Hou vs. NOLA, Google maps adds Hou street views, homebuyer prefs, CA vs. TX housing cost drivers, commuter rail, transit safety, and moreI'm heading to Orange County, CA for my brother's wedding until Monday, so no posts for a few days. In the meantime, here is a long post of misc smaller items with a lot of links to keep you busy for a while:
- Google maps has added parts of Houston to it's new street views service. Go there, go to Houston, and then click the Street View button to see the roads in blue that have them. Pretty cool. Surprisingly, it even has some pretty good chunks of Galveston, although not much of the seawall, for some odd reason. Google obviously thinks highly of Houston, since we're one of the first 9 cities to get street views, before Chicago, Seattle, Boston, DC, Austin, or Dallas.
- A fascinating in-depth story from New Orleans comparing themselves to Houston in the energy business: "What's Houston got that N.O. doesn't? Plenty"
"Houston has 501 public companies and 915 public and private energy firms. The New Orleans region has just 11 public companies, and the local energy sector comprises 45 public and private firms, according to an analysis by the energy-focused investment firm Howard Weil. That mass of companies makes it difficult for an oil and gas company to do business anywhere but Houston.
"We make it about New Orleans, but it's not really about New Orleans. It's about Houston," said Jeff Parker, president of Howard Weil, which is based in New Orleans. "Houston is the Mecca of the oil business. It is strategically the most important city in the U.S., and probably around the world, as far as the energy business is concerned."
...Houston had an edge on New Orleans because it had a more business-friendly environment and a better public school system. "Houston was just a better market to operate and live," Bennett said.
...a combination of factors makes Houston the hub that it is.
"How do you define vibrant? You just feel it, you sense it," Bennett said.
In Houston, energy is "the thing," said Al Petrie, a New Orleans energy consultant. "It's the heart of the city." About half the city's 2.2 million jobs are related to the energy industry.
Many executives talk about the "deal flow" in Houston, where prospects are traded at lunch and customers are picked up during casual conversations. Briggs, of the oil and gas association, likens it to the financial activity and camaraderie of Wall Street.
...Houston continues to grow just because other companies are there, Bennett said.
"It's feeding on itself," he said. "It's kind of like a good college football team that is consistently good. As long as you have a good honest program, recruits just walk in the door. The same thing happens in Houston; it attracts the best talent."
- An interesting stat on preferences in a Sydney op-ed about their overpriced housing from government development restrictions (thanks to Hugh for the link).
"Making more cheap land available on the fringes would also relieve the pressure for people to live in flats. Research by Patrick Troy of the Australian National University shows 85 per cent of people living in flats would rather live in freestanding homes. So they are denied the lifestyle that Australians have traditionally had, and which most of us ought still have an opportunity to enjoy."
Reinforces that the desire for high-density living is a niche lifestyle, and nowhere near a majority (as I've heard claimed from time to time). Note that that 85% is of people already living in flats, not of the entire population - so the true single-family home preference percentage would be much higher once you add in everyone already living in a detached home - and, conversely, the overall percentage of the population who want to live in dense flats is far less than 15%.
- Randal O'Toole on why it costs so much more to build a house in California vs. Texas (specifically San Jose vs. Dallas). It's not just the land, but permitting, labor, and impact fees. Check it out for the break down.
- Christof has an excellent post on when commuter rail makes sense, and when it doesn't (such as in Houston, for the most part). I do have one minor quibble: "Caltrain stands out. It’s been around for a long time, too, but it’s experienced dramatic ridership growth in recent years: 18,000 in 1985, 32,800 today." 2.8% annual growth over 22 years doesn't seem very dramatic to me, but quite modest, especially when compared to the overall growth in Silicon Valley since 1985. Remember, we're talking about a time span between the first and second golden ages of Steve Jobs and Apple here... and that's a very long time in tech years.
- Christof also summarizes the draft environmental impact statement for Metro's proposed Universities light rail line.
- One of the factors I don't discuss much in why people choose cars over transit is safety, specifically from crime. I've always thought the crime argument was a bit overblown, and that transit was perfectly safe. As a large, tall male, personal safety is not something I think about much. But then I come across this freakishly scary headline/stat on Drudge that makes me rethink my whole notion of transit safety, especially since my oldest stepdaughter is interning in New York this summer. In fact, she called me on one recent night a little shaken up, because a man had been shot in the face at her Brooklyn subway stop right before she arrived.
60% of riders say sexually harassed on NY City subways...
"...asked commuters how often someone sexually attacked or harassed them in the subway, and found frightening results. More than 60 percent of those who responded to the online study said they were sexually harassed and 10 percent said they'd been sexually assaulted."
"This whole notion of what happens underground stays underground is just not acceptable anymore," Stringer said. "Instead of fighting back, people have become afraid or believe that nothing can be done."
Rush hour was particularly perilous for harassment and attacks, according to Stringer's survey of more than 2,000 people. Almost all victims did not report the crime to police or Metropolitan Transportation Authority personnel.
- A good blog post on the purpose of cities, which supports some of the themes in Opportunity Urbanism.
- The Economist on rising problems in Phoenix, which I consider one of Houston's major high-growth competitor cities. It should serve as a warning to us not to take our eye off the basics of congestion relief, crime, and education.
- In the category of "transit is better in theory for others than in reality for yourself" department, an amusing expose by the NY Times on billionaire Mayor Bloomberg's supposed transit commute to work:
He is public transportation’s loudest cheerleader, boasting that he takes the subway “virtually every day.” He has told residents who complain about overcrowded trains to “get real” and he constantly encourages New Yorkers to follow his environmentally friendly example.
But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s commute is not your average straphanger’s ride.
On mornings that he takes the subway from home, Mr. Bloomberg is picked up at his Upper East Side town house by a pair of king-size Chevrolet Suburbans. The mayor is driven 22 blocks to the subway station at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, where he can board an express train to City Hall. His drivers zip past his neighborhood station, a local subway stop a five-minute walk away.
That means Mr. Bloomberg — whose much-discussed subway rides have become an indelible component of his public image — spends a quarter of his ostensibly subterranean commute in an S.U.V.
Being driven to the 59th Street station shaves about a third off the mayor’s commuting time, based on a reporter’s test runs. It also saves him aggravations others cannot avoid, like taking the local and transferring to the express....
Mr. Bloomberg’s use of the subway to get to work appears to have declined over time. In January 2002, he reported taking the train all but one day of his first three weeks. Nowadays, it appears, the S.U.V. is his primary mode of transportation. Based on the reporters’ observations, the mayor took the subway to work about twice a week.
- Some great stats on Houston's boom from the latest Greater Houston Partnership report:
"Among the nation’s 12 most populous Metropolitan Statistical Areas, the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown MSA had the fastest job growth over the 12 months ending June ’07, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Houston’s 3.1 percent gain narrowly topped 2.9 percent in second-ranked Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington. Only three others of the remaining 10 grew faster than the nation’s 1.4 percent job growth." (and only barely above that)
"August Trivium — Ten years ago, in ’97, the value of building permits issued by the City of Houston in the entire year was $2.42 billion. This year, the value of building permits issued by the City of Houston in the first half of the year was $2.88 billion."
- Finally, ending with a little humor: The Onion has an amusing parody of Barry Bonds' chase of the home run record, but instead with a Houston twist: "Craig Biggio Blames Media Pressure For Stalling At 285 Hit-By-Pitches"