Fare-free transit, Houston beats Austin, better commuter transit, and more
Continuing to work through the backlog of smaller misc items...
"When speaking to detractors of the fare-free system, Litchfield likes to point out the measurable savings as well. The transit agency saves money that would be spent on fare collection, in terms of both staff and equipment (the system has 99 buses, and farebox devices sell in the area of $15,000 each). Advertising costs are down, since Chapel Hill Transit doesn't have to promote its pass programs, and the system also saves money that would have gone toward low-income ridership assistance. Last but not least, the buses save time because they no longer have to check passes or wait for fare swipes."
"Drum roll, please, for this legend in its own mind, a mildly entertaining university town and state capital with fever dreams of greatness, a city whose entire purpose for breathing is to not be like everything else around it. When you're trying to set yourself apart from a place as large and as bold as Texas, you have to work really, really hard. Which could explain why everyone walks around here looking so stressed. Sprawling Austin is one of those unfortunate places that seems really smashing on paper. And then one ruins things by going. You have now been advised.
Instead, try If your precious snowflake mind can tolerate a little diversity of thought, Houston -- our nation's fourth largest city, if you didn't know -- is currently the place to experience Texas at its most interesting. Sure, this is a city so ugly that sometimes you may be tempted to put a bag over its head, but Houston is also an impressively creative and very fun town, with good museums (the Menil Collection, the Contemporary Arts Museum), plenty of good food -- Austin's own golden boy, Tyson Cole, opened Uchi here recently -- good drink (start with Anvil and Hay Merchant), plenty of music and -- best of all -- fun-loving locals who are generally anything but uptight."
"While 24,000 people an hour is a lot compared with a single freeway lane carrying 2,000 cars an hour with a rush-hour average of 1.1 persons per car, there is no reason why freeway lanes have to be limited to cars. A freeway lane dedicated to buses is capable of moving 1,200 buses per hour safely spaced six bus lengths apart. If WMATA used 80-seat, double-decker buses such as those used in Las Vegas, that lane could move 96,000 people per hour, without even counting standees.
On reaching downtown, the buses could disperse to various streets, any of which are capable of moving at least 160 buses an hour (40 buses per hour per stop with four designated stops every two blocks). That means directing buses down three or four north-south streets and four east-west streets, allowing most riders to find a stop close to their actual destination.
The Washington DC region could spend tens of billions of dollars and many years building new subway lines that would provide a modest increase in the rail system’s capacity. Or it could spend a small fraction of that amount of money and time on new buses running on high-occupancy toll lanes that would more than double the system’s capacity. Unfortunately, the political momentum created when DC made the mistake of building rail in the first place will probably doom it to doing the former. The result will be a lot of money spent but little congestion relief."
Finally, in the dark humor department, I snapped this pic of a Rice University parking meter after you've given it your credit card to pay for parking upon exiting. It doesn't actually tell you how many dollars it's charged you, it just gives you this graphic of the most evil looking smiley face I've ever seen, taunting you with "I've just charged your credit card an obscene amount, but let's keep it a secret until you open your credit card bill, shall we?"
Labels: Astrodome, commuter rail, density, high-speed rail, identity, infrastructure, Metro, mobility strategies, rail, rankings, tourism, zoning
Can Houston learn from and emulate Cornell's NYC tech campus?
The NY Times has an article with the details on the Cornell NYC Tech university model
, including close ties between commercial tech development and academia. It is an economic development project for NYC as much as an academic one, and one that Houston should consider emulating. The school is completely focused on masters degree students in the applied sciences - no undergrads or doctoral students - and is thus a perfect fit for catalyzing a tech startup scene.
But the most striking departure of all may be the relationship it sets forth between university and industry, one in which commerce and education are not just compatible, they are also all but indistinguishable. In this new framework, Cornell NYC Tech is not just a school, it is an “educational start-up,” students are “deliverables” and companies seeking access to those students or their professors can choose from a “suite of products” by which to get it.
Colleges and universities across the country — a great many of which are scrambling to find new ways to finance scientific research, as well as new ways to profit from the fruits of that research — are watching closely. In the last year, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has announced the creation of technology schools by both Columbia and New York University. And Cornell’s president, David J. Skorton, said he had been visited by representatives from other cities hopeful that the Cornell NYC Tech model might work there, too.
