Friday, May 13, 2011

Houseboats in Las Colinas?

Keep in mind, this is just a half-baked idea at this point. A few weeks back I was on a site visit in Las Colinas. Nothing particularly new was discovered, but all of my previous impressions were reinforced. The biggest issue facing Las Colinas going forward, from an urban design standpoint (and when I say urban design, I mean far more complex than street sections, trees, mixed-use, and building frontages, but rather the spatial integration) it lacks a center.

The lake is a center. And as I've pointed out before water bodies, like many other physical barriers create edge conditions. Edge conditions make for vaccuums of activity as Jane Jacobs would (did) say. Whenever I've been in Las Colinas, I see more cranes using the waterfront than people. It is a dead zone, anthropocentrically speaking.

If the water is too big to cross with bridges (like a river), then pretty much all you can do is make a waterfront park, which is only good for residential. It isn't part of the foreground network necessary for commercial activity.

Las Colinas doesn't need commercial activity lining the water's edge since it is predominantly residential, but it could use more 1) more density, 2) more variety of housing type, 3) more depth of the neighborhoods lining the ring road with its sporadic nodes of very weak centers of gravity, and 4) more visual interest, more clutter along the very clean and dangerously steep freeboard between walking path and falling to the alligators.

So while out there the most recent time, and always looking for an opportunity I thought, "houseboats" since the real estate is essentially free. The way house boats in other cities generally work is that the owner (or landlord as it may be) pays a monthly connection of services fee. I have no idea how complicated it might be to create a hookup at lake's edge to the wider sewage system. Usually this fee ends up being a few hundred per month, but perhaps that fee can be escaped via a form of reduced property taxes that helps pay for infrastructure but doesn't need to account for the consumption of land.

Whether the economics end up working between setting up the infrastructural connections, the cost of the boats, and the demand for a unique kind of housing balances out so that it interests enough people, I have no idea at this point. I imagine that there isn't yet quite enough demand to be in Las Colinas to support creative forms of housing trying to wedge their way near a desirable center of gravity. Some day though, I expect there will be.