The enemies of TX, private TX HSR, #1 for blue collar jobs, high-rise history, oil HQ, and more
Sorry again for the posting delays. 2014 has been a very intensely busy year so far. The misc items have been backing up...
- Really cool little interactive short video put together by the NYTimes on the history of the high-rise in cities. I was impressed. They clearly put a lot of work into it with some stunning images and clever animation along with a narrative in rhyming verse! Hat tip to Jim.
- Dug Begley from the Houston Chronicle calls me the city's oracle. Thanks Dug! Yours truly also got a couple of quotes in Dug Begley's recent column and blog post on the sustainability of the link between expanding freeways and our suburbs.
- Bill Gilmer from UH on Houston as America's Oil HQ.
- This is pretty amusing: State Hate - Which state is your state's enemy? Quite a few states don't seem to like us. And it's especially amusing if you wait for the graphic to cycle around to Texas (they go in alphabetic order).
- H-GAC hosted a Brown Bag Lunch on January 20, 2014, featuring former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels. Judge Eckels presented an overview of the current Texas high speed rail plans by the Texas Central High Speed Railway, LLC, a private enterprise seeking to build a high speed rail system linking the major metropolitan areas of Texas with true high speed rail service. Here are the presentation and the video. How are they aspiring to do this without public money? After talking with the Judge, the secret seems to be that the government of Japan is offering attractive debt financing since the entire system is Japanese and would be manufactured there. It looks like a very proven, high quality and safe system based on the record in Japan. The economics also seem sound from what I can tell (especially compared to California), so it's probably a good investment by Japan, and it's certainly better to have their taxpayers at risk than ours.
- Eric on "Houston - America's Next Great City"
- Houston ranked #1 by Forbes for adding good paying blue-collar jobs
- Great graph from Patrick at the Partnership on how strongly Houston's job market has recovered since the recession vs. other metros, most of which still haven't recovered all the jobs they lost.
- That was quick! Demand must have been hot for them to upgrade from 4/week to daily before the service even started! A very good sign for Houston.
- The 2014 10th Edition Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey has been released. As always, Houston has a strong showing, although not quite as strong as previous years with our increasing house prices. Developers are just not keeping up with demand. Hopefully that is just a short-term phenomenon.
There's a lot more, but that's already too much for one week. Let me end with a very cool short 2min video with aerial flyover shots of different parts of Houston
. You'll be reminded how impressive our multiple skylines really are.
Labels: affordability, aviation, economy, energy, high-speed rail, home affordability, mobility strategies, rankings
The best posts of the first 1,000
Apologies for the long break between posts. Not only has work and life been insanely busy, but I really wanted to do something special for my 1,000th blog post after almost 9 years(!). What I finally decided to do was extend and update my five-year anniversary post
to include what I consider the very best posts of the first 1,000. If you're curious, you can find the inaugural post here
, and my very first "strategy" post here: a proposed elite UH - Institute of Technology campus
(which I still think is a good idea). And now here we are 1,000 posts later with so much content I can't even remember most of it, and count on Google to help me find it. Most of you know I do regular quarterly and annual highlights posts, and I decided to cull those down to the very most important posts of the last nine years - roughly the top 5% - the ones that I think really form the foundation of the blog's reputation. As you skim this list, I hope you find some of interest that you missed, forgot, or may have been posted before you discovered Houston Strategies. Enjoy. As always, thanks for your readership.
Best thing to happen in Houston in 2013, HOU-DFW high-speed rail, HISD A+, METRO HOV adjustments, and more
Some smaller misc items this week, but trying to put together something special for my 1,000 blog post next week...
Finally, there is a pretty cool promo video here for private Texas high speed rail
(also embedded below). I'm skeptical of public HSR spending, but a private investment is a different matter entirely. If you'd like to learn more, there's a public event Monday I'm attending that you may want to attend:
You are invited to H-GAC’s January Brown Bag Series presentation on Texas High Speed Rail by Judge Robert Eckels, President of the Lone Star High Speed Rail, LLC.
