Opportunity Urbanism op-ed in the Chronicle
It came out today as the lead op-ed in the Sunday edition
, paired nicely with David Brooks' column on Houston vs. San Francisco
. Unfortunately the online edition does not include the COLA incomes graph that's in the print version, so I will include it below along with the full text for posterity (Chronicle links are not known for longevity). I'm not thrilled with the headline they chose - since our topic is Opportunity Urbanism, not economic diversity - but the subhead is good. You can also check out Nancy Sarnoff's column about Joel's luncheon speech here
and the full report here
. Enjoy - looking forward to your thoughts in the comments.
Kotkin, Gattis: Economic diversity helps Houstonians live well
Lower costs help middle- and working-class residents enjoy higher standards of living
By Joel Kotkin and Tory Gattis
October 18, 2014
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a new urban paradigm that both maximizes growth and provides greater upward mobility. We call this opportunity urbanism, an approach that focuses largely on providing the best policy environment for both businesses and individuals to pursue their aspirations.
Although contrary to much of the conventional wisdom about cities and regions, this is not a break with traditional urbanism, but instead a reinforcement of old traditions. Long ago, Aristotle reminded us that the city was a place where people came to live, and they remained there in order to live better. "A city comes into being for the sake of life, but exists for the sake of living well." In the end, opportunity urbanism rests on the notion that cities serve, first and foremost, as engines to create better lives for the vast majority of its residents.
The Houston and luxury models
The Houston metropolitan area reflects the idea of opportunity urbanism more closely than any major metropolitan area. Across a broad spectrum - income growth, new jobs, housing starts, population growth and migration - no other major metropolitan region in the country has performed as well over the past decade. This was among the first major metropolitan regions to replace the jobs lost in the recession and has experienced by far the largest percentage job growth since, with Dallas-Fort Worth second.
In many ways, opportunity urbanism contrasts with the prevailing urban planning paradigm - variously called new urbanism or smart growth - which seeks to replicate the dense, highly concentrated monocentric city of the past. This approach posits the notion that policies of forced density, through regulatory mandates and often subsidies, are critical to attracting both young, educated people and the global business elite. This approach describes the successful city, in the words of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as "a luxury product."
This notion of the "luxury city" worked, at least for some, in well-appointed older cities such as New York, San Francisco and Boston. Unlike most American cities, these boast long-established dense cores and transit-oriented areas where residents are employed. They possess great amenities tied to their pasts, from world-class art museums and universities, to charming historic districts, parks and public structures.
But this model of urbanism does not fit the profile of most American metropolitan regions, which tend to be far more recent in their development, more dispersed and overwhelmingly dependent on cars in terms of commuting. Indeed, most of the fastest-growing regions in this country - Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Raleigh and Nashville - function in a highly multipolar model that contrasts sharply with that of cities like New York, Boston or Chicago.
Prospects for upward mobility
The luxury paradigm has worked for some in some cities, but has failed, critically, in providing ample opportunities for the middle and working classes, much less the poor. Indeed, many of the cities most closely identified with luxury urbanism tend to suffer the most extreme disparities of both class and race. If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth-highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 countries for which the World Bank reports data. New York's wealthiest 1 percent earn one-third of the entire municipality's personal income - almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.
Indeed, increasingly, New York, as well as San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed, are no longer places of opportunity for those who lack financial resources or the most elite educations. Instead, they thrive largely by attracting people who are already successful or are living on inherited largesse.
They are becoming, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, "the vast gated communities where the 1 percent reproduces itself."
Not surprisingly, the middle class is shrinking rapidly in most luxury cities. A recent analysis of 2010 Census data by the Brookings Institution found that the percentage of middle incomes in metro regions such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago has been in a precipitous decline for the last 30 years, due in part to high housing and business costs.
A more recent 2014 Brookings study found that these generally high-cost luxury cities - with the exception of Atlanta-tend to suffer the most pronounced inequality: San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In recent years, income inequality has risen most rapidly in the very mecca of luxury progressivism, San Francisco, where the wages of the poorest 20 percent of all households have actually declined amid the dot com billions.
