Thursday, February 01, 2007

Size matters

On his blog, Richard Florida has passed along a very compelling concept from the Santa Fe Institute published in Harvard Business Review's breakthrough ideas of 2007. It makes a great case for why city size - and therefore growth - matters. Here are the key quotes/excerpts:
"By almost any measure, the larger a city’s population, the greater the innovation and wealth creation per person."
...

Executives talk about their companies’ “DNA” and roles in “business ecosystems,” but the analogy to living organisms is more than metaphorical. Like the mathematical laws governing how organisms’ metabolism, growth, evolution, and mortality depend on size, there are rules that appear to govern the growth, performance, and even decline of cities and other social organizations. Although we can’t yet predict how specific cities or companies will evolve, we’ve found general mathematical relationships between population size, innovation, and wealth creation that may have important implications for growth strategy in organizations.

In biology, different species are in many ways scaled versions of one another. Bacteria, mice, elephants, sequoias, and blue whales may look different, but most of their fundamental characteristics, including energy and resource use, genome length, and life span, follow simple mathematical rules. These take the form of so-called power-law scaling relationships that determine how such characteristics change with size. For example, metabolic rate increases as the ¾ power of mass. Put simply, the scaling law says that if an organism’s mass increases by a factor of 10,000 (four orders of magnitude), its metabolic rate will increase by a factor of only 1,000 (three orders of magnitude). This represents an enormous economy of scale: the bigger the creature, the less energy per pound it requires to stay alive. This increase of efficiency with size—manifested by the scaling exponent ¾, which we say is “sublinear” because it’s less than one—permeates biology. These ubiquitous scaling laws have their origin in the universal properties of the networks that sustain life, such as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

Social organizations, like biological organisms, consume energy and resources, depend on networks for the flow of information and materials, and produce artifacts and waste. So it would not be surprising if they obeyed scaling laws governing their growth and evolution. Such laws would suggest that New York, Santa Fe, New Delhi, and ancient Rome are scaled versions of one another in fundamental ways—as, potentially, are Microsoft, Caterpillar, Tesco, and Pan Am.

To discover these scaling laws, Luís Bettencourt at Los Alamos National Laboratory, José Lobo at Arizona State University, Dirk Helbing at TU Dresden, and I gathered data across many urban systems in different countries and at different times, addressing a wide range of characteristics including energy consumption, economic activity, demographics, infrastructure, intellectual innovation, employment of “supercreative” people, and patterns of human behavior such as crime rates and rates of disease spread.

We did indeed find that cities manifest power-law scaling similar to the economy-of-scale relationships observed in biology: a doubling of population requires less than a doubling of certain resources. The material infrastructure that is analogous to biological transport networks—gas stations, lengths of electrical cable, miles of road surface—consistently exhibits sublinear scaling with population. However, to our surprise, a new scaling phenomenon appeared when we examined quantities that are essentially social in nature and have no simple analogue in biology—those associated with innovation and wealth creation. They include patent activity, number of supercreative people, wages, and GDP. For such quantities the exponent (the analogue of ¾ in metabolic rate) exceeds 1, clustering around a common value of 1.2. Thus, a doubling of population is accompanied by more than a doubling of creative and economic output. We call this phenomenon “superlinear” scaling: by almost any measure, the larger a city’s population, the greater the innovation and wealth creation per person.

Organismic growth, constrained by sublinear power-law scaling derived from the dynamics of biological networks, ultimately ceases, with the equations predicting what size organisms will reach. In contrast, our equations predict that growth associated with superlinear scaling processes observed in social organizations is theoretically unbounded. This would seem to bode well for organizations. Unfortunately, however, the equations also predict that in the absence of continual major innovations, organizations will stop growing and may even contract, leading to either stagnation or ultimate collapse. Furthermore, to prevent this, the time between innovations (the “innovation cycle”) must decrease as the system grows.