Judge Eckels' legal practice is built on a decades-long career in public service and leadership of the nation's third largest county. He is recognized as a national leader in issues of transportation, public finance/public private partnerships, homeland security, the environment and health care.
Eckels is the founding chairman of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, a coalition of local governments, educational institutions and the private sector working to bring high speed rail to Texas. Eckels left that organization in 2010 to join Lone Star High Speed Rail, LLC; a private enterprise seeking to build a high speed rail system linking the major metropolitan areas of Texas with true high speed rail service.
When: Monday, January 20, 2014, Noon to 1:00 PM
Where: H-GAC offices, 3555 Timmons Lane, 2nd Floor, Rm A, Houston, TX 77027
Bring your lunch and join us!
This event is open to the public, so feel free to extend this invitation to others. Contact Ms. Rosalind Hebert CAP-OM, at 713-993-2471 or Rosalind.Hebert@H-GAC.com, with inquires, comments, or to submit an abstract for a future presentation.
Labels: census, congestion pricing, economy, education, growth, high-speed rail, Metro, quality of place, rankings
It's time for the Fall 4Q13 quarterly highlights post, which also summarizes all of the best posts from 2013. I'll be making my 1,000th blog post later this month, and entering my 10th year writing this blog in March. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
These posts have been chosen with a particular focus on significant ideas I'd like to see kept alive for discussion and action, and they're mainly targeted at new readers who want to get caught up with a quick overview of the Houston Strategies landscape. I also like to track what I think of as "reference posts" that sum up a particular topic or argument; and, last but not least, they've also been invaluable for me to track down some of my best thinking for meetings or when requested by others (as is the ever-helpful Google search). They're not quite as useful as they were when I was still doing multiple posts each week, but still have some value (at least for me).
Don't forget we offer an email option for the roughly once/week posts - see the Google Groups subscription signup box in the right sidebar. An RSS feed link is also available in the right sidebar.
As always, thanks for your readership.
And from Summer 3Q13:
And from Spring 2Q13:
And don't forget the highlights from the first few years. For what it's worth, I think the best ideas are found there, often in the first year (I had a lot "stored up" before I started blogging) and most definitely in the 5th birthday retrospective (which I'm now updating at the end of each year).
Houston's next hot neighborhoods, identify your dialect, Ashby disaster, rail shopping, and more
Just a few smaller misc this holiday week. Probably will skip posting next week and see you again in the new year, where I'll be hitting the big milestone of my 1,000th blog post in January! (this one is 997)
- I agree with the Chronicle: the Ashby ruling is a disaster. If every neighborhood that is slightly nuisanced by a development has grounding to sue, then development predictability goes out the window and we end up with chaos, gridlock, and rising unaffordability as supply gets further constrained. This has to be overturned on appeal. Development is regulated by the City - once permits are in place, a developer has to know they have the right to proceed. People need to clearly understand: if safe predictable conformity is important to you, then make sure you buy in a deed restricted community. If you choose not to, then you take your risk. You have no right to buy next to unrestricted land and then complain when the owner does what he has every right to do with that land.
- Joel Kotkin shows how 20-somethings do prefer urban living (and Houston is doing ok there), but after 35 they prefer affordable, family suburban living, where Houston really shines and big youth magnet cities start to lose out: NYC, Boston, Chicago, LA, SV. Where Working Age Americans Are Moving
- The Wall Street Journal on how to identify the next hot neighborhood. I'm very interested in reader opinions in the comments on where they think this is happening in Houston. 10-15 years ago you might have said Montrose, Midtown, and Rice Military/Washington Ave. Now, obviously around the Heights and Garden Oaks, but maybe even further east near the new North rail line? EaDo and the East End? Downtown itself? Thoughts?