Like other large cities, Houston also suffers a high level of inequality, but its lower costs have helped its middle and working class populations to enjoy a higher standard of living than their luxury city counterparts. The promise of the opportunity urbanism model also can be demonstrated by smaller income disparities between racial groups, higher GDP growth, less expansion of poverty and the greater production of high-paying mid-skilled jobs. In these aspects, opportunity cities like Houston greatly out-performed their often more celebrated rivals.
But for this model to continue to succeed, Houston must confront many challenges, some of which are a direct product of its successful growth. Opportunity urbanism is not a libertarian fantasy; government must and should play an important, even expanding role. There remains, as we spell out in our report, enormous need to expand the region's infrastructure, and, most important, to improve the educational institutions of the region, from the troubled grade schools to expanding vocational programs and building up the area's still inadequate higher education.
How to measure 'living well'
The one statistic that best encompasses the success of the Houston opportunity model and exposes the weakness of smart growth is the cost-of-living adjusted average paycheck (see chart).
Despite the assertions of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among others, that the Texas urban economy is based on low wages, Harris County's average household income is above the national average; close to that of Boston. But once the cost of living is factored in, Houston does far better for its citizens compared to any of the legacy cities.
Houston, with Dallas-Fort Worth a strong second, is able to provide its citizens the highest standard of living, as measured by average annual adjusted wages, of any major metro area in America. This is different from subjective "quality of life," but includes such basics as jobs, housing and overall cost of living.
In the end, the key advantage and promise of opportunity urbanism lies in finding ways to help residents fulfill the basic aspirations of citizens. Far more than glittery events or celebrity culture, what really matters is whether a city helps improve the often mundane conditions of life. "Everyday life," observed the great French historian Fernand Braudel, "consists of the little things one hardly notices in time and space."
This approach follows Aristotle's notion of the ultimate purpose of cities - about serving as an engine for improving lives.
It is a great thing that America continues to boast some of the most luxurious, edgy and attractive urban districts in the world. But we also need cities that can nurture new and innovative businesses, while accommodating families, middle- and working-class people with a high standard of living. Opportunity urbanism, and cities like Houston, provides that option.
Kotkin is an author, executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. Gattis writes the Houston Strategies blog
Labels: opportunity urbanism
Joel Kotkin Opportunity Urbanism event this week and Houston vs. San Francisco
For most of this year, Joel Kotkin, myself, and others - with the generous sponsorship of GHP
- have been working on updating the Opportunity Urbanism work we did in 2007 (here
), and the big unveiling will be held at a GHP luncheon event this Thursday
"Over the past decade, a new paradigm of determining "what makes a great city" has emerged. This new way of thinking, known as "Opportunity Urbanism," is best exemplified in the greater Houston region. By embracing Opportunity Urbanism, both the city and the suburbs are flourishing. Across a broad spectrum – income growth, new jobs, housing, population growth and migration – no other major metropolitan region in the nation has performed as well as Houston over the past decade.
Join us on Oct. 9 as Joel Kotkin, one of America's foremost urban theorists, share his latest research findings which suggests that opportunity cities like Houston offer far better prospects for the vast majority of their citizens."
If you'd like to attend - and we'd love to have you - registration details are here.
The full report will be released then, and I should have more on it in a post next week. In the meantime here's a couple of teasers...
First, Joel Kotkin on our local NPR "Houston Matters" show "What Makes Houston the Most Ideal “Opportunity City?
” He very generously gives me a shout out right at the beginning near the 0:50 sec mark (it's only 7 minutes).
Second, Joel also just published a great new article in the Daily Beast
(alternate link at New Geography
Battle of the Upstarts: Houston vs. San Francisco Bay
The energy and tech capitals of the U.S., Houston and San Francisco have little in common, but in the coming decades they are likely to become America’s dominant cities.
It's hard to excerpt because so much of it so insightful (definitely read the whole thing
), but I will share a few, including the concluding paragraph:
"Today we are seeing yet another shuffling of the deck among American regions. New York remains the country’s preeminent city, but its most powerful rivals are likely to be neither Chicago nor Los Angeles, but rather two regions rarely listed in the hierarchy of influential regions: the San Francisco Bay Area and Houston.