A longer and even more compelling NYT story on the pioneering Cornell NYC tech campus can be found here
But for Cornell NYC Tech, that close relationship is not merely the desired outcome; it is the founding premise. “The campus was set up specifically to increase the talent pool in New York City,” Dr. Skorton said, “to positively influence the New York City economy.”
I really do wish Houston was doing something like this, and have written about something similar in the past with UH
. Rice might also be able to do something similar right now with its BioScience Research Collaborative
building in collaboration with the Texas Medical Center. And just as Cornell is in remote upstate New York but building a tech campus in the city, TAMU could do the same thing here. In fact, Texas A&M has ambitions to be the largest engineering school in the country
, which should have great benefits for Houston. They want to grow from 11,000 to 25,000 engineering students. Maybe they'd consider a satellite campus in Houston, maybe even at the KBR site
? Lots of possibilities. This would be a perfect initiative for the Mayor's office to champion if anybody wants to forward this post along...
Labels: economic strategy, education, entrepreneurship
Houston vs. NYC, density does not equal wealth, DART's poor rail investments, good rankings, and more
Another round of smaller misc items:
"What’s happening in New York is just part of a national shift. Highly paid, college-educated people are increasingly clustering in the college-graduate-dense, high-amenity cities where they get good deals on the stuff they like, while low-skilled people are increasingly flowing out to cheaper places with a worse quality of life. The end result, Diamond’s research shows, is that measures of the growing income gap between the high-skilled and the low-skilled, which already look pretty shocking, seriously understate the inequality between these two classes.
This two-tier economy can seem inevitable, but other middle-income cities — particularly Sun Belt hubs like Houston and Charlotte — are now offering a third option, says Edward L. Glaeser, an economist at Harvard. A large part of their appeal has to do with policies that make it easier to build homes and expand the affordable housing stock for those people fleeing cities like New York. Places like Detroit are cheap, Glaeser told me, because they have become drastically less attractive locations to live and work. But places like Houston are cheap — and staying cheap, even as they grow — because the local governments have realized their comparative advantage is in deregulation, not in fancy cookies."
No. 7: Houston, Texas
"Houston's close tie to the Caribbean, as well as its dominant global energy industry, thriving industrial base, huge Texas Medical Center complex and first-rate airport all work to its long-term advantage. Arguably the big city in the U.S. with the healthiest economy, Houston is also investing in a "green" future; last year it was the nation's largest municipal purchaser of wind energy."
- Houston was recently named the fifth most attractive investment market in the world by AFIRE (trailing only New York, San Francisco, London, and Washington D.C.). Hat tip to Jessie.
- Reason TV: CA vs. The Suburbs: Planners, Smart Growth, and the Manhattan Delusion
- How driverless cars will both expand sprawl and increase core density simultaneously. Hat tip to Charles.
- A nice writeup in Voxxi: Houston, Texas: A vibrant city of immigrants. Hat tip to Jessie.
- Joel Kotkin demolishes the "density = wealth" assertion used to justify forcing density.
- Dallas Area Rapid Transit gets taken to task for poor rail investments. Let it serve as a warning to METRO to not make the same mistakes...
- Mayor Parker's excellent State of the City address from last week. We are really on a serious roll.
- In the "unintentional humor" department, check out this Atlantic Cities article predicting that cars will go the way of the steamship or landline and slowly fade away. Of course that premise is absurd unless we develop teleportation. What they're really saying is that cars may run on something other than the internal combustion engine (some already do), or that widespread private ownership may end (we may just order up a temporary automated car from our smart phone anytime we need one). But the personal vehicle, i.e. "car", is certainly not going away any more than ships and phones have gone away.
Labels: affordability, demographics, density, economy, home affordability, Metro, opportunity urbanism, planning, rail, rankings, sprawl, technology
More great rankings, an outsider on our Ch.42 revisions, rethinking METRO, and more
My backlog of smaller miscellaneous items is at an all time high (over 50!), so prepare for a deluge as I try to clear it out over the next few weeks:
“Houston has gained broad acceptance as a top-tier market,” said Greg Kraus, managing director at Atlanta-based Invesco Ltd. (IVZ), a global adviser for pension clients including QSuper Ltd., an Australian fund for public-service workers. “It’s reflected in job growth, more gas refineries, more oil out of the Houston port and a true international feeling.”
