Thursday, April 21, 2005

Urbanologist Joel Kotkin on Houston self-assessment

Recently dug up this old 2004 Chronicle interview with urbanologist Joel Kotkin about Houston. I don't necessarily agree with all of his points, but he has a lot of very good, very blunt things to say that a lot of Houstonians need to hear, particularly when it comes to deciding who and what we really want to be, rather than just envying other cities. An excerpt:

"I think Houston has lots of opportunities to do interesting things because it's got a really good economy, it's very diversified, and I think Houstonians are very innovative.

Part of what my message will be in these talks is you ought to be proud of what you are. Don't say, "Oh, if we could only be like Boston." Boston is becoming an ephemeral, elite city where the middle class has no upward mobility.

This is a city of upward mobility and aspiration, and that's what Houston should be selling itself as. Not as, "Well, we're kind of getting like Boston, we're kind of hip and cool." To hell with that crap.

Houston has vitality. It's got young demographics. It's a city of opportunity. If I was 25 years old, I probably couldn't move to Los Angeles. Houston would be one of those places you'd look at: Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas.


Ask, why do people come to Houston? Why do they stay here? What are the attributes they like? What are the things they don't like, and how do you work on your bad stuff and accentuate your good stuff like you would do with any individual? And stop trying to be somebody else. I think in L.A., we've finally gotten to a point in where we say, "You know, we don't want to be New York." We want to be who we are, and we have, if you will, a kind of urban magic of our own that we identify with. I think Houston's got to go through that maturing process."

This last paragraph matches an idea I've had for a while, which is to extend the Houston Area Survey to include more people from Houston that have moved elsewhere and people from elsewhere that have recently moved to Houston, and ask them to compare the pros and cons of the two cities (people who have really lived in both cities, not just visited them). It would give us a real feel for what weaknesses we need to work on, and - more importantly - what strengths we need to preserve.


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