Far less appreciated, Houston, rather than being a southern city of duller wits, actually ranks second in engineers per capita. If the Bay Area is master of the digital economy, Houston ranks as the technological leader of the material one; it is the capital for the energy-driven revival of U.S. industry, not only in Texas but throughout the old industrial heartland. Revealingly, Houston actually has seen far more rapid growth in both college educated and millennial population since 2000 than the Bay Area, as well as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Ironically, Houston’s growth has been more egalitarian than that of the notionally super-progressive San Francisco region. A recent Brookings report found that income inequality has increased most rapidly in what is probably the most left-leaning big city in America, where the wages of the poorest 20 percent of all households have actually declined amid the dot com billions.
Perhaps the biggest differences can be seen in families. Of the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas, the Bay Area has the lowest percentage, 11.5 percent, of people ages 5 to 14. In Houston, 23 percent of the population fits this age category. In particular San Francisco is notoriously inhospitable to families, with the lowest percentage of kids of any major city.
The two regions also reflect very different urban forms. The Bay Area’s leadership has opted to favor dense “in fill” growth and sought to restrict suburban development. Houston has taken a different tack. As its population has expanded, so too has the metropolitan area. This includes the development of many planned communities that appeal to middle class families and many immigrants. In 2013, Houston alone had more housing starts than the entire state of California.
But it would be wrong to dismiss Houston’s model as merely “sprawl.” Instead it is better seen as simply expansive. In fact, arguably no inner ring in the country has seen more rapid growth, with high-rise, mid-rise and townhouse development in many long neglected districts. The increase in high-density housing tracts (more than 5,000 per square mile) since 2000 has been almost ten times higher than the Bay Area.
The Valley’s hostility to fossil fuel energy, and its jihad to destroy an entire industry, is only barely recognized in Houston. I also have never heard anyone there suggest that Silicon Valley should be closed down as a danger to the planet (or at least a threat to the attention span of younger Americans). Houstonians, particularly in the energy industry, generally lack media savvy, which is one reason why energy is widely rated as the country’s least popular industry. Also missing, thankfully, is the sense of entitlement and self-congratulation one finds in the Bay Area. But once the intention to devastate the oil and gas industry is better understood, expect the energy capital to square off against the tech center, generating what may be the regional battle royal of our era."
There's a great discussion of the article going on over at HAIF
, and of course I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments here.
Labels: opportunity urbanism, perspectives
What motivates sprawl?
Cort McMurry at Houstonia gives a bit of a confusing shout out to myself and Opportunity Urbanism
(a followup to his previous piece
I linked to last week
). Confusing, because it seems like it's not in a good way at first, but then we don't seem to fundamentally disagree on too much.
"There is a wide difference of opinion on whether our messiness is a good thing. Some of us find it distressing. Tory Gattis and the other evangelists of “Opportunity Urbanism” disagree, painting Houston as a sort of libertarian paradise, a place where fully actualized men and woman can work out their destinies through grit, brains, and good ol’ trial and error. Master plan? We don’t need no stinking master plan.
Surveys indicate that the majority of Houstonians are quite content to live in this Sue Ellen Mischke of metropolises: we love “the whole free-swinging, freewheeling attitude” of the place..."
I think his core issue is that he believes too many people give up the hard work of living in the messy and diverse urban core (in many cases out of imagined fears) and opt out for the easy life in the sprawling suburbs, and in the process they become detached from Houston and being a Houstonian. My comments:
A key theme of Opportunity Urbanism is letting the market (i.e. people) decide how they want to live - whether suburban or urban - not govt telling them how they should live. Houston is thriving with both the fringe and the core. The densification going on inside the loop is simply incredible, and not happening in most cities in the country because their zoning doesn't allow it. I myself love living in a dense, walkable part of Midtown. Let the city have a wide variety of neighborhoods that appeal to everybody's different preferences - don't try to force a "one right way". The key to our long-term vitality will be keeping employers in the core instead of them fleeing to the outer burbs, as they have in Dallas, LA, and others - and our core is so vibrant and appealing to young people, I think we've got a good shot at that as long as we have good express bus HOV/HOT lane transit from the far suburbs.
I'm always amused a bit at the predictions that Houston will sprawl halfway to Dallas. Fun fact that might blow your mind: at our current density (3,662/sq.mile), we could hold the population of the NYC metro (20m, 3x what we currently have) in a circle only 41 miles in radius - basically downtown to Conroe. Not really that far when you think about it... and it means the Grand Parkway is likely to be the last loop we ever need (famous last words, I know).
