Thursday, April 10, 2008

Free market urbanism conference, QoL metrics, hypocritical neighborhood activists, and more

Lots of small misc items have been building up - so many I'm going to break them up into two posts. More next week.
  • The CEOs for Cities blog covers 8 quality of life metrics for Houston. Can't really argue. All good stuff (assuming by "Tax Delinquent or Abandoned Lots" they mean ones that have been reclaimed and redeveloped).
  • That same CEOs for Cities blog came to Houston for NCAA tournament basketball and liked Discovery Green, Metro rail, The Menil and CAM. Not so thrilled though with the "express" bus from the airport...
  • Great quote from new blog I found called the Austin Contrarian:

"Among other things, I'll talk about why Austin's neighborhood activists are such enemies of increased density. The short answer, IMHO: they want to maximize home value. I don't know that you can expect anything else, really -- people generally will act to maintain or increase their net worth. But we should be spared the moral posturing. There's nothing noble about asking the city council to crimp the housing supply for your economic benefit. These same neighborhood activists who do their best to limit the supply of housing and drive up home values are also the most vocal advocates of affordable (i.e., subsidized) housing, environmental protection, and the preservation of inner city schools -- all goals perfectly incompatible with their agitation for less density.

These inconsistencies will be one of the main themes of this blog."

Bravo!
  • From that same blog, an analysis shows that Houston doesn't use much more gas than far denser cities, despite our reputation for sprawl, and the assumption that that leads to far more driving and gas consumption.
Finally, and important pass-along from the American Dream Coalition. I will be moderating a panel there on "Houston's Past and Future" Friday night May 16th. Hope to see you there.

In just seven weeks, dozens of the world's leading experts on urban growth and transportation will converge on Houston to talk about housing affordability, traffic congestion, and how freedom and property rights can produce urban livability. I hope you join us at the 2008 Preserving the American Dream Conference.

With no zoning, Houston is the nation's freest and most affordable major city, and the optional tour on Friday, May 16, will show some of the region's beautiful privately planned communities. On Saturday and Sunday, May 17-18, more than 40 experts will talk about such topics as:

* Recovering from the housing crisis
* Problems with ballot-box zoning & form-based codes
* The truth about global warming and peak oil
* The environmental cost of rail transit
* The state of property rights in the U.S.
* How planners are impeding the reconstruction of New Orleans

See http://americandreamcoalition.org/pad08.html for the latest list of speakers and details about how to register.

I know you won't want to miss the greatest national gathering focusing on free-market solutions to urban problems. I hope you can also forward this email or link to your friends and associates who might also be interested.

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25 Comments:

At 7:16 AM, April 11, 2008, Blogger ian said...

". . .the optional tour on Friday, May 16, will show some of the region's beautiful privately planned communities."

Wow! Really, we can go LOOK at the communities? Maybe even a peak inside the model homes?

Who's in whose pocket? Oh, it's Randal O'Toole, in the developers' pocket, that's who!

 
At 8:01 AM, April 11, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

I think the concept of looking at "privately" planned communities is the zoning is not needed to create livable residential areas.

 
At 8:26 AM, April 11, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

ian: you're better than DH1
http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html

This essay has really helped me get a handle on the different types of comments I get on the blog. Fortunately, they're usually at the higher levels.

 
At 9:20 AM, April 11, 2008, Blogger ian said...

:) I almost didn't post it, but it was too tempting!

 
At 10:56 AM, April 11, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Interesting on the gas use analysis. I'd be interested to see the difference between the "typical" user and the "actual" user. The "actual" people I know in Boston, NYC, Chicago, and DC don't even own cars - some of them walk to work. I would find it hard to believe that they use anywhere near the gasoline that I do in my 30 mile round-trip commute.

Also, the authors aren't exactly offering a ringing endorsement of Houston:

"Per capita emissions generally are lowest in Western metropolitan areas and highest in Southern ones. Metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest fall in between these two extremes."

"All told, if the social cost of one ton of carbon dioxide emissions is $43, then the annual environmental damage associated with an additional home in greater Houston is more than $500 greater than the damage for a new home in greater San Francisco."

Car-dependence obviously plays a large role, but often not as large as electricity consumption: The typical Houston MA household emits 3,000 more pounds of CO2 per year from driving than does the typical San Francisco household. But the typical Houston household emits 23,000 more pounds per year than the SF household due to extra electricity use. As we all know, air conditioning is expensive.