- OK, this Chronicle article on the new METRO North rail line had an excerpt that made me do a double take:
"Procell points out that while there are many small strip shops along the Red Line, Northline Commons will be the only major retail center on any of the rail lines (current or coming). He said he foresees a day when a downtown worker will use the rail line to pick up supplies at Office Depot or do some lunchtime shopping at Walmart. The ride from the UH-Downtown stop to Northline Commons takes about 19 minutes."
Wait, he thinks downtown office workers will spend a half-hour each way (once you include walking, waiting, and using stops south of UHD) to go shopping during their lunch *hour*? Sorry, the math doesn't quite work. Sounds cool in theory, but I think few will find it practical in reality because the line is simply too slow.
"Urbanists put way too little thought into business climate, which can sound like such a shady way of saying cut services and taxes. But taxes are often the least part of it. It’s the regulatory apparatus that makes doing business in many places too painful to contemplate. This even affects city-suburb investment patterns. I’ve observed that in many places, the urban core is a flat out terrible place to do business, unless you’re very politically wired up.
This doesn’t usually bother urbanists all that much until a trendy business they like gets affected. For example, an urban farming supply shop in Providence called Cluck got sued when they tried to open. The beautiful and the bearded were outraged and the shop was ultimately approved. But there’s no similar visibility or outrage when a Latino immigrant runs into the red-tape buzzsaw when he tries to open a muffler shop.
If we want to promote investments in our cities and states, we need to be focused on basics like an objective, predictable regulatory framework that operates in the timely fashion and in which arbitrary denials, rule changes, and such are minimized. This is way more important to attracting capital investment than sexier items like streetcar lines."
Finally, one of the complaints about Houston is that we don't have distinctive seasons like up north. Is it just me, or is anybody else noticing some impressive fall foliage this season in Houston with some really vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows? I'm guessing it's the early sharp cold front, but there seem to be a lot of really beautiful trees right now around Houston - something I don't remember noticing as vividly in previous years. My mom says it's the most beautiful fall she can remember. They won't last long. Hope you're enjoying them while you can and have a very happy holidays.
Labels: affordability, development, economic strategy, governance, home affordability, identity, land-use regulation, Metro, rail, rankings, zoning
Mayor Parker's legacy term, economists vs rail, Chicago vs us, GHP 2014 forecast, and more
Some smaller misc items this week:
"What conclusions can we draw from economists’ view of rail transit? Economists demonstrate a range of views regardless of the particular justification examined. Still some justifications receive more support than others. Although the matter is filled with disagreement and caveats, economists appear to be the most optimistic about rail transit’s impact on economic development, especially its impact on residential housing values. Economists seem to be less optimistic about rail’s ability to achieve environmental improvement and serve the transit dependent poor. Economists seem quite pessimistic about rail’s ability to achieve key transportation-related goals, like reducing congestion, and they tend to see other modes, primarily bus, as more functional and worthwhile. Economists often attribute rail’s political success to their belief that decision-makers are motivated by rent-seeking and romantic factors. Of those economists who offer a big-picture view, there appears to be wide, though not unanimous, agreement that rail’s costs exceed its benefits. And it seems that almost all economists who write about rail agree that various demographic features, such as suburbanization, the declining influence of central business districts, and increasing wealth will make it increasingly difficult to design successful rail systems."
"Transportation engineers are loath to support new streetcar lines because they cannot understand why it makes sense to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a rail line when a far cheaper bus service would provide similar, or even more, mobility benefits. From the pure perspective of moving people from one place to another, streetcars are irrational investments. Some Portland residents have expressed concerns that the streetcar has been excessively subsidized even as bus routes have faced service cuts and increasing fares because of declining revenue."
On a final note
, after speaking with Mayor Parker last week at her holiday party, I do have very high hopes for her final term to finally address some critical long-term issues for Houston, including pensions sustainability and the Ike Dike. These would be signature legacy accomplishments if achieved. If you're in a position to support her on these issues (as well as others) in some way, I sincerely hope you do so (and yes, I'm talking to you, county, state, and federal legislators). It's time to stop kicking the can down the road making these issues the next mayor's problem.
