Nashville vs. Houston vs. coasts, TX beats Krugman, our 6th anniversary, and more
Just a few smaller misc items to pass along this week:
- How's this for amusing? The new 2010 Census population-weighted center of the United States is Texas County, Missouri! How's that for a sign of where the population is moving? And it gets better: guess the county seat of Texas County, MO? Houston! Both named in 1845 after the new Republic of Texas and Sam Houston, our first president. If you believe in those sorts of things, you could interpret it as an interesting omen of where the action will be in the next decade+... ;-)
- This post devastates Paul Krugman's column attacking education in Texas vs. more unionized Wisconsin. It turns out when you directly compare racial groups, Texas does quite a bit better than Wisconsin. Wisconsin only looks better on the surface because of their demographics. Hat tip to Packy.
- A great quote from a review in The Economist of Ed Glaeser's new book on cities:
He sees it as an indictment of planning that spreading Houston has “done a better job of providing affordable housing than all of the progressive reformers on America’s East and West coasts.”
- First, as I previously noted, is the extremely high ambition level. These guys are clearly looking at places like Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte, etc. and saying “Why not us?” Their mission is to become one of America’s great cities. There’s no “era of limits” in Nashville. You see this come through, for example, in their convention center plans, which call for 1.2 million square feet. It comes through in their highways, which are being built 8-10 lanes with HOV lanes, as if getting ready to become the much bigger city they plan to be. It shows in the numerous residential high rise and midrise projects. It shows in how Nashville, unlike every comparable Midwest metro, already has a commuter rail line in service. Midwesterners recoil from change, and would view becoming the next Charlotte or Atlanta with horror. But Nashville is eager to move up to the premier league, so to speak.
- Second is the unabashedly pro-growth and pro-business stance. Every development in the Midwest is opposed by some group of NIMBY’s. Densification, even in downtown areas, is often anathema to influential neighbors. Not in Nashville. Huge tracts of inner city are being rebuilt from vacant lots or single family homes into multi-story town houses or condos. There are midrises all over the place. It does not appear that development has any problem getting approved there.
- Third is low taxes and costs. Tennessee does not have a state income tax. Electricity from the TVA is dirt cheap. Property taxes cannot be increased without a public vote. It remains to be seen if this environment can be sustained, but for right now, cost appears to be an advantage.
- Fourth is that they’ve embraced instead of rejecting their heritage. Rather than saying that country music is for hillbillies and an embarrassment to their new ambitions as a big league city, they’ve proudly embraced it. They updated the image with a glitzy, “Nashvegas” spin and made it the core of what Nashville is all about. Most Midwestern elites seem to view their existing heritage negatively. But great cities have to spring from the native soil in which they are born. Their character has to be organic. Import all the fancy stores, restaurants, sports teams, transit lines, etc. you want, but it won’t distinguish your city. Nashville learned this lesson well, probably from Atlanta. The southern boomtowns took their existing Southern heritage, dropped the negative items that needed to be changed, updated the core positive elements, and created the vision of the “New South”. This is something that can be embraced by the masses, unlike the elitist transformations that are often promulgated.
- Fifth is that, again, they appear to have studied the lessons of places like Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, etc. They’ve seen the need for freeways. They’ve looked at the style of development and the neo-traditional urban form. I was very impressed to see that there while most condo developments and such were fairly undistinctive, I did not note any that exhibited poor urban design form. When I consider the poorly designed projects that are frequently implemented in, say, downtown Indianapolis, it is easy to see who gets out more. Nashville has done its homework.
- Sixth, Nashville is realistic and open to self-criticism without being self-flagellating. I posted my previous take on the city on a discussion forum dedicated to that city. Given the modestly negative tone contained in much of it, I expected to get crucified. Surprisingly, most of them basically agreed with it. Too many cities in the Midwest either engage in naive boosterism or wallow in woe-is-us. Perhaps because of the large number of newcomers, there’s a more realistic assessment of where Nashville stands. And this enables rational decisions about where it needs to go.
Finally, I'd like to close with an acknowledgement of Houston Strategies' 6th anniversary
. It's been a great six years, and I hope to keep it going as long as ya'll keep reading me. As always, thanks for your readership.
Labels: affordability, census, economic strategy, education, home affordability, mobility strategies, opportunity urbanism, perspectives, planning