Lessons?
  • In some ways, it should seem obvious: if you have more people that can interact in an urban economy, there's more potential for win-win transactions and deeper specialization of labor (and therefore higher productivity). People are more likely to find jobs that better match their skills, education programs to increase their skills, and have greater opportunities for upward social mobility. It's fundamentally why people continue to migrate to cities globally.
  • The unmentioned factor is transportation mobility. Obviously, to get the benefits of size, you actually have to have the ability to interact with those people (transactions, jobs, etc.), and mobility levels determine whether that's likely or not. As just one example, the average person is willing to commute a half-hour to work, so their job opportunities are limited to that range. The farther they can go in that time, the more opportunities they can access. It also helps to have more people/jobs/density in that commute/mobility/opportunity zone, which is an argument against anti-density regulations or public processes (i.e. "NIMBYs insert sand in gears here").
  • Lends more importance the regional megapolitans model, of which the Texas Triangle should compete very well.
  • Cities that try to slow, stop, or restrain growth are ultimately penalizing themselves and their citizens.
  • Throws some cold water on the idea of smaller, elite, "creative" cities having an advantage over larger metros.
  • It means growth is also more sustainable and better for the environment, since resource use scales sublinearly with population, i.e. a single metro of 5 million is more resource-efficient than five metros of one million.
  • So sprawl is ultimately good, because even though it consumes some land and infrastructure resources here, on a net basis, it's ultimately saving more of them from somewhere else. It may not be the best of all possible use of resources, but as long as it represents consolidation from rural and smaller metros to larger metros, it's a net win. And don't forget that the kids of those suburban sprawlers will probably want to live in a dense core (well, at least for a while), so the long-term progression is towards more efficiency.
Obviously, there are some realistic counter-forces at some point - the entire United States is not going to eventually move to New York (and in fact their domestic migration is negative). Human preferences for space, privacy, mobility, affordability, and differing geographies and climates are probably some of the factors that keep that from happening.

This also means we should be more excited than fearful about the prospect of growing to over 8 million people in the metro area over the next 25 years. According to this model, we should end up much better off not just in total, but on a per-person basis. Houston is truly on a trajectory that's just getting better and better.

28 Comments:

At 8:01 AM, February 02, 2007, Blogger Owen said...

I'm sorry, but after Richard Florida's inane "creative class" study, I have enormous difficulty taking anything he says seriously. He may be right here (and I think he likely is) but I wouldn't trust his figures.

 
At 8:11 AM, February 02, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I have some similar skepticisms, but I should have been more clear about this post: he was just passing along an article/study in the Harvard Business Review. This is not his work, but from a study by the Santa Fe Institute. I've edited the post to make it more clear. Sorry for the confusion.

 
At 8:31 AM, February 02, 2007, Anonymous Christof Spieler said...

As far as I read it, this says nothing about land use within a city: it's neither a pro-sprawl nor a pro-density conclusion to say that bigger cities are more economically efficient. In fact, big cities tend to be denser (since size leads to higher land values and longer commutes).

I also don't see any contradiction between this and the basic "Creative class" idea. Bigger cities tend to have the attributes that appeal to the "creative class": more diversity, better dining/theater/arts scene, funky neightborhoods, etc. In fact, Houston ranks quite well in all of those attributes -- Florida ranks us 7th ((http://www.creativeclass.org/regall.shtml). I think a lot of people get confused because the creative class idea gets applied superficially: build a few urban lofts, and your city will boom.

Another feature that really helps big cities is connectivity. Once it was railroads, today it's nonstop flights and interstates, but one key attribute of big cities is that it tends to be easier to get to big cities form other big cities than from smaller places. Thus, it's harder to do national and global business from smaller places.

 
At 8:31 AM, February 02, 2007, Anonymous Christof Spieler said...

As far as I read it, this says nothing about land use within a city: it's neither a pro-sprawl nor a pro-density conclusion to say that bigger cities are more economically efficient. In fact, big cities tend to be denser (since size leads to higher land values and longer commutes).

I also don't see any contradiction between this and the basic "Creative class" idea. Bigger cities tend to have the attributes that appeal to the "creative class": more diversity, better dining/theater/arts scene, funky neightborhoods, etc. In fact, Houston ranks quite well in all of those attributes -- Florida ranks us 7th ((http://www.creativeclass.org/regall.shtml). I think a lot of people get confused because the creative class idea gets applied superficially: build a few urban lofts, and your city will boom.

