Urban Review: Hot Cities, Emergency Prep in Houston and Another Anti-Homeless Ordinance Struck Down


This week, as cities heat up, how are they addressing rising temperatures? Plus, a look at newly released data on self-reported emergency preparedness in the Houston metropolitan area, the latest court ruling on a sidewalk sleeping ban in Boise and more.

Skyscrapers in the sun

Photo: Flickr user Bryan Jones.

This week, as cities heat up, how are they addressing rising temperatures? Plus, a look at newly released data on self-reported emergency preparedness in the Houston metropolitan area, the latest court ruling on a sidewalk sleeping ban in Boise and more.

Title Page

Out of Control: Houston's roads, drivers are country's most deadly. Houston Chronicle.


As Temperatures Keep Trending Up, 'Heat Belt' Cities Maneuver to Stay Livable. Washington Post.

Such relentless, triple-digit temperatures — the equivalent danger of rising seas in many coastal communities — are straining power grids, buckling roads, grounding planes and endangering lives. The Phoenix area reached a dubious record last year: at least 155 heat-related deaths.

“Extreme heat is not just an inconvenience,” said Kim Knowlton, deputy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s science center. “It is killing people, and it’s making people sick to a higher and higher degree.”

Executive Summary

The Census Bureau released the latest American Housing Survey data this week, including responses to questions about emergency preparedness. Collected between June 26 and October 30, 2017, the responses are organized by state and broken out for the 15 largest metropolitan areas, including Houston. The survey covers a range of important housing-related data points, including general neighborhood satisfaction, housing quality and risk of eviction but the latest release only includes data for some of those areas. The emergency preparedness questions were last asked in 2013 and cover things like whether a household has a vehicle available for evacuation and whether it's stocked with enough water and non-perishable food for short-term survival. Broken out by race and ethnicity as well as household income, some of the findings, while not necessarily surprising, are significant.

For example, white respondents in the Houston metropolitan area were much less likely to say they'd likely stay at a public shelter in case of emergency and were more likely to say they had evacuation funds of up to $2,000 available. When it came to household income, households earning less than $29,999 were less likely to say they had emergency food supplies, evacuation funds available and access to a car in the case of an evacuation. They were also most likely to say they would likely stay in a public shelter in case of an emergency.

The data helps explain why disaster recovery often looks so different for affected households.


Cities have used a variety of tactics to either criminalize homelessness or make it much more inconvenient but a new court ruling on a case out of Boise, Idaho struck down an ordinance that outright banned sleeping in public places. Though the ruling, from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, pertained to a local ordinance from 2009, it's expected to have an effect in other cities that have taken similar steps. Even with changes to the Boise ordinance, the court still sided with the six homeless plaintiffs.

"The three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit found that the shelter rules meant homeless people would still be at risk of prosecution even on days when beds were open. The judges also said the religious programming woven into some shelter programs was a problem," according to the Associated Press.

Other ordinances, like one from Portland, Oregon in 2009 that tried to ban sitting or lying on sidewalks, have been struck down as unconstitutional.

“I think it’s finally common sense,” Sara Rankin, director of Seattle University School of Law's Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, told the AP concerning the ruling. “There are certain life-sustaining activities that people can’t survive without doing. It’s a really important recognition that people have to be able to legally exist and survive somewhere.”

Houston was among the cities that have gotten into legal trouble trying to ban panhandling, as well as things like camping, in public spaces. Reflecting on city efforts to curb panhandling in The Conversation, Joseph Mead, assistant professor at Cleveland State University, wrote, "While cities have some legitimate public safety concerns, focusing on a category of speech misses the point. It is at once too broad and too narrow, covering innocent behavior that isn’t threatening and missing much behavior that is problematic."

Houston has created multiple areas covered by so-called civility ordinances that ban sitting or lying on sidewalks during the day and evening, including one in place in Near Northside at the community's urging.




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