the southwest. The program’s goal is to equip future professionals with analytical and policy formulation skills that will enable them to address with vision and foresight, the current and future environmental problems caused by human impact on the environment.

The Department offers two graduate degrees.  The Masters of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy (MUPEP) has specializations in housing and community development, environment and land use policy and transportation.  The Doctorate in Urban Planning and Environmental Policy has successfully prepared students for careers in academics as well as promoting Planning Policy throughout the United States and abroad.

Texas A&M University

Opened in 1876 as Texas' first public institution of higher learning, Texas A&M University is a research-intensive flagship university with more than 70,000 students, studying in more than 120 undergraduate and 240 graduate degree programs in 16 colleges and schools. Texas A&M owes its origin to the Morrill Act, approved by the United States Congress on July 2, 1862. In 1971 and 1989 respectively, Texas A&M was designated as a Sea Grant and a Space Grant institution, making it among the first four universities to hold the triple distinction of Land Grant, Sea Grant, and Space Grant designations. (http://www.tamu.edu/about/facts/history.html)

The College of Architecture at Texas A&M University offers an energetic environment for academic and professional success through a comprehensive catalog of prominently ranked graduate and undergraduate programs in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, construction science, land development and visualization.

The Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning (LAUP) is one of the oldest and well established departments of its kind in the southern United States. LAUP offers six undergraduate, professional, and research degree programs. These are the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA), Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Planning (BSURPN), Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA), Master of Urban Planning (MUP), Master of Land and Property Development (MLPD), and the Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Science (URSC). Over 150 undergraduate students, 100 master’s students, and 50 doctoral students are enrolled full-time in the department.