Another feature that really helps big cities is connectivity. Once it was railroads, today it's nonstop flights and interstates, but one key attribute of big cities is that it tends to be easier to get to big cities form other big cities than from smaller places. Thus, it's harder to do national and global business from smaller places.

 
At 9:06 AM, February 02, 2007, Blogger Owen said...

Tory,

Ah. I stand corrected.

 
At 9:39 AM, February 02, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

I don't see how you made the leap to sprawl being a good thing. If bigger cities are better because they foster the kind of person-to-person interactions that lead to ideas, one would think that sprawl is not the model you would want.

 
At 4:50 PM, February 02, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Not saying sprawl is the most efficient of all models, but a large city that is getting larger by sprawling is still an net positive according to this model. Larger is better, regardless of form.

Also not saying this contradicts creative class. What I was trying to say is that it casts doubts on smaller cities that think they can cap population growth and just continuously "upgrade" their population to more and more affluent creative class types ("growth without growth"). The model implies you need a larger city to get a larger/more-affluent creative class.

And, yes, we do rank #7 on his CC list - which is great - but you never hear him mention Houston when talking about CC cities. I think he's embarrassed we got that high in his rankings.

 
At 5:21 PM, February 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight, Owen... we can read pass-throughs offered by Wendell Cox, Joel Kotkin, and Randall O'Toole, but NOT Richard Florida?

 
At 5:22 PM, February 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops, I didn't mean "offered"... I meant "authored"... Just call me Elmer Fudd.

 
At 7:31 PM, February 02, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

So you're saying that if Houston sprawls so much that it absorbs Brenham into its blob, that's a good thing because then the residents of Brenham will be part of a big city, and thus more in position to make creative contributions to the world?

Sorry, can't agree with you there. It would be much better for this state, for our creativity or otherwise, if we retained rural towns with a unique identity than for everything to be absorbed into the homogeneous sea of conformity and sameness that is the suburbs.

 
At 9:41 PM, February 02, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Suburbs don't have to have conformity. I think plenty of suburbs have a distinct identity, like The Woodlands, Tomball, or Katy (the last two are very similar to Brenham). And like I said, not everything will get absorbed into a few mega-cities. But larger metros are better for both opportunity and efficiency/environment.

 
At 10:16 PM, February 02, 2007, Blogger Owen said...

anonymous,

Wendell Cox, Randall O' Toole, etc., are certainly biased think-tank researchers to be certain. However, none of them have dared to build a model for creativity that is half-based on a "gay index" and a "bohemian index." Unlike Florida, they're from outside of academia throwing stones, and they can't resort to such patently absurd notions. Nobody would take them the least bit seriously if they resorted to Florida's tactics.

I would have had respect for Florida's study if he hadn't based his research off of dubious surveys and interviews which he claims confirmed that garage bands and gay bars are the proper barometer of creativity in a city. In fact, I'd like to believe he's right, because Houston ranks highly in his study (and I do believe Houston is one of the country's more creative cities). However, it when you scratch the surface, his ideas just appear silly.

 
At 10:20 PM, February 02, 2007, Blogger Owen said...

mike,

I frequently kid around that Houston will annex the entire state, but really, metropolitan areas don't come close to actually threatening the existance of small towns by virtue of geographic size alone. Brenham will probably eventually be at the outskirts of Houston, but it's doubtful that it will ever be integrated, and only a handful of small towns are really threatened.

 
At 12:40 AM, February 03, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

Well, it sounded like Tory was saying that sprawl is good because it will absorb more population groups into a single metropolis. The towns that Houston has absorbed are now not nearly as unique as they once were. The Woodlands and Tomball are about as opposite as you can get as Houston suburbs though, but if you've ever lived outside a large metropolis, they're really not that different, especially among the younger generation.

The fact is that whenever you add a group of people to a larger mass, their unique characteristics tend to dissolve and become uniform with the rest of the mass. I'll never forget how in shock I was culturally when I came back to Houston after living for a year in a town of 900. The fewer small towns Houston absorbs, the better.

 
At 12:22 PM, February 03, 2007, Anonymous Bill said...