I would disagree with their conclusion:
"Our current land-use restrictions tend to stop development in those areas, like California, that are environmentally friendly and to encourage it in areas, like Texas, where households produce more carbon dioxide. Within metropolitan areas, land use restrictions often push development out towards the urban fringe where energy use is highest. Our results do suggest that it makes sense to look for policies that would encourage building in more enviornmentally friendly cities and discourage it in areas that have the greatest carbon dioxide emissions."

I think instead what is needed is massive investment in alternative energy sources. I think we need leadership from the federal government on this issue - what are we waiting for? Do we need to see $200 / barrel oil before we start paying our own citizens to put up solar panels on their homes, and to subsidize energy companies for building more wind / solar installations?

I also think it makes sense to encourage density and energy efficiency across the country, not just to try to get people developing in Portland and San Fran because they have lower energy costs.

 
At 2:41 PM, April 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

michael,

Why would we want the government to pay its citizens to install solar panels? Wouldn't solar panels make a ton of economic sense with oil at $200/barrel (assuming electricity costs also rose)? If they wouldn't make sense at $200/barrel, why the heck should we do this at $100/barrel?

 
At 3:09 PM, April 11, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Anon,

>>Wouldn't solar panels make a ton of economic sense with oil at $200/barrel (assuming electricity costs also rose)?

Short answer: yes.

>>Why would we want the government to pay its citizens to install solar panels?

I believe that government should be in the business of incenting people and businesses to do things that are in the country's best interests. A classic example of this is the cigarrette tax - we know it is really bad for you, so we tax the heck out of every pack. We often regulate where you can smoke. In the long run this will save the US taxpayer money for not having to treat as many cancer patients.

I believe that US energy independence is a national security issue - the areas of the world that we rely on for oil like OPEC nations and Venezuela are not stable and often require diplomatic and military posturing or intervention. As such, I believe it would be perfectly appropriate for the government to do everything in its power to spend money on providing energy independence. The free market can help too, but we didn't rely on only the free market to build atomic weapons, or get us to space first, or to build our interstate highway system. Why rely on only the free market to secure US energy independence?

The government already has tried tax credits for buying fuel efficient cars, and making energy efficient improvements to your home - but IMHO not nearly enough is being done here.

-Mike

 
At 3:32 PM, April 11, 2008, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...

Ian,

Randal O'Toole is in nobody's pocket. For your information, I am paying for the bus (or buses) contract out of my own pocketbook and I am not a real estate developer. I, along with several others, have gone round and round deciding what it is that we are going to show on the bus tour.

The bus tour will start off with showing the pocket park that the City of Houston condemned for Ed Wulfe's mixed use development. From there, we will show highrises and inner loop development, including Washington Avenue. We will tour the Heights area. We will be showing the Ashby Highrise, the port (briefly), the proposed rail alignments, features of a non-zoned city, the I-10 expansion, and then head out to the privately planned development in the afternoon. When we come back, we will pass by Braes Bayou and discuss the $3.8 billion Floodway Ordinance regulatory taking which was done by the City of Houston. One of the victims of the City's regulatory taking, Nancy Wilcox, is on the speakers agenda Saturday afternoon and I would highly suggest that everyone who plans on attending the conference go to listen to her speak. I lobbied to have her put on the speakers list and I got what I wanted.

A word to everyone who reads Tory's blog: Being an activist and fighting the battles I choose to fight is not cheap.

Neal

 
At 4:31 PM, April 11, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

To clarify a messy issue: the US has more than enough coal to be energy independent in electricity, but few are happy about that because of the pollution and carbon implications. Energy independence - which many experts believe to be a fantasy - involves oil. Solar and wind don't help here. It would have to be tar sands, coal-to-liquids, biofuels, and/or additional drilling in the US, inc. Alaska and offshore the east or west coasts (solution: let the states control their coasts and set their own fees and you'll see a rapid change in their attitude).

 
At 4:59 PM, April 11, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>Energy independence - which many experts believe to be a fantasy - involves oil. Solar and wind don't help here.

If by "help", you mean "accomplish 100% energy independence through the use of these sources, within the next 20 years", then I agree with you.

If, on the other hand, by "help", you simply mean "help", as in "help reduce our dependence on foreign oil", then I would have to disagree. We could be doing something like Denmark, where > 20% of electricity now comes from wind turbines. If that doesn't help, I don't know what does.

Like transit, this is not an either or - highways or trains, oil or solar. This is another area where we need a mixed approach - using increasing amounts of wind, solar, geothermal, and decreasing amounts of conventional sources for the foreseeable future.