"Houston, up 4.8%. Texas' largest city is big in the energy industry -- and not just in the traditional areas of oil and gas. It's also seeing gains in newer areas, such as wind and solar. Health care and aerospace are other major industries in town. Houston has an interconnected bikeway network over 300 miles long spanning across 500 square miles, so commuters can get past gridlock while getting healthy on their way to work. In their free time, residents can enjoy a rich, multicultural arts community."
"For the $75,000-annual-income hypothetical family, the highest total tax rate is in Bridgeport, Conn., where the family would pay $16,105, or 21.5 percent, of its income in taxes.
The lowest rate at the $75,000 income level is in Cheyenne, Wyo., where the family would pay nearly $2,808 in taxes, or 3.7 percent of its income.
In Houston, the same hypothetical family would pay $4,333 in taxes, or 5.8 percent of its income, making it 47th in the list of 51 cities.
The tax burden that is looked at in the study includes state and local taxes on income, residential property, sales and vehicles. The vehicle tax incorporates the gasoline tax, registration fees, excise tax and the personal property tax."
Finally, dear readers, please fill out this Urban Houston Framework survey
about what tools the city should and should not use in getting certain kinds of dense, urban development from developers. I found some of the tools reasonable, and some to be overreach, and if you read my blog, you probably have a thoughtful opinion on these topics the city should know about.
Labels: affordability, density, development, economy, growth, land-use regulation, Metro, port, rankings
Seizing the Astrodome opportunity to establish Houston's new global identity
The Chronicle published my op-ed this morning
, although with an inaccurate headline (it would cover all technology and innovation, not just locals). The headline above is the original one I proposed. As I always do with such op-eds, I put a full copy on the blog here as a backup. If you'd like to contact me to discuss it in more detail, I can be reached at tgattis (at) pdq.net . Looking forward to your comments. If you're interested in the bigger picture behind this, see here: The Ultimate Houston Strategy
"Houstonians love Houston. So do U.S. business owners. The rest of the world ... not so much. With lax zoning laws and plentiful space, Houston's low cost of living and doing business is a dream for American businesses and middle class workers, but the rest of the world pretends as though the city doesn't exist. The city has fewer international tourists than any other comparable global city."
Unfortunately for Houston, other cities have staked out the best tourism identities: family fun in Orlando, adult fun in Las Vegas or New Orleans, beaches in Miami or Honolulu, Hollywood glamour in Los Angeles, romance in Paris, culture in New York and so on. But there is a city Houston can learn from: Washington, D.C., a city where millions of families and school groups visit to learn about our country's history and culture through the great Smithsonian Institution and government institutions and monuments around the National Mall.
- Price WaterhouseCoopers survey of the best cities for business, life and innovation
Every year, countless children are inspired toward careers in public service by this experience. But where can America's kids go to be inspired toward careers in our country's most crucial need: science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM)? Something far beyond their little local science or children's museum?
Houston could be that city, building not only on our energy, chemical, aerospace and biomedical industries, but also on our top-rated and very popular existing STEM museum
s like Space Center Houston
, The Museum of Natural Science
, The Health Museum
, The Children's Museum, Moody Gardens and The George Observatory. But we really need one additional anchor "mega-attraction" that will give us critical mass and undisputed STEM leadership. That flagship would be the National Museum of Technology and Innovation
, the world's largest engineering and technology museum - something in the class of D.C.'s National Air and Space Museum
(the second-most popular museum in the world), Germany's Deutsches Museum
, San Francisco's Exploratorium or Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry
. It could even be one of the Smithsonian's network of national museums, which have started to move out beyond Washington, D.C., like Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
in New York and the Smithsonian affiliate, National Museum of Industrial History
in Bethlehem, Penn.
Think of it as Houston's version of Paris' Louvre or London's British Museum
. And with the right design, it could attract STEM-related academic and commercial conferences from around the world to Houston (imagine a Davos of STEM).
By showing students stories of the great historical innovators who invented technology to address civilization's problems, we can inspire America's - and especially Houston's - youth into STEM careers. They can see how they could become the next Edison, Bell, Ford, Gates, Jobs or Musk. But this institution would not just look backward at history. It would inspire kids into STEM fields by framing the great challenges of the present and future, such as the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering by the National Academy of Engineering
, including limitless fusion energy, health informatics, better medicines, artificial intelligence, carbon sequestration, preventing nuclear terror, securing cyberspace, advancing personalized eLearning and more.