The Woodlands is distinct? From Tomball and Katy? Increasingly less so. From Kingwood, Friendswood, Cinco Ranch, First Colony and other master-planned communities? Not really. The only major distinction between these latter communities is in the tree canopy. I grew up in The Woodlands, back when it only had 25,000 people, and people's concept of The Woodlands versus its current reality is something of an exercise in self-delusion (traffic in The Woodlands is pretty bad, and that's before you get out of the community; similar to what you experience down Kingwood Drive at 6:30am).

All of this is before we talk about the sustainability of sprawl and the marginal cost per person added to the population as you move further out into the exurbs and rural areas. Fundamentally, 100,000 people who all want 1/2 acre lots will cost more in infrastructure as 100,000 people who all want to live in skyscraper apartments/condominiums.

Think of it this way: Houston is a corner case for major cities. No other city, including LA and Dallas, has the type of sprawl we do. If you look up the numbers, LA and Dallas counties (~2,600) have more than 25% more people per square mile than Harris County (~2,000). This is before we start adding in the dilutive effects of Montgomery, Fort Bend, Waller, Galveston and surrounding counties to the overall metropolitan areas.

Few cities in the second-tier range (think adjusted CMSA/MSA in the 31 - 100 range; having corrected for things like "LA" being broken into three different CMSAs) talk too much about limiting growth. Even Portland. What tends to get published, aside from a few kooks, is that they want "smart growth". Who wouldn't, really. Which politician is going to sign up for "dumb growth"? Set aside the "smart growth" "agenda" from some of its core ideas. Do you want high polluting industries, like chemical plants, or do you want high-value, low environmental impact industries like chip designers? The answer to this question is actually more complex than it seems. Fundamentally, how a city answers it has to do with what policies it puts in place to achieve its answer. Houston routinely says it wants more of the latter ("we want to diversify our economy") while putting in place policies that foster the former ("don't put environmental controls on the refineries because incremental investment may go elsewhere").

The key, as you may remember from your McKinsey days, is what your implicit strategy is vs. your explicit strategy. One can have an explicit strategy, while actually following an implicit strategy that is completely at odds with the stated strategy. In other words, how people live is far more important than what they say.

Houston both implicitly and explicitly encourages sprawl. Everything from our infrastructure expenditures, to the way that we approach policy questions to the average Houstonian's perception of "what Houston is" (versus its statistical reality). We are, in this respect, alone in the list of major US metropolitan areas. Every other major city grows DESPITE DISCOURAGING GROWTH at some level (yes, even "Big D" has zoning laws).

To look at some correlational data and try to draw causal connections is statistically unsupported, at best. As a strategist, not tying it back to a fundamental tenet of strategy (implicit vs. explicit strategy) simply perpetuates a flawed argument when you know better. The economy of scale argument breaks down when you are planning to double the area of your core metro area while adding less than 25% more population (e.g., Grand Parkway and related in-fill development). To say otherwise, and that bigger is better so we must continue pursuing implicit and explicit strategies to which no other city has signed up, beggars belief.

 
At 2:39 PM, February 03, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Comparing the densities of Dallas and Harris counties is not reasonable. Dallas county is much smaller and completely urban. Harris County is much larger, and still has larges swaths of empty rural land, esp. in the northwest area. Houston as a city is actually denser than many other modern cities, because we don't have zoning to force low density (Atlanta, for instance, actually sprawls much more at lower density). We have a lot more townhome, condos, and apartments, relatively speaking, than most cities.

My understanding is that we will be adding more like 50% to our metro population over the next 25 years, yet the metro land area will come nowhere close to doubling - and may even be less than a 50% increase, given the high-density build rates in the core.

 
At 5:07 PM, February 03, 2007, Anonymous bill said...

Tory - I don't get it. Why not look the data up? Wikipedia, at a minimum, tends to agree mostly with the Census Bureau (which can be a trick, given some of the variations in the data for the common reports the Census Bureau puts out).

Let's dive into the numbers:

In 2000, the DFW CMSA had a density of 574 people per square mile. The 2005 estimate was 647 people per square mile. This number is a little suspect since the reported area for DFW actually shrinks from the formal census to the mid-decade update.

In 2000, the Houston CMSA had a density of 606 people per square mile, but by 2005, that estimate was down to 525 people per square mile. In that time, the area in the Houston CMSA grew by almost 31% and the population grew by not quite 12%. How's that for an economy of scale?