-Mike

 
At 5:29 PM, April 11, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree solar and wind are good for all sorts of reasons, but because they don't power cars, they don't displace a drop of imported oil.

 
At 7:29 PM, April 11, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>I agree solar and wind are good for all sorts of reasons, but because they don't power cars, they don't displace a drop of imported oil.

Sure they do. In Denmark and Israel I believe, they are using wind power to power electric cars.

In the US, 2009 Saturn will introduce the first plug-in car, followed by the Volt and others in 2010.

-Mike

 
At 8:56 PM, April 11, 2008, Blogger Brian Shelley said...

>>Energy independence - which many experts believe to be a fantasy - involves oil.

Additionally, as I have urged before, the U.S. could exchange a larger allocation of citizenships/work visas to Mexico to incent them to pass more significant liberalization of Pemex. Their lack of capital and technology is leaving billions of barrels of oil in the ground and off the Mexican coast. Politically speaking I think it would pass because none of the xenophobic people I know have said that they object to this idea.

 
At 7:09 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger ian said...

"I agree solar and wind are good for all sorts of reasons, but because they don't power cars, they don't displace a drop of imported oil."

It seems like we were just debating about whether or not high oil prices would get people to move closer into town and use transit. . .and I seem to remember your response being No, because plug-in technology is right around the corner (2010?).

So if plug-in vehicles are going to save us from having to use transit and to bicycle everywhere (Heaven forbid!) don't we need some way to power them? Sure, we've got plenty of coal, but that's dirty, nasty stuff. We can scrub it, but that's pretty expensive technology. I have a sneeking suspicion that a better, cleaner, cheaper long-term solution would be to invest in renewables.

. . .and transit and bike lanes ;)

 
At 8:22 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Plug-ins are right around the corner, but of course they will be a small portion of the fleet for quite a long time. They'll displace the same amount of oil no matter where their electricity comes from (the energy independence goal). I'm absolutely for renewables like wind and solar (as I said). I'm just pointing out there's a distinct difference between energy independence and environmental goals. Wind and solar have a very good impact on environmental goals, but essentially no impact on energy independence.

 
At 9:17 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9:26 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>Wind and solar have a very good impact on environmental goals, but essentially no impact on energy independence.

This seems to depend on how much wind and solar capacity is invested in and generated, no? If Denmark achieves between 20-30% of their energy needs with wind, it is clearly possible. If you are going to equate 20-30% "energy independence" with "no impact", then we can agree to disagree.

 
At 9:28 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger ian said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9:35 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger ian said...

Getting 20-30% of our electricity from renewables will only help with energy (oil) independence if we can power our cars with that electricity. After all, most of our electricity is already domestically produced, right?

But as Tory pointed out, it's going to be quite awhile before the nationwide fleet is replaced completely with plug-in hybrids.

So if we replace our electricity sources with renewables, we're doing good for the environment, but not much for energy independence. If we invest in tar pits and offshore drilling, we're helping with energy independence, but not doing so much for the environment. I guess that's the trade-off, until we can ween our technology off of oil. . .

 
At 9:56 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Ian,

>>So if we replace our electricity sources with renewables, we're doing good for the environment, but not much for energy independence.

What if we replaced oil with renewable plug-ins and a wind energy infrastructure to power them? In addition, what if we invested in a wind / solar infrastructure instead of drilling in Alaska etc. for our conventional electricity needs? This is similar to what Denmark is doing. It is possible. And the technology just keeps getting better.

>>But as Tory pointed out, it's going to be quite awhile before the nationwide fleet is replaced completely with plug-in hybrids.

That is why the government can step in and coerce everyone to buy a new technology. Switching from a car which uses oil to any domestically produced energy source is in the national interest, IMHO. However, even better would be switching from oil to clean domestically produced energy.

-Mike

 
At 10:08 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger ian said...

I agree that ideally we'd all be driving plug-in hybrids using clean energy. But are you sure coercion is the way to get there? On small things like compact flourescent lightbulbs is one thing -- but a new car based on new technology is not going to be cheap, and a lot of people aren't going to want to be forced to make a $20k purchase. This is the culture that spends tons of money on lottery tickets, when the far smarter thing to do would be to invest that money. Even with gas at $4 or $5/gallon, many people will continue paying that even though a hybrid with high up-front costs might pay off relatively quickly.