Where can Houston find a grand structure to house such a grand institution? Yes, the Astrodome.
The problem with most of the Astrodome proposals so far is their isolation from a bigger civic vision. If a purely for-profit enterprise were feasible, it would have happened by now. Houston's philanthropic community needs to be inspired to invest in the future of the Astrodome (in partnership with Harris County). If it fails to act, based on the latest buzz, the Dome simply will be torn down for parking, and Houston's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and historical icon will be lost forever. Imagine if Paris had torn down the Eiffel Tower after the World's Fair there, or if Rome had torn down its epic Coliseum?
Houston, we have our biggest problem since Apollo 13. It's time to come together to solve it.
The city has a great history of big visions and big projects that have paid off big time, from the Ship Channel to the Texas Medical Center to the Manned Spacecraft Center
to the original construction of the Astrodome. Can we uphold that legacy and muster that civic will again for another round? Can we channel part of this great energy boom we're enjoying now into investments for our long-term prosperity? And most important, will a farsighted philanthropist step forward to champion a new vision for the Astrodome?
County officials have already stated a STEM museum is one of the best ideas they've been presented for repurposing the Astrodome, but they want to see philanthropic backing. The Getty Trust
stepped up to build the spectacular $1.3 billion Getty Center in Los Angeles. Ross Perot
's family donated $50 million to kick off a successful $185 million campaign to build the stunning new Perot Museum of Nature and Science
in Dallas.Bernard Marcus
, founder of Home Depot
, donated $250 million to build the world's largest aquarium in Atlanta. Does Houston have such a visionary leader?
As we bid for the 2017 Super Bowl, it's widely acknowledged that the time is now to decide on the fate of the Astrodome.
In two years, on the 50th anniversary of its opening, will we be celebrating a grand second life for this Houston icon, or will we be looking at a little golden plaque among a sea of parking spaces saying "The world's first domed stadium and Eighth Wonder of the World once stood here"?
Gattis writes the Houston Strategies and Opportunity Urbanist blogs.
Labels: Astrodome, education, identity, tourism
Winter 1Q13 Highlights, 8-year anniversary, updated best-of-the-best
It's time for the Winter 1Q13 quarterly highlights post, as well as acknowledge the 8-year anniversary of this blog. Wow - kind of hard to believe I've been able to keep it going this long. And around the end of this year, I should be hitting another major milestone: my 1,000th blog post. That's a little intimidating to think about writing... no pressure, right?
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 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).
Astrodome to be restored to host 2017 Super Bowl LI
Harris County officials announced today a comprehensive plan to restore the Astrodome to its full functionality and grandeur by its 50th anniversary in 2015, and the NFL announced in parallel an agreement to have it host the 2017 Super Bowl LI. In addition, both professional teams that once played there will return, with the Titans returning from a failed foray to Tennessee and renaming themselves back to the Oilers (Houston will join NYC as the only two cities to host two NFL teams), and the Astros returning from an aging Minute Maid Park, including a return to those stylish rainbow uniforms (although it has not been announced at this time whether they will be playing major or minor-league baseball). Minute Maid Park will be converted into yet another convention center hotel to join the Hilton Americas, the Embassy Suites, the Four Seasons, the previously announced new hotel next to Discovery Green
, and the Star of Hope - finally giving the GRB enough hotel rooms to compete in the convention big leagues.
Although the Oilers will not be sharing a stadium with the Texans like the New York Giants and Jets do, parking constraints do mean the NFL will not schedule them with home games on the same day other than the days they play each other, which will be twice a year given that they will both still be in the same division, the AFC South. Bob McNair and Bud Adams have a tentative agreement on separate tailgating areas for such games.
Rodeo Houston will also be taking advantage of the new venue to double its programming, offering separate concerts each evening in both the Astrodome and Reliant Stadium. Rodeo officials are thrilled now that they will have the opportunity to greatly expand their rap, DJ raves, and Justin Bieber concert programming.
Hope you enjoyed this year's April Fools post. Here are previous years if you missed 'em and would like a chuckle:
Transforming Houston With Bayou Greenways
This week we have a guest post by Jen Powis, Advocacy Director for the Houston Parks Board.