For fair reporting, the whole concept of the CMSA/PMSA is one that the Census Bureau is wrestling with and reports inconsistently (e.g., in some cases, LA includes Riverside/San Bernadino and Ventura/Oxnard, in other reports, those are separate). However, none of the other cities in the top 10 CMSAs had the same changes as Houston in the mid-decade update.

If you had visited the Mid-Town or Buckhead areas of Atlanta in the last five years, you would know that they have just as much of a move back to the city center as Houston does (or in Atlanta's case, inside the Perimeter). In Los Angeles, a ca. 1,000sf bungalow in South Central is going for $300k, and in Dallas, the city of Frisco has its own Minor League Baseball team (north of Plano). In fact, I spent a summer there and as soon as several large soybean fields were harvested, the big Caterpillar earth movers seemed to show up the next day to start construction on residential neighborhoods. In other words, I think you may need to get out a bit. :-)

 
At 6:11 PM, February 03, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Densities for Census metro areas are meaningless because a PMSA/CMSA is based on set of counties (and Houston's county set was increased recently, I believe, accounting for your 31% increase in land area). If the county lines happen to match up pretty well with the urbanized area, you get a high density. If you have a situation like Houston, where our urban area barely spills over into the edge of six+ counties, well, all of that land in those counties counts against our density, even though vast amounts of it are essentially rural. For accuracy, you need density of urbanized area (which is a slippery concept in itself), not of counties or MSAs. I myself like to look at the density of the city of Houston itself, because it is almost completely urbanized. That is more indicative of the general density of the metro sprawl (generally around 3,000 per sq.mile).

I don't deny that other cities are getting a "return to the core" too - it's a national phenomena. But in my conversations with knowledgeable people, there seems to be agreement that, in other cities, zoning more aggressively forces large low density areas, effectively forcing demand into a few high-profile, high-density projects (like Atlantic Station or Buckhead in Atlanta, or Victory Park in Dallas). Houston allows density everywhere (apts, townhomes, condos), so they have a lower PR profile (lots of small projects instead of a handful of big projects), but the net density increase is substantial, more than in Atlanta or Dallas I believe.

 
At 7:00 PM, February 03, 2007, Anonymous Robin Holzer said...

Tory, This was an interesting read. Thanks for sharing it! I am mostly with you on your lessons, except for two. First, you said:

So sprawl is ultimately good, because even though it consumes some land and infrastructure resources here, on a net basis, it's ultimately saving more of them from somewhere else.

I take a very different conclusion from their assertion:

"We did indeed find that cities manifest power-law scaling similar to the economy-of-scale relationships observed in biology: a doubling of population requires less than a doubling of certain resources. The material infrastructure that is analogous to biological transport networks—gas stations, lengths of electrical cable, miles of road surface—consistently exhibits sublinear scaling with population."

I read this as saying that in general, city requirements for land and resources do not have to grow as fast as population increases. But "sprawl" is definitionally about growth policies that cause a city's land and infrastructure requirements to grow faster than their population, rather than slower.

The census numbers Bill cited above tell the Houston story pretty plainly: 31% growth in land area for 12% growth in population. Yikes! Our Harris County Commissioners, particularly Radack and Eversole, make a policy of building new roads out into pasture land, inducing development of exurban large lot subdivisions. The cost of this infrastructure goes up faster than our population, and faster than the incremental property tax revenue that will come from the new developments. Harris County sprawl is inefficient, and it is subsidized heavily by urban Harris County tax payers.

The second point I want to mention relates to opportunity zones. You said:

Obviously, to get the benefits of size, you actually have to have the ability to interact with those people (transactions, jobs, etc.), and mobility levels determine whether that's likely or not. As just one example, the average person is willing to commute a half-hour to work, so their job opportunities are limited to that range. The farther they can go in that time, the more opportunities they can access. It also helps to have more people/jobs/density in that commute/mobility/opportunity zone, which is an argument against anti-density regulations or public processes (i.e. "NIMBYs insert sand in gears here").

