Houston recycles 2.6 percent of its waste, as compared with other cities like San Francisco (69 percent) and New York (34 percent). As many as 25,000 Houston residents have been waiting ten years for city-provided recycling bins. And city officials are not optimistic: Houston is too sprawling for efficient recycling collection, and its citizens are too independent to accept recycling requirements easily.
Houston is sprawling because its planning system effectively encourages sprawl and because nearly every city planning function is subordinate to the need to move automobile traffic and park cars. Its downtown is a wasteland of tall buildings in a dead zone full of parking lots. It is LeCorbusier's vision of high-rise buildings in a park; but the park has become instead a paved-over nightmare, and after dark the streets are empty.
The city of the future? Not quite, but Houston's problems remind us how far we have to go, and how hard it will be to get from here to there. In Houston, we have met the enemy, and he is us.