Houston is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city of over 650 square miles and 2.3 million people. But thanks to the $166 million Parks Bond citizens passed last November, by 2020 Houston will also have over 150 miles of connected biking and walking paths along nearly 1,500 acres of new connected parkland, completely separated from cars.
The bond dollars will go toward completing a system of connected parks throughout Houston — a project known as Bayou Greenways 2020
. In general, Bayou Greenways are linear public parks along the major bayous flowing towards the Gulf of Mexico that connect many of Houston’s signature parks like Hermann Park
or Eleanor Tinsley Park
. Much of the land along our bayous are either in the floodway or the floodplain, and thus not ripe for major development. By leveraging this otherwise natural land for the development of a connected park system, we accomplish multiple goals for less than half the cost. These parks are first and foremost parks: places to walk and bike, exercise or sit under a tree. But they also provide wildlife habitat, help our water quality and flood control, and unite our communities with safe, off-street paths for both recreation and transportation alternatives.
Houston currently has 75 miles of shared use paths and nearly 40,000 acres of parkland. With the addition of another 1,500 acres of greenspace directly along the bayous, however, Houston is poised to have a one-of-a-kind, off-street trail system that re-envisions transportation while at the same time completing an urban park system like no other.
100 Years Later
In 1912, one of Houston’s first visionary architects, recommended to the city that it should take advantage of its natural ecology — the bayous, creeks and ditches that make Houston the swampy, wetland, port city that it is today. Since that time, countless individuals and stakeholders have slowly been crafting a system of parks that are connected along the major bayous that flow directly through city center, making their way to the Gulf of Mexico and the Houston Ship Channel.
There are 7 major bayous in the city of Houston
. Many of those bayous currently have sections of trails, linear parks and other larger parks sprinkled throughout each corridor. Because these linear parks and trails are not connected or continuous, the greenways lack the transformative impact they could have on the area.
So far, the investment in existing trails and parks along our bayous conservatively exceeds $2.4 billion. The only remaining task is to connect them all. The cost to complete the greenways, trails and new parks within the city limits is $205 million. And with the bond this past November, Houston is approximately half way there. Now it’s up to us, the community and many leading non-profits like the Houston Parks Board to match the public dollars — one for one — to complete the job.
Transformative and Beneficial
Parks play an anchor role in an urban environment, and with Bayou Greenways 2020, Houston will have one of the best systems around. The health, environmental and economic benefits associated with a project like this are all aspects of a citizen’s quality of life. They feed into whether a city can attract new talent, and keep its retirees. It also feeds into larger business relocation decisions, as a company often wants to be associated with a city — like Houston — that was recently named the “coolest city” in America
We were so sure that the Bayou Greenways would have positive economic, environmental, and physical and mental health benefits, that we commissioned a study by a well-known professor at Texas A&M University. Conservatively, the benefits that were assessed a dollar value demonstrate a returning annual benefit of $117 million a year for the entire initiative
. That’s a pretty amazing return on your investment and another example of why urban parks are so important in today’s fast paced world. For Houston, there is unlikely to be any other investment that will transform Houston’s image from a “cement city” to one that embraces green.
For years, the City, the County, non-profits, and community organizations have been working on different segments of the Bayou Greenways, completing segment by segment and connecting park to park. It’s time to finish the job of uniting the bayous with greenways, trails and parks.
This spring, Houston Parks Board is bringing together community members, college students from Rice and UH, neighborhoods, businesses, organizations, biking groups and more to get involved and speak up about what this project means to them. And we’re just getting started. If you’re in the area and want to get involved, or would like more information about the project, check out our website
to learn more. The power rests in your hands to put a world-class park system at your fingertips.
Labels: environment, quality of place
Surprisingly simple congestion solution, Houston dominates web hosting (?!), H-town accolades, low taxes, and more
It's been a while since the last post with smaller misc items, and they've been stacking up so much I'll need to spread them over at least two posts and possibly more. Here we go with the first round:
- Event announcement: Jeb Brugmann will be speaking on "Can India’s Cities Be Made to Work?" this Wednesday night at Asia Society Texas. Details here.
- Great Chronicle op-ed today by a Rice student on how they came to love Houston over their four years here.