I am with you that the real driver of opportunity is access to other people. In the exurbs and some suburbs that access may require traveling a distance; but in much of ever-denser Houston, it doesn't. Mobility and the access it brings is increasingly about having more ways to move within the city, whether by foot, bike, transit, or car. So... can we please stop talking about distance? :-)

 
At 7:07 PM, February 03, 2007, Anonymous bill said...

"[..]my conversations with knowledgeable people, there seems to be agreement that, in other cities, zoning more aggressively forces large low density areas, effectively forcing demand into a few high-profile, high-density projects[..]"

"[..]the net density increase is substantial, more than in Atlanta or Dallas I believe."

As I said, there ARE problems with the CMSA definitions, but you have yet to provide the basis on which your belief is based. Sorry, but "knowledgeable people" are not really a substitute for actual data when you are making what should be an easily tested assertion.

For data, we can look at the incorporated limits, we can look at county-level data or we can look CMSAs fairly easily. Somewhere in one of these, the densification data should show-up. If you have a custom data set, I'd love to see it. In fact, you should post it since it would make your case far more compelling. Otherwise, this gets filed in with Iraqi WMDs...

 
At 9:25 PM, February 03, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Bill: the first paragraph of my previous comment clearly states my exact reasoning for why MSAs are problematic. Suddenly, the Census decides, for instance, that Waller county is part of our MSA, and our land area shoots up.

Here's an alternate measure of land area and density that puts us around 3,000/sq.mile, far more than 1,800 for Atlanta or 2,300 for Boston, or even 2,900 for DFW:
http://www.demographia.com/db-worldua.pdf

 
At 9:44 PM, February 03, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Robin:
""sprawl" is definitionally about growth policies that cause a city's land and infrastructure requirements to grow faster than their population, rather than slower."

My understanding of the definition of sprawl is outward development/growth at roughly the same suburban density instead of inward growth to higher urban densities. While sprawl may increase resource needs faster than infill, according to this study, it should still be less than proportional, i.e. you should be able to double your population without actually doubling your road or sewer network, for instance.

I actually don't know enough about the details of new development infrastructure costs vs. tax revenues to know whether our model makes good sense or not. Obviously, there's an initial outflow to build the infrastructure, but then a regular property tax cash flow in the subsequent years (kind of like buying an annuity). In theory, we the existing residents pay for that new infrastructure now (except for the MUDs), but those new residents will be paying to rebuild our worn out infrastructure in future years, when our core infrastructure has reached the end of its useful design life and needs refurbishment/replacement. It would be interesting to see a comprehensive financial model.

I agree the real driver is access to other people, but since 90+% of trips here are in cars, that's the primary way you increase access to people. I have nothing against reasonable expansions for pedestrians, bikes, transit, etc. - but the reality is that their incremental increase in access to people will be minimal (one exception I can think of: commuter bus/van access to job centers at rush hour). A study in LA showed that low income households given a used car had access to *59 times* more job opportunities in the same commute time than using transit. The point-to-point access time of almost any person/job/transaction is almost always going to be faster in a car than any other mode - and that maximizes the opportunity zone for a given amount of time.

 
At 9:48 PM, February 03, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Oh, and Robin: you're welcome, and thanks for the kind words.

 
At 11:59 PM, February 03, 2007, Anonymous Robin Holzer said...

Tory said:

"I agree the real driver is access to other people, but since 90+% of trips here are in cars, that's the primary way you increase access to people."

What does that mean in practice? The question I'm trying to focus on is how should say, Harris County, allocate infrastructure dollars to increase access the most for the most people?

They can and do build new roads into pasture land. It's expensive, and with low-density single-family development it won't benefit very many people.

So go where there are more people, say Greenway Plaza. There are a bunch of people who work and live in Greenway -- 60,000+. How do you allocate the same infrastructure dollars to get the most access benefit? Do you pay to condemn adjacent properties and widen all the streets? Do you build more parking lots? Or do you build pedestrian connections or circulator transit between the high rises? You observe:

"expansions for pedestrians, bikes, transit, etc... their incremental increase in access to people will be minimal (one exception I can think of: commuter bus/van access to job centers at rush hour)"

Exactly. And there are a dozen plus dense activity centers in our region like Greenway. Part of why traffic congestion is worse in Uptown and the TMC than Downtown is that they lack the transit and pedestrian access of downtown.