Labels: economy, growth, home affordability, hurricanes, infrastructure, mobility strategies, politics, rail, zoning
Previewing the new METRO North line
Friday morning METRO gave the media a preview of the new North line set to open December 21st. First some pics, then thoughts... (click on any picture to see the full size version)
|New maps are on the trains. The left side red section is opening this month.|
|The Burnett St. Station and Transit Center has an impressive elevated platform view of downtown. The bus transit center is under construction.|
|The Burnett Station just north of downtown has 3 tracks, enabling trains north and south of it to run at different frequencies (more frequent/faster headways to the south)|
|More of the skyline view from the Burnett platform|
|Skyline view pulling into Burnett station.|
|The Christmas Train!|
|The Christmas train announces the opening date. Get it? It's a Christmas gift from METRO to the city.|
|Riding up front!|
|The strangeness of houses directly in front of the station. And they have to listen to those repetitive station announcements all day long...|
- You will now be able to reach a Wal-Mart Supercenter by rail, which includes groceries. Actually, Northline Commons has a lot of retail, and an HCC campus. And Midtown has the Randall's grocery store just a couple blocks off the line. It now actually might be possible to manage most everyday shopping trips off of the rail line if one were so inclined.
- The stations are very well done with nice artwork.
- Signs of new development are thin: I counted one new townhome development, another small apartment complex, and a nice strip center or two. The train buzzed with speculation of how fast any new investment and redevelopment would occur. It's a big open question at this point. My guess is very slowly, especially looking at the rail-served parts of Midtown 10 years after the line opened. Sure, there are signs of good stuff happening (like MidMain), but they've been very slow to develop. And, frankly, the north side doesn't have the same location advantages as Midtown.
- The current estimate is that the train will take about 20 mins from UHD to the Northline end covering 5.3 miles. Add that to the current Main St. line, and you have ~50 mins end-to-end for about 12 miles. That's about 14mph net speed - not exactly flying. Somebody living up there could easily be looking at a 30-40 min commute to the medical center - surprisingly long given the short distance. To put that in context, in non-rush-hour traffic it takes me about 45 mins to get from Midtown to Tomball! But it honestly might be somewhat competitive with driving at rush hour, especially when you consider the cost and hassle of med center traffic and parking.
That last point reinforces something I've been saying for a while: people may still face some daunting travel times to their final destination even after they've been connected into the rail network. I occasionally hear people sort of hand wave that once somebody has transferred to the rails they're magically at their destination, whether that's downtown, TMC, UH, or, one day, Greenway or Uptown. That is far from the case. I think once you add up the travel times, very few people will want to take an HOV bus downtown and then transfer to UH, TMC, or elsewhere. METRO still needs to work on more direct express lane service to alternate job centers like TMC and Uptown. Rail network connections are not a magic silver bullet for that.
Overall, METRO seems to have done a solid job on the new line. Only time will tell what ridership develops and how the neighborhood transforms.
Labels: Metro, mobility strategies, transit, transit-oriented development
Houston's urban revival, CA vs. TX, another reason to love Houston, and why you should love cars
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend. Just a few quick items this week.
"Essentially the city relies on the market to dictate development patterns, and these patterns are sometimes at odds with what conventional planning might dictate. Even so, advocates, developers and city leaders who don’t always see eye to eye generally believe the arrangement has worked in Houston’s favor over the years, allowing developers to respond quickly to market conditions and keep housing costs low. Regardless of individual Houstonians’ views on zoning, that part of the system is probably not changing. Four attempts at altering it have all failed."
"This picture has changed over the past decade. California’s tech manufacturing sector has shrunk, and those employed in Silicon Valley are increasingly well-compensated programmers, engineers and marketers. There has been little growth in good-paying blue collar or even middle management jobs. Since 2001 state production of “middle skill” jobs—those that generally require two years of training after high-school—have grown roughly half as quickly as the national average and one-tenth as fast as similar jobs in arch-rival Texas."