 
At 11:53 AM, April 14, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

Ian,

>>and a lot of people aren't going to want to be forced to make a $20k purchase

I don't mean that the government should force people to buy plug-in cars. I would like it, however, if the government would:

- give more breaks and research grants to GM and others to make more plugins and alternative vehicles available on the marketplace sooner
- give more tax breaks to buyers of these cars over the next 5-10 years, so that adoption increases faster than if it were purely market driven
- new taxes and registration fees and other surcharges on conventional cars and trucks to fund these breaks, as well as public transportation

Some of these efforts can help ensure that when the consumer goes to buy another car, cars like the Prius or Volt are not avoided simply because of their higher up-front cost. Indeed, these may end up being the cheapest options on the lot instead of the most expensive. I think the adoption rates would already be much higher if the federal government were already helping out.

I would want to be doing similar things to energy companies on the energy production / research side, so that we are plugging our cars into a clean energy supply.

This is not really revolutionary stuff. See what Californians are considering Also, I don't think the green energy ideas are that far off from what the Democratic presidential candidates are espousing on the campaign trail.

-Mike

 
At 1:01 PM, April 14, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

Whatever happen to choice and freedom?

What Michael is suggesting is pure nanny state concepts. It frightens me a lot that people have this train of thought. It goes against the principles that founded this country. People need to start reading out constitution and the early writings of our founding fathers. They will see how far we have strayed from the original concept of the US since the 1930s.

Where do people see right of taking my money to push concepts that have already had billions invested and produced little results.

Wind and solar energies are great, but they won't replace other forms such as coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, etc. that can produce volumes of power we need.

Why is oil such a bad thing? We have more oil than we know what do with on this planet. Oil is the engine of prosperity and is the soul reason our great quality of life exists today. Oil is just a convenient target because it's so prominent in our lives. Just like Wal-Mart (Target and K-Mart do the same things as Wal-Mart but doesn't get blamed).

And the carbon argument is getting really old. Such a baseless argument that real science has shown to be false, that the IPCC has backtracked on, that scientists daily are changing their minds on. Carbon is no less a pollutant than oxygen and water vapor. It's simple second grade science. How can the elementary element of life be deemed as such an evil?

Also, all Prius drivers should be thanking all the Toyota Trucks and SUVs out there. The Toyota Trucks and SUVs allowed the development of the Prius at a profit loss by being such a good selling segment. Toyota is also a big lobbyist of stopping the raising of fuel standards along with GM and other automakers.

The development of hybrids was in no way to chart a new path in car development, but the realization that there is certain group of people that can be duped in to believing they are making a difference. It's the free market and a marketing campaign to sell it to people that absolutely need to show everybody else that they care.

 
At 1:20 PM, April 14, 2008, Blogger ian said...

Hey KJB, try breathing some nice, pure carbon monoxide. It's simple second grade science, after all -- carbon is everywhere, therefore it can't possibly be harmful, in any form whatsoever!

Sheesh.

And you're absolutely right -- Toyota goes out of its way to produce automobiles that don't return a profit. Such wise business strategies as these have helped it climb to the top of automobile sales.

(I'm getting paranoid, Tory -- do these even get close to DH4?)

 
At 11:43 PM, April 15, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding Tory’s statement that “the US has more than enough coal to be energy independent in electricity”… this is actually not so if we are looking at a time period of more than just a decade.

Forecasts by the USGS in 2000 and by L-B-Systemtechnik GmbH in 2006 state that America’s coal production is expected to peak in about two decades, perhaps a bit less. Beyond this point, while demand is likely to continue to increase, supply will not be able to match demand, and we will spend more money chasing lesser-quality or harder-to-reach reserves. Thus, “peak coal”.

In 2007, the National Research Council published a report entitled “Coal: Research and Development to Support a National Energy Policy” (available through the National Academies Press) in which they stated that “there is sufficient coal at current rates of production to meet anticipated needs through 2030.” The key phrase is “current rates of production,” because if we increase our rate of production – which is quite likely unless global warming concerns or a drastically different global economic picture changes that – then that date of 2030 slides much closer. Even at a growth rate of 3% per annum for coal, 2030 becomes about 2025. This puts the NRC report in-line with the above-referenced sources.

There are plenty of other forecasts out there. The Energy Watch Group Report of 2007 places the peak of global coal production in the 2025-2030 range. China’s peak is actually almost upon us – it will likely be between 2010-2015.

So, we only have enough coal to be energy independent in electricity on a long-term basis if our consumption falls dramatically (which hopefully would be through efficiency improvements and not economic decline).

 

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