Monday, November 26, 2012

Reducing gang violence in Houston

Today is a guest post by Jay Wall based on this Wall Street Journal article (alternate link).

Chicago is undergoing a rash of gang violence. Democrat Mayor Rahm Emanuel, choose Garry McCarthy (formerly Chief of the Newark Police Department, formerly with the NYPD) to be his new Chief of Police. McCarthy in turn has turned to David Kennedy to help stymie gang violence in Chicago.

Kennedy is a self-taught, public safety academic and criminal street gang expert whose data, evidence, and crime reduction tactics reduced the homicide rate in Boston and scores of other American cities.  He has nearly three decades of boots-on-the-ground experience working with criminal street gang members in their own neighborhoods and recently published “Don’t Shoot.”

On Wednesday, July 11, 2012, Kennedy spoke to a small group of Houstonians dedicated, in practice and profession, to smart and effective public safety policy about the data-based truisms discovered in his first national effort, Operation Ceasefire.

During the blood-soaked 90’s, the American homicide rate was still soaring, fueled by gang crime and ‘group-based’ violence.  Operation Ceasefire was a Harvard-based/policing/publicity program created by Kennedy that became the baseline for community-based gang violence prevention programming.  It has since been adopted to some degree in 70 American cities, the latest being Chicago.  The initial data and findings published by Kennedy while at Harvard have held true to date and are replicable, where the public will exist to modify tried and failed anti-gang policing tactics.

The program premise is simple:
  1. When it comes to violent crimes, especially homicides, a very small number of gang/’group’ members are responsible for a large and disproportionate number of killings; 
  2. Gang-related homicides are not random; they are motivated by personal disputes and the rivalry inherent in gang culture making them predictable; 
  3. Crimes that are predictable can be prevented; 
  4. Intentional dissemination of the anti-gang plan to gang members results in ‘self’ deterrence; 
  5. Communities needed to and would support gang members who sought return to lawful society through education, employment, etc. 
Enter Mr. Kennedy’s think tank, the Center for Crime Prevention and Control, which provides basic analytical and tactical services and support required to affect an anti-gang plan. The cost of Kennedy’s groups services to implement a policy package here in Houston, Texas: approximately $150 - $250k.  The value:  Priceless.  It’s time Houston, with one of the highest homicide rates in the nation, 50% gang-related, sat up and took notice of the enormous cost in lives and in tax revenue caused by ignoring gang crime.  Isn't it time our community adopted the nation’s proven best practices for crime fighting at the lowest cost possible?


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Everything you wanted to know about the Port

Last week I got to attend a Houston Economics Club luncheon with Captain William Diehl speaking as the President of the Greater Houston Port Bureau.  He not only showed us a very impressive real-time Google Earth image with every ship anywhere near Houston (zoom, pan, flyover - all very cool), but also rolled off a string of impressive facts about the Port:
  • Houston is the #1 most active U.S. port with ~8,000 ship movements per year.  NOLA is #2 at ~6,800, and both LA and NYC are in the ~4,000 range.
  • Houston is #2 in tonnage just behind New Orleans, although they implied that NOLA might be doing a little double counting as ships move up and down the Mississippi to and from Baton Rouge.  Texas City is #10 nationally.
  • Galveston moves ~1 million cruise passengers a year, and mints money off of the parking for those cruises.  Houston recently secured a couple of new cruise ship contracts for the $108m white elephant Bayport terminal.
  • Galveston Bay is only 12 feet deep, but they have to dredge the channel to 45 feet deep.  Evidently they need $50m a year to keep up the dredging, and send $130m a year in fees to the Feds to do it, but the Feds only send back $20m a year to do the job - much less allocate enough for us to deepen the channel to open it up to larger ships.  So, yes, the Federal government is screwing Texas, again.
  • 70% of the the containers coming through the Gulf of Mexico go to or from Houston.  I was surprised to hear that the imports almost exclusively serve Houston, San Antonio, and Austin - nothing further inland.  Even Dallas gets their containers by rail from LA.  There is some thought we could seize that opportunity with more rail capacity north to Dallas, but the railroads are resisting because they make more money moving containers longer distances from LA.
  • Unlike many other major U.S. ports, Houston has lots of room to grow, and this has been and continues to be attractive to big shippers.
  • Houston handles 200,000 barge movements a year.  Those barges go all over the eastern U.S. using the inter-coastal waterway and the river network.
  • 96% of all imported Volkswagens come through Houston, many from Mexico in addition to Germany.  If you've ever driven northbound over the 610 Ship Channel Bridge and wondered about the giant parking lot with thousands of cars to your left, that's what it is.
  • 60% of the Port's business is petrochemicals.  Cheap natural gas is rapidly growing that business with $10 billion in new projects, while increased domestic oil production is reducing import tankers.
  • The Panama Canal expansion will allow 8,000 TEU ships instead of 4,500 TEU ships, which means much bigger ships with lower prices per TEU will be calling on Houston, although probably not more numbers of ships.  It will also enable the export of more petrochemicals to Asia.
  • Houston and Texas manufactures enough products we can actually fill quite a few containers for return trips to Asia, which is an advantage over CA ports, where ships often return empty.
If that's not enough for you, you can read more about the Port here, here, and here, as well as take a boat tour here.  It's truly an impressive asset for Houston, albeit one most of us non-eastsiders are rarely aware of.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

U-line bus, Houston advantages, survey on our future, #1 for parks, TX vs. CA humor, and more

After the Metro referendum last week tabled any more light rail in the near-term, we're stuck with my prediction-come-true: we (more than) used up our resources on the less valuable lines and left the most important one, Universities, unbuilt.  Sigh.  What Metro now needs to seriously consider is matching Uptown and implementing the Universities line in the near term as some sort of signature bus or BRT: special buses, same stops as the U-line was planned to have.  Let the ridership build, and if it ever gets saturated, then we'll know it's time to consider an LRT upgrade (I'm skeptical, but it's possible). Update: front page Chronicle story on Metro's new emphasis on improving bus service.