Excerpt: "Where I had once seen a homogenized concrete blanket, I now see a diverse quilt with intricate and innumerable connections. Each section of Houston, from Chinatown to Midtown, not only forms a distinct and unique town unto itself but adds to the color and character of the rest of the city. Taken together, they form the most dynamic city in America. My hometown of Albuquerque might cherish its past and tradition, but Houston constantly evolves toward the future. To outsiders, this makes Houston look like an unplanned mess, but those who live here know to embrace the lack of predestined plan. It is why the city eschews zoning laws with pride."
Finally, let me end with this great TED talk
on reducing traffic congestion based on the congestion charge experiment in Stockholm (hat tip to Jay). A token 1-2 euro congestion fee in the core reduced cars by 20% and nearly eliminated congestion. Because traffic congestion is nonlinear, just a small reduction in cars can lead to a large reduction in congestion. It incentivized a lot of people with schedule flexibility to shift their trips outside of rush hour. Also, even though it was very unpopular at first, it quickly became overwhelmingly popular with 70+% support. I suspect it's politically impossible, but I think something similar for freeways coming inside the loop or getting on the loop at rush hour could have a similar impact here. Something to ponder...
Labels: congestion pricing, costs of congestion, dining, economy, energy, environment, growth, mobility strategies, quality of place, rankings, taxes, tech, technology, tourism, zoning
Attracting more educated talent to Houston
As the Greater Houston Partnership
develops Opportunity Houston v2.0, I hear more and more that Houston needs to not just attract jobs, but also well-educated talent to fill all those jobs
. Don't get me wrong - as Joel Kotkin has pointed out, plenty of college grads are moving to Houston
- but even that flow is having trouble keeping up with the massive numbers of jobs we're creating
. Although Houston's image has been improving with more and more national accolades, we're still not an obvious "go-to" destination for talent (like, say, Austin), especially recent college grads outside of Texas. I'm not sure any general image/advertising campaign can fix that, but I do think a targeted approach with a modest budget has a lot of potential.
: Identify target universities with graduates and alums we want
. It's really hard to pry people out of the coasts, but I think Midwestern and Southern graduates are more likely to consider Houston. I'd guess the best yield will be mostly from Big 10, Big 12, and SEC schools with strong engineering programs, plus a few high-quality extras like Tulane, Duke, Emory, Georgia Tech, U.Va, and Washington University in St. Louis.
: Help organize/support/sponsor alumni groups from those schools in Houston
. Help them create social media communities and networking events, especially around sports bar meetups for their school's games.
Step 3: Sponsor a big Houston tent at the annual homecoming football games for those schools. In addition to the usual food, beer, and marketing materials, make sure it has plenty of Houston-based alums at it to talk up both the city and their alumni community here. The message is "Your school has a vibrant alumni community in Houston that you will be welcomed into, and they love living in Houston." This is a double win because the message gets out to both alums and students. Also consider ads and articles in alumni magazines.
Step 4: Here's the clincher. The idea came from a story my Dad told me about northern college students driving down here for spring break mixing service at Habitat with Humanity with some fun. Evidently they really enjoyed Houston. The more I thought about it, the more I realized Houston has to offer for college students on spring break: reasonable driving distance (at least for a groups trading off driving shifts), great weather, beaches/Kemah/Pleasure Pier/Schlitterbahn, the Rodeo, NASA, arts/theater/museums, and of course tons of restaurants, bars, shopping, and nightlife. I've heard and read multiple anecdotes that today's college students are looking for more than just "get drunk on a beach for a week." They like the excitement and sophistication of a big city. They'd like to do a service project. Houston could offer an amazing spring break experience, and we can certainly handle the crowds far better than the small beach communities of Florida and with fewer drug violence concerns than Mexico. And if they want to mix in a little SXSW time in Austin or South Padre beach time during their week, that's fine too. The goal is to get them at least some exposure to all Houston has to offer, so when they're interviewing for jobs their senior year, we're an attractive option... "Man, I had a blast on spring break in Houston - I could definitely see myself taking a job and living there."
Of course we'd want to try and schedule a slate of events, including concerts and festivals, during these spring break weeks. And offer an array of service projects like Habitat for Humanity and others. We'd also want to have private events where the students can meet their local alumni group - for example, Houston-based Purdue alumni hosting Purdue students on spring break for an event at the Natural Science or Fine Arts museums. Finally, of course, we have to promote Spring Break Houston on their campuses.
