Friday, June 20, 2008

"Anti-Paris" Houston #1 and #4, commutes and transit, toll policy, school choice, poverty, and more

Sorry for the late post this week. Busy, busy. Some smaller items to pass along:
From Randal:

Portland isn’t on the list...

Three of the cities are in Texas, two are in the Midwest, two in North Carolina, two in Colorado, and one in Idaho. None (except possibly Boise and Ft. Collins) have done much to attract the “creative class.” None (except possibly Ft. Collins) have done much “smart growth.”

Okay, these lists are pretty meaningless. But at least some reporters seem to have figured out that housing affordability, freedom, and mobility count for more than having streetcars and coffee shops in high-density apartment buildings.

  • Texas is the #1 destination for people leaving CA. I've certainly noticed more of their license plates around lately.
  • Loved this quote from a recent Chronicle front page story saying more people would move here if they could sell their current homes elsewhere in the country:

    Some companies are facing the opposite problem: They can't get homeowners to leave Houston. Jamie Belinne, assistant dean of career services at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, said one high-tech recruiter recently complained that he's having trouble talking the newly minted graduates into moving to California.

    They get sticker shock, said Belinne. In Houston, "you can still get a lot of house in a decent neighborhood for not very much money."

  • Lisa Gray's column on Houston as the "anti-Paris." Maybe the Houston style will become known as the "Even Newer Urbanism"?... ;-)
  • A local blogger points out some inconsistencies in the way Metro's blogger portrays rail transit spending vs. long commute times:
    Atlanta has spent more than Dallas and Houston combined on rail transit. Both Dallas and Houston are larger cities. Yet the traffic in Atlanta is worse?

    Maybe the reason the commuting situation in Houston is better (and about to get a LOT better) than places like Atlanta and Dallas is because we spent more on roads and freeways and good bus service to get commuters from home to work and less on cute trains to get a handful of people from Destination A to Destination B along a very narrow corridor. Just a guess.

    And for those who think $4 gas will mean the end of suburbia and a renaissance of urban living for families, I have eight words for you: Commuters will just get more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Great Adjustment is already happening.
    Hat tip to Josh.
  • Good toll policy decisions by the Texas Transportation Commission and TXDoT, with my personal favorite in bold:

    The commission unanimously agreed that all Texas highways will be owned by the state, not private developers; that the state may buy back the interest of a private road developer; that only expansions to existing highways will be tolled and existing free lanes won't be reduced; and that "non-compete clauses" will be banned, meaning no state contract will limit improvements to nearby existing roads.

    The order also calls for an attempt to minimize disturbing private property and to consider using existing rights of way for roads.

  • Great quote from Brian, one of my favorite local libertarian bloggers:
    So if school choice lowers the drop out rate, which I believe it does, then income inequality will decline. Interesting how a free market system accomplishes the goals of socialism better than socialism.
  • And another one:
"If you are noticing any correlation to politics, so did I. Eight of the ten states that experienced the most rapid declines in poverty over the last 20 years voted for George Bush. Eight of the ten states with the worst increases or least declines over the last twenty years voted for John Kerry. How interesting that states tending to the right are better at reducing poverty than states tending to the left."

Given the popular stereotypes that Democrats are more focused on alleviating poverty than Republicans, this result is completely counter-intuitive. Would love to hear your thoughts on why in the comments.
More next week. Have a great weekend.

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9 Comments:

At 7:29 PM, June 20, 2008, Blogger lockmat said...

I personally can't say I've seen any California license plates, but I have seen a lot of Louisiana plates up and down the north freeway.

 
At 10:40 PM, June 20, 2008, Anonymous RedScare said...

Nope, haven't seen a one lately. But, hey, it sounds good!

 
At 2:10 AM, June 21, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>"If you are noticing any correlation to politics, so did I. Eight of the ten states that experienced the most rapid declines in poverty over the last 20 years voted for George Bush. Eight of the ten states with the worst increases or least declines over the last twenty years voted for John Kerry. How interesting that states tending to the right are better at reducing poverty than states tending to the left."

Given the popular stereotypes that Democrats are more focused on alleviating poverty than Republicans, this result is completely counter-intuitive. Would love to hear your thoughts on why in the comments.


What were the starting points? I would certainly hope that rural Alabama or Appalachia are catching up to more advanced areas in terms of poverty levels - they should - the rising tide of the last 50 years should be raising all boats. What is more telling is that most of the states that vote Democrat pay much more than $1 for every $1 their states receive in federal money, yet most conservative states receive more than $1 for every federal tax dollar. It would make more sense for conservative states to vote with the "tax and spend" party in order to get more money.

And as for the commute times, gee - Atlanta and Houston are both at right around 55 hours of delay per person. I would say that neither transit strategy has solved the problem of congestion or transit times. Both areas need much more transit in my opinion. It still won't make trips faster necessarily, but it will cut down on the overall cost, and allow more convenient and stress-free traveling for closer to 100% of the population.