Finally, another reason to be thankful you live in Houston!
Hat tip to Jim.
Labels: development, economy, governance, land-use regulation, perspectives, planning
Philly vs. Houston energy hubs, why Yankees are coming to Texas, tops for diversity and STEM, and more
Just a few misc items this short Thanksgiving week:
"...Sugar Land, the largest city in Fort Bend County, which Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University, calls the most ethnically diverse county in America. By that, he means that this county southwest of Houston comes closer than any other county in the United States to having an equal division among the nation’s four major ethnic communities — Asian, black, Latino and white residents."
- Houston ranks an impressive #3 in the growth of tech/STEM jobs in the 21st century, ahead of tech powerhouses like SF and Seattle. Austin is #1.
- Density, Unpacked: Is creative class theory a front for real estate greed?
- Forbes makes the case for Philly competing with Houston as an energy hub (hat tip to HAIF). From what I'm reading there, it sounds like it could be an energy hub, but it would be a *regional* one, not a national and certainly not a global one like Houston. A big chunk of the U.S. population lives in the northeast, and it probably needs a local energy infrastructure hub. Philly is probably not a bad place for that with a port, affordable land, and a central location in the DC-Boston corridor. Houston is a regional energy infrastructure hub too, but we're also the global hub for headquarters and professionals - and Philly is a far cry from that.
- The NY Post on why Americans are fleeing the northeast, especially for Texas. Excerpt:
"As economist Tyler Cowen points out in Time magazine, when you adjust incomes for tax rates and cost of living, Texas comes out ahead of California and New York and ranks behind only Virginia and Washington state.
Critics charge that Texas’s growth depends on the oil and gas industries and is weighted toward low-wage jobs. In fact, Texas’s low-tax, light-regulation policies have produced a highly diversified economy that from 2002 to 2011 created nearly a third of the nation’s highest-paying jobs. In those years, its number of upper- and middle-income jobs grew 24 percent.
Liberals like Noah often decry income inequality. But the states with the most unequal incomes and highest poverty levels these days are California and New York. That’s what happens when high taxes and housing costs squeeze out the middle class."
Finally, I'd like to end with a pretty mind-bogglingly impressive time lapse video of Chicago at night
. Watch it in full-screen HD for the full effect. Still waiting on someone to step up and do this for Houston...
Labels: affordability, creative class, demographics, density, economic strategy, economy, energy, growth, headquarters, home affordability, rankings
If I were mayor, Houston planning and opportunity, complete streets downside, Buffalo Bayou history, and more
Some smaller misc items this week after an event announcement: a new preservation group called "Pier and Beam" is launching with a happy hour this Wed evening (11/20) at Mongoose vs. Cobra. If you're interested you can read more at the invite here
and register here
. Hat tip to Dave.
Q: After 33 years studying it, do you believe Houston's lack of zoning hurts or helps the city?
A: It's kept Houston's marketplace moving, and I think it puts us at an advantage over other cities. I'm not your typical planner. I have seen a warehouse piece of property become a single-family development in just a matter of a year, year and a half. You go to another, zoned city and that takes years to get through the approval processes. The lack of zoning gives us a lot of flexibility as a city to reinvent ourselves fairly quickly, and it allows us the ability to amend our rules fairly quickly to respond to problems. It's part of the energy, part of that can-do spirit that's in Houston.
- KUHF asked respondents to finish this statement: "Please tell us what you would do if your were the mayor of Houston, using the sentence as a springboard: If I was the mayor, I would ..." My three answers around the Ike Dike, city branding, and METRO are near the bottom here.
- WSJ on bike lane wars and how complete streets eliminate street parking. Let's hope that's not how they get implemented in Houston - we definitely need to keep our street parking. Excerpt:
"Our little squabble illustrates the tactics you can expect to see when the bike wars reach you. Cyclist-commuters may number no more than 2% of the adult American population according to a 2002 report by The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, but they are the ones who go to city council meetings. They'll push for the kind of "Complete Streets" policy that our city adopted, one that gives priority to pedestrians and cyclists over cars.