Again, another double win, attracting both talent and tourism dollars. And when you consider the secondary value of all those college students talking up their Spring Break Houston trip on their social media accounts, it's really a triple win.
So that's my 4-step plan for attracting more college-educated talent to Houston with a modest marketing budget. I'm looking forward to your thoughts in the comments...
Labels: creative class, economic strategy, growth, talent, tourism
Dissecting Rice's sustainability report on Houston
Last week the Shell Center for Sustainability at Rice released their report
on Houston, and some breathless "quality of life is falling!" headlines
ensued. While I'm all for data and analysis like this
, I do have some issues with some of the findings and recommended strategies. Broadly speaking, it follows a typical pattern I find worrisome:
- Selectively pick stats and trends that look bad
- Comprehensive planning and government intervention are required!
- All will be solved, utopia will ensue, there are no downsides or tradeoffs
OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but I do feel like this is the unspoken message under a lot of the material. Getting to some of my specific issues:
- Holding up NYC, LA, and Chicago as models: I'm not saying we're perfect and they have nothing to teach us, but Houston has been performing better than those cities on a lot of indicators for a very long time, so I'd be really careful what lessons we learn from them.
- Combining percentage of income spent on housing and transportation to argue Houston is an expensive city to live in and get around. I'm really not a fan of that stat. When people save on taxes with no income taxes, they splurge on houses. When people save on housing, they splurge on their cars. That's a personal choice and it doesn't mean Houston is expensive to get around. Look around at all the fancy cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs you see around Houston. Those high-depreciation, low mileage vehicles are discretionary, not a cost of basic transportation. They are certainly not required to get around town. You can dramatically cut your cost of getting around - both gas and depreciation - with a nice used Prius or Civic, just as you can in any other city. Cost of living indexes, like I mentioned last week, equalize for that - and show that Houston has the highest cost-of-living adjusted average incomes among the country's major metros. Another issue I have with that stat is that it ignores taxes that go to transit, esp. in the heavy transit cities like Philly and NYC. Using the farebox as the only cost of transportation is inaccurate, since it covers only a small portion of the cost of the transit system.
- Subsidizing housing near job centers: There are plenty of apartment complexes and other housing near each of Houston's job centers. If people want to live close to their job, they almost certainly have plenty of options. But most people choose not to do this for a host of varied reasons, including home, school, and neighborhood preferences - not to mention dual-income households (whose job do you live next to?). Commute time is not the deciding factor for most people. If we're somehow restricting or discouraging new housing supply near job centers, then by all means let's fix that - but pouring tax dollars into programs to incentivize apartment development near job centers just doesn't seem like a wise use of limited government resources. The market will provide housing where there is demand.
- Comparing our rail unfavorably to Chicago: See the middle of my TEDx talk and slides explaining why commuter rail makes sense for centralized, older, pre-WW2/pre-automotive cities like Chicago but not for decentralized, newer, post-WW2 cities like Houston. Express bus HOT lane networks are the right solution for multi-centric Houston.
- Limited health insurance coverage: Isn't this more of a federal (Affordable Care Act) and state (Perry accepting additional federal Medicaid dollars, as requested by County Judge Emmett) issue?
- That a loss of anglos inside the city limits implies an unattractive quality of life: what has happened over the last 30+ years is that middle-ring anglos (610 to BW8) have moved out to newer nicer suburbs in unincorporated Harris County, Sugar Land, Katy, The Woodlands, Pearland, etc. and aspiring minorities and immigrants have moved in as mortgage rates dropped and home ownership hit record levels (this happened to cities all over the country). Yet nobody can argue that the inner loop and westside of Houston isn't attracting plenty of anglos with a strong quality of life, including mass gentrification of previously blighted areas. Houston's core is definitely healthy and has plenty of quality of life - not perfect, but healthier than most cities - and a great balance of diverse demographics.
Houston is not perfect, but it's doing a lot of things right and embarking on some great new initiatives like expanded parks and bike trails, single-bin recycling+trash, the Uptown BRT line, dedicated revenue for drainage+roads, rethinking the METRO bus network from the ground-up, and revamping Chapter 42 development codes to enable more densification and keep housing affordable. Let's keep up the thoughtful continuous improvement, but be careful to not forget our great strengths or compromise them because of misleading stats or incomplete analysis.