As for Austin contrarian, I think he misses the point. Houston will not become like Paris in terms of overall buildout. But, some parts of Houston like the outer fringes of Pearland, Katy, Sugar Land, will experience what was once known as "white flight" as those that can move into the city or closer in areas. Services and functions like rapid transit, high density living, and walkable urban areas that were once thought of as "too New York" or "too European" for Houston are now becoming the norm. To me, that is a very important shift. Young middle and upper class people these days do not necessarily dream of living in the suburbs as their parents did before them. The cities that result will look virtually nothing like the suburbia and exurbia of the 80's and 90's.

 
At 7:38 AM, June 21, 2008, Anonymous John said...

Ah, the antiplanner; admitting that a list is pretty much meaningless and then attributing great meaning to what's on the list. It's good for comic relief.

The "it's not Paris" piece was interesting. When I spent time in Paris a few years ago, I enjoyed that absolute un-Houston-ness of it; Paris is fantastic in its ways, as Houston is in its, and they are utterly different. Which is good, and is an example of the silliness of the debate over whether Paris-type or Houston-type cities are "better." They both are, at different things, for different people, based on different priorities.

Which is why there are lots of people moving to Houston, and at the same time incredible demand for real estate in New York and San Francisco.

Which is why those lists are so dumb. Houston is an awful place to live for some people, as are New York and Paris for others.

I'm with the Bonnets, though; my love for New York has faded because I feel like I'm in a lesser London when I'm there (to pick the absolutely un-Houstonian city that I love most).

It would be nice, of course, to get over the idea that we have to figure out the One Best Way for a city to work and focus on how to take what we've got in our existing cities and make it all work better.

 
At 2:38 PM, June 21, 2008, Blogger AC said...

Michael,

You've missing my point, I think. My post was about the effect of gas prices.

I recognize (and applaud) the densification we're seeing today. But demand for a denser, mixed-use environment surged long before gas prices rose.

My point is that the knee-jerk assumption that gas prices will devastate suburban home prices is probably wrong for some places -- such as Houston -- where employment is generally diffused across the metropolitan area. The theory that transportation costs determine land costs assumes a monocentric city, and younger sun-belt cities such as Houston don't fit the model.

 
At 3:47 PM, June 21, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

AC,

>>My point is that the knee-jerk assumption that gas prices will devastate suburban home prices is probably wrong for some places -- such as Houston -- where employment is generally diffused across the metropolitan area. The theory that transportation costs determine land costs assumes a monocentric city, and younger sun-belt cities such as Houston don't fit the model.

If you've read this blog for long, you'd know that Houston's employment centers are actually more dense than Chicago. For all practical purposes, Downtown to the Med Center and out to the Galleria is a pretty compact urban core and a job center of >500k.

Furthermore, in this day and age of people changing jobs every 5 years (or more frequently), if someone wants to live in a city for a long period of time, it is beginning to make more sense to consider the central areas of the city. Work in the energy corridor one day and Clear Lake the next - that's probably OK if you live in the Heights. But it sucks if you live in Sealy.

Mathematically speaking, just because you do not have one circle but rather a network of overlapping circles, the central point of the overall circle is still going to have a high, if not the highest, value.

You are correct that high gas prices by themselves have not caused this trend. But they are pretty powerful reinforcement.

-Mike

 
At 6:47 PM, June 21, 2008, Blogger AC said...

500K is a lot of jobs, but it's only 20% of the total metro employment, and that's what matters. Few in Houston are very far from a major employment center.

I expect people will move closer to work. If rising gas prices aren't being converted into lower property values, then moving closer to work is necessary to cut commuting costs. But in a polycentric city like Houston, you'll have people moving in all directions, not just toward the inner loop. That will smooth out the demand curve.

But here's the acid test: What's happening to home prices or, better, rents in Houston's suburbs? Falling? Bloggers are pointing to falling prices in the D.C. exurbs as proof that rising gas prices will cripple the 'burbs. The same ought to be happing in Houston, too, if it fits that model. (Rents are a better guide than home prices because of the confounding effect of the credit crunch/subprime mess.) Tory is always touting the stability of Houston home prices. I haven't looked for any data, though; maybe Sugar Land is hurting after all.

Finally, I hope no one thinks I'm slamming Houston. I lived there for a couple of years after law school. (In fact, I worked for Bill White right before he left private practice.) I like the place.

 
At 7:35 AM, June 22, 2008, Blogger John said...

It's not just gas prices. Energy costs affect a lot of other things, including the cost of building larger homes and air conditioning them. I wouldn't be surprised if we see people start to question the value of "excess" square footage, especially when it starts to constrain their location choices within their price range for a home. ("Excess" being in the eye of the beholder, of course.)

I won't be surprised if more people start considering that a 2,200 square foot house is cheaper to maintain than a 3,200 square foot house, and when purchasing gives them a wider choice of locations.

 
At 2:40 AM, June 23, 2008, Anonymous Abram said...

Good points all, John. Houston has a lot of unique qualities, and while I'm supportive of a lot of the already-occuring changes (densification of older neighborhoods, light-rail expansion) I think the attempts to make Houston more like other "livable" cities are horribly misguided.

I've lived in Portland, Oregon and I wouldn't take it over Houston even if the housing costs were identical.

 

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