In the abstract, that will sound innocuous, but when the time for implementation arrives, you'll find yourself losing your street parking, street by street, as roads are repaved."
For Ting, Houston still promises “the idea of ‘if you work hard, you’ll reap the benefits.'" ...
He seriously thought about moving to Austin, given its young population, but to him, “the city just feels like a college town.” Next to Austin’s revelry, Houston is the mature, moneyed older brother: “It has the resources and the population I’m going after.”
- Speaking of opportunity, there are fresh links to the Opportunity Urbanism report Joel Kotkin and I created at the GHP web site here (scroll down under Independent Research), including my policy framework. Hat tip and thanks to Patrick.
Finally, an interesting half-hour video on the history of Buffalo Bayou and Houston
(hit the bottom right corner brackets to see it full size). If you don't have a half-hour, at least watch the opening 40 seconds - good stuff. Hat tip to Paul.
Labels: development, economy, history, land-use regulation, mobility strategies, opportunity urbanism, planning, zoning
Options to save the Astrodome
Of course I was bitterly disappointed by the defeat of the Astrodome renovation bonds last week, especially given that all of the polls had it passing easily. It looks like those polls created an unwarranted sense of complacency both among campaigners and pro-Astrodome voters who didn't turn out. Based on the outpouring of "don't demolish it!" sentiment over the last week, I'd say the majority clearly support re-purposing it, they just didn't bother to vote (13% turnout!
In case you missed it, the architecture critic at the LA Times made a passionate argument for saving it
, including this powerful opening statement:
Forget Monticello or the Chrysler building: There may be no piece of architecture more quintessentially American than the Astrodome.
Widely copied after it opened in 1965, it perfectly embodies postwar U.S. culture in its brash combination of Space Age glamour, broad-shouldered scale and total climate control.
Wow. If we tear the Astrodome down, I'm convinced it will become Houston's Penn Station moment
, forever regretted.
So what are our options to keep it from being demolished?
Here are my thoughts in rough order of increasing cost:
- Mothball it, minimize maintenance costs, and wait and see if a more compelling option backed by private money comes forward at some point. The high cost of demolition in both dollars and potential regret can be avoided.
- Invest the minimum amount possible to make it a festival park for year-round climate controlled festivals (rather than just the spring and fall as they do now). I'd say that involves fixing the climate control and giving access to the floor while cordoning off/mothballing all of the upper levels. This also preserves future options.
- Value engineer the Slattery proposal to strip it down to a steel structure over a greenspace park (similar to the Eiffel Tower) at a cost marginally above full demolition ($78 to $98m). Get input from the OTC and Rodeo on how to structure the covered/rain-protected greenspace best for their needs.
- Revamp the proposal and try again next year when more voters will turn out for congressional elections and pro-Astrodome forces can mount a more effective campaign.
- Renovate the Astrodome to provide all of the functionality a new Reliant Arena is supposed to provide.
- Find wealthy backers to support the STEM institute/museum concept (big picture) or Astrodome Tomorrow's concept. They don't necessarily have to support the full cost, but enough to justify a public-private partnership.
Vote to Save the Astrodome! plus a whole lot more...
A lot of smaller misc items this week, but by far the most important one is to VOTE TO SAVE THE ASTRODOME
on Tuesday. Even if you're not thrilled with the plan, it saves it from the wreaking ball and preserves future options. I've also heard it's very cost competitive on a sq.ft basis with other convention centers recently built around the country. Watch this excellent 5min video
on the history of the dome and the plan and I think you'll be sold (click the bottom right brackets to make it full screen).
Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Joel Kotin, some nobody local blogger, and Patrick Jankowski at the GHP Oct 24th.
Labels: Astrodome, economy, growth, high-speed rail, perspectives, rankings, technology, toll roads