: link to the complete report
Labels: affordability, commuter rail, demographics, development, economic strategy, economy, home affordability, land-use regulation, Metro, mobility strategies, perspectives, planning, quality of place, transit
Houston dominates America's growth corridors and makes the case for the world's highest standard of living
The Manhattan Institute has just released a new report
by Joel Kotkin on "America's Growth Corridors
", which outlines four key corridors that are still growing strongly in an otherwise anemic U.S. economy: the great plains, the Gulf coast, the inter-mountain west, and the manufacturing belt of the southeast. Houston figures into the report quite prominently as the largest city among the four growth corridors. If you don't want to read the whole pdf
, I recommend searching on "Houston" to find the key elements. Here are some of my favorite Houston excerpts:
In Houston, for example, the massive Texas Medical Center is now the largest concentration of medical facilities in the world. [It] now ranks as the country’s 12th-largest business district in terms of square feet, ahead of downtown Los Angeles, with plans to expand so that it will rival Philadelphia’s (the seventh-largest) in size by 2014.
Houston, the clear center of the Third Coast economy, has emerged as one of the country’s megacities. Over the past decade, Houston has had one of the largest increases in employment of any major metropolitan area—up 15 percent between 2000 and 2011.
Houston, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Tampa have seen stronger rates of growth in the numbers of educated people moving into their areas, more so than such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Houston and Dallas already have a higher rate of international immigration than such traditional magnets as Chicago, Washington, and Philadelphia. A recent Rice University study found that Houston now surpassed New York as the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse area.
Today, Third Coast ports Brownsville, Tampa, and Houston have some of the highest rates of foreign immigration in the nation. Traditionally, this migration has come largely from Mexico and Latin America, but newcomers are increasingly arriving from Asia as well. Over the past decade, Houston’s Asian population has expanded by 160,000, or 70 percent, and the city is now home to the eighth-largest Asian population in the nation. Houston’s Asian migration is growing 50 percent faster than migration flows to such established Asian hubs as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.
When adjusted for cost of living, wage earners in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, as well as most corridor cities, earn much more than residents of New York or Los Angeles.
This is particularly notable in Houston, which has had one of the strongest increases in manufacturing over the past decade of any major city
The region is now home to several of the country’s leading ports, led by Houston and New Orleans, which also boast the first- and second-fastest growth in custom district traffic among the top five districts, outpacing New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit.
In the future, many Third Coast ports will likely increase trade with Asia. The scheduled 2014 opening of an expanded Panama Canal, with double its current capacity, will likely shift some Asian trade from America’s West Coast ports to its Third Coast. Houston will likely benefit most; the city expects a 15 percent jump in Asian trade after the canal expansion project is complete. In contrast to ports in the Northeast and California, virtually all the Third Coast ports—and many on the southeast littoral as well—are in the process of large-scale expansions.
But, by far, the most important and interesting tidbit in the report is the chart at the bottom of page 15
As you can see, Houston simply dominates it at #1 with $75k (!!). DFW and Austin are a distant second and third at $63k, and they fall from there. This is reinforced by a similar statistic in a recent City Journal article on the Texas Growth Machine
(hat tip to Jessie), which notes:
"Adjusted for cost of living, Texas’s per-capita income is higher than California’s and nearly as high as New York’s. Factor in state and local taxes, and Texas pulls ahead of New York."
This further backs my argument that Houston has the highest standard of living in the U.S.
(and likely the world) among major metros.
Of course the dominant factor in cost of living is housing, so this strongly validates Texas' free market approach allowing supply to meet demand (if avoiding the housing crash didn't already prove that point). And Houston's very substantial $12k advantage over even other Texas cities points to the incredible value of no-zoning in keeping housing and other costs of living low (including commercial office and retail costs). For more on how that works, check out my Opportunity Urbanism op-ed here
. And that leads me to end with this awesome graphic
that I just love (hat tip to Josh).
: I'm often sharing the linklove with CultureMap
, but they're not sharing back
Labels: affordability, demographics, economic strategy, economy, growth, home affordability, identity, land-use regulation, opportunity urbanism, port, rankings, TMC, world city, zoning