90+% of Houston trips are in cars in part because we have built most of Houston such that we have no alternative. That means that the best access bang for the buck doesn't always come from building more roads.

Consider that expanding the Katy Freeway is costing us in excess of $100 million per mile for 23 miles, or $2.7 billion. For less than half that, METRO is building five new high-capacity transit lines that I'd wager will serve more people when they're done. The old rule of thumb about highways being the cheapest way to serve the most people don't hold anymore in urban areas.

As our regional growth policies begin to encourage developing more compactly, or focusing growth in existing activity centers, we can leverage the infrastructure savings further. That will not only provide more people more access, but save us tax dollars, too. That's how we'll get the Santa Fe Institute's economy of scale to grow our population faster than our infrastructure costs.

Sprawl growth may be better than no growth at all, but Houston still has a lot of potential for growth that's more efficient than sprawl, and opportunities for new policies to encourage it.

 
At 8:19 AM, February 04, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Harris County building roads to pasture land: after I thought about it last night, this very well may pay off nicely for the county. The developer, via a MUD, creates pretty much all the infrastructure for the development (inc. local roads), and all the county pays for is the main access road (which probably existed anyway - maybe they just pay to widen it a bit). I could definitely see the revenue stream from the development outweighing the direct costs to the county.

I do agree that we should weigh the costs and benefits of different mobility/access investments, and go for the best value. Pedestrian, bike, and transit in high density areas like Greenway and Uptown may very well make a lot of sense.

> Consider that expanding the Katy Freeway is costing us in excess of $100 million per mile for 23 miles, or $2.7 billion. For less than half that, METRO is building five new high-capacity transit lines that I'd wager will serve more people when they're done.

With due respect, I doubt that, esp. if existing bus route riders get removed from the equation (i.e. only measure new ridership from the lines). I'd be curious to hear Christof weigh in if the knows the hard number estimates for both.

> Sprawl growth may be better than no growth at all, but Houston still has a lot of potential for growth that's more efficient than sprawl, and opportunities for new policies to encourage it.

Absolutely.

 
At 7:28 AM, February 05, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I checked into it. The land increase is from our MSA getting redefined from 8 counties to 10 counties, with Austin and San Jacinto counties getting added.

 
At 7:04 PM, February 09, 2007, Anonymous Michael Hynson said...

Mike,

I have lived in Houston, New Orleans, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and Natchez, MS. I have also been to other cities enough for work that I feel that I can include them in this list (Shreveport, LA, Jackson, MS, and a large number of smaller cities/ towns in Louisiana and Miss).

I can tell you from experience that other than the things that are different because of the size difference, they are all basically the same. They all have the same parts of town (downtown, midtown, etc), they all have too much traffic congestion for a city of that size, they all have crime, and the list goes on and on. Take San Francisco. It is one of the most eccentric cities in the country, but still has all of the same attributes as Houston. Just as New Orleans, Austin, Boston, Memphis, and the rest of the "eccentric" cities do.

To say that the towns and cities are different now than they used to be doesn't make much sense. Of course they are different: they have grown, people have moved in, moved out, died, started businesses. The typical things that happen in a city. A city can only do one of two three things: grow, stagnate, or shrink. Growth leads to more (and better) jobs, shrinking leads to less jobs, and stagnation leads to either growth or shrinkage. What sounds the most appealing to you?

Saying that you do not want a city to grow because it will change is like saying that you don't want to get old because your hair will turn grey. It's gonna happen, whether you like it or not. And the alternatives (baldness, death) are not very attractive. Well, a city that doesn't get grey hairs faces the same problems. Well, maybe not baldness, but you get the idea.

The point that I am trying to make here is that cities are going to grow. They have done so since the dawn of civilization. This is a fact. I know that some people do not want to face this fact (especially in small towns), but it is true. Whatever their differences are, they are all the same in the long run. Whether they get annexed by Houston or not, they are still gonna change, while still being the same as every where else.

 
At 7:07 PM, February 09, 2007, Anonymous Michael Hynson said...

"A city can only do one of two three things:"

I used to know how to count... And use the backspace key. Sorry, meant to say three, not two three.

 

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