I do wish the Exxon project were closer in, but I still think we're more unified than most metros our size - most of us still think of ourselves as "Houstonians", not our various suburbs. More on this here.
I worry somewhat about the Balkanization too - it's happening in every city in America. I don't think it's unique to Houston. School quality is a big driver. There is much more emphasis on edu quality in the 21st century than what you describe decades ago. I don't know what the solution is. Possibly vouchers, which would open up more quality school options in the urban core.
Anyway, check out the piece and its comments
, and I'd love to hear your own thoughts in my comments here...
Labels: density, opportunity urbanism, perspectives, sprawl
Dallas airport rail not very popular and reducing city corruption
This week we have a couple of followups from my post a couple of weeks ago
First, I criticized Dallas' decision to build a very expensive light rail line to DFW airport, and it doesn't seem to be getting much ridership traction
, nor do their downtown rail lines seem to be doing as well as our very full HOV express buses:
Here’s the crazy thing: She was the only one who got off the train at DART’s Terminal A station. She said she looked up and down the rail cars and station platform, and not one other person disembarked.
I was surprised, for two reasons:
1) About 60,000 people work at D/FW. That includes airline workers, concessions employees, parking people, security personnel, folks with badges and everything. With all those thousands punching the clock there, you’d think one or two might have been heading there at 8 a.m. from the 13-city DART service area. Strange.
2) The sheer volume of outgoing local passengers, about 30,000 a day. (That’s based on 31 million enplanements a year, with 35 percent of fliers with local origination/destination — all figures provided by David Magana, D/FW’s PIO. Blame me, not him, for any bad math.)
Not all of those tens of thousands of fliers come from the Dallas side of the airport, but still. A pile of them do.
I hope DART reaches and exceeds 1,200 passengers a day at D/FW. I’d like to think the line to the airport was worth the civic investment. It makes sense, on the face of it. But we’re a car-loving metro area, and it’s rare that I see a DART park-n-ride approaching half full on my way to work each day.
Public transit can be a hard sell in these parts.
Secondly, I mentioned the Aaron Renn's Urbanophile series on city corruption a couple of weeks ago
, linking to part one
, and now parts two, three, and four are out, listed here along with interesting excerpts from part two on fixing corruption:
"The authors’ basic formula for corruption is simple: C = M + D – A. That is Corruption = Monopoly power + Discretion by officials – Accountability. Resultingly, as they put it:
- The City As a Decline Machine, or How the Loss of Hometown Banks Paved the Way For Corruption (short summary in my post here)
- Fixing Corrupt Cities
- Thoughts On Eliminating Systemic Corruption
- When the People Are Corrupted
A strategy against corruption, therefore, should not begin or end with fulmination about ethics or the need for a new set of attitudes. Instead, it should look cold-bloodedly at ways to reduce monopoly power, limit and clarify discretion, and increase transparency, all the while taking account of the costs, both direct and indirect, of these ways.
There is another crucial point in designing an anti-corruption strategy: Corruption is a crime of calculation, not of passion. People will tend to engage in corruption when the risks are low, the penalties mild, and the rewards great. This insight overlaps the formula just mentioned because the rewards will be greater as monopoly power increases. But it adds the idea that incentives at the margin are what determine the calculations of corrupt and potentially corrupt official and citizens. Change information and incentives, and you change corruption.
The book is also notable for being against what would appear to be one of the most popular responses to incidents of corruption, namely adding more rules. This often just makes it easier for corruption to flourish. As they put it, “Corruption loves multiple and complex regulations.” We also see in the US that more regulation increase the rent seeking returns to corruption and leads to regulatory capture, either by regulated industries or activists (or some combination of both).
They also say that corruption shouldn’t be looked at in isolation or as the sole aim, but rather that anti-corruption efforts should be seen as a tool for reinventing and improving the delivery of public services...
Among their recommended approaches in the fight against corruption are having a point person with a high profile and public accountability for delivering results, creating an independent anti-corruption office (such as an inspector general type organization), starting by picking low-hanging fruit, eliminating the perception of impunity by “frying big fish” via prosecuting senior officials , working with and not against the bureaucracy, and many other things. "
Labels: corruption, governance, mobility strategies, rail