Moving on to the big backlog of smaller items...
  • Lesson from Hurricane Sandy: underground power lines/infrastructure is not a panacea when flooding is a risk.  It was a big topic around here after Ike until the incredible costs were considered.  Now we know they're not only costly, the benefits are dubious.
  • If you're interested in the future of the Astrodome, join/like the Astrodome Tomorrow Facebook Group.
  • Interesting Freakonomics story sent to me by Chris on mass transit and the environment (i.e. energy use and CO2 generation).  Bottom line: transit doesn't help if it has low ridership (and can actually be worse than cars), so we're better off encouraging ridership of existing transit and carpools than creating new transit (which is likely to be even less efficient with lower ridership).
  • Great article on planning for a future with driverless cars (page 9 of the pdf).  Hat tip to Mihir.
  • An announcement: "We like to shout about it and other cities around the nation are starting to take notice: Houston is a playground for the talented and Culture Pilot is sponsoring a month-long celebration highlighting our innovative city. The month-long celebration, entitled COHouston, focuses on a different theme each week including: maker/craft, film and multimedia, design and innovation, food and well-being, and, last but not least, arts and music.  Intellectual wonderment and creativity are encouraged through various events held in tandem throughout the city. This month’s focus isn't just about celebration but it also aims to raise questions about local and regional challenges and foster sustainable relationships within the community." More here.
  • Check out this "Keep Houston Houston" blog post on Houston's density, annexation, anti-NIMBY, and regional advantage vs. stagnant cities like Philly.  I wanted to do excerpts, but the whole thing is great, including the comments.  Read it.  Really gets at some of our key strengths.
  • Love this front page Chronicle story about how best-selling author Justin Cronin had his perspective inspired by moving from the northeast to Houston and eventually getting his "Houston goggles".
  • The NYT on the pros and cons of Denver's downtown pedestrian mall, which seems to have declined over time.  Take heed, downtown Houston folks...
  • NYT op-ed asking what's going to happen to Austin's "weird" brand in the wake of Lance Armstrong's fall and the ongoing gentrification/"Dallasification" trend.
  • H-GAC is conducting an online survey of preferences for the future of our region in 2040.  I highly recommend readers of this blog take the survey, since you might have a better grasp of the complexities and tradeoffs behind these scenarios than the average citizen.  Hurry, the survey ends November 16th.
  • Houston makes #5 on this list of America's most competitive metros, adding more jobs since 2010 than any of the others.
A few DA pass-alongs:
Finally, I wanted to end on this story about Houston being #1 for manufacturing jobs growth, which links to a Forbes story with this awesome make-you-proud-of-Texas excerpt:
To illustrate the real differences between Texas and other states, Fisher finished his talk with a story. (Having gone to school at U.C. Berkeley, worked in New York City and lived the last 8 years in Texas, this story really registers for me.) 
“The governor of California is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and attacks the governor’s dog, then bites the governor. The governor starts to intervene, but reflects upon the movie Bambi and then realizes he should stop because the coyote is only doing what is natural. 
“He calls animal control. Animal control captures the coyote and bills the state $200 for testing it for diseases and $500 for relocating it. He calls a veterinarian. The vet collects the dead dog and bills the state $200 for testing it for diseases. The governor goes to the hospital and spends $3,500 getting checked for diseases from the coyote and getting his bite wound bandaged. 
“The running trail gets shut down for six months while the California Fish and Game Department conducts a $100,000 survey to make sure the area is now free of dangerous animals. The governor spends $50,000 in state funds implementing a ‘coyote awareness program’ for residents of the area. The Legislature spends $2 million to study how to better treat rabies and how to permanently eradicate the disease throughout the world. 
“The governor’s security agent is fired for not stopping the attack. The state spends $150,000 to hire and train a new agent with additional special training, re: the nature of coyotes. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protests the coyote’s relocation and files a $5 million suit against the state. 
“The governor of Texas is jogging with his dog along a nature trail. A coyote jumps out and tries to attack him and his dog. The governor shoots the coyote with his state-issued pistol and keeps jogging. 
“The governor spent 50 cents on a .380-caliber, hollow-point cartridge. Buzzards ate the dead coyote. 
“And that, my friends, is why California is broke and Texas is not.”

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Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Rise of the Third Coast and Houston's Philanthropy with the TMC

Joel Kotkin has a great op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on the rise of the Third Coast (alternate link - hat tip to Stephen).  I wanted to just include it in the next post of smaller misc items, but there are too many good Houston excerpts, so here there are:
The country's next great megacity, Houston, is here... 
Together, Houston and Tampa have gained more than 1.5 million people over the course of the decade; in fact, in 2008 and 2009, net domestic migration to Houston was the highest of any major metropolitan area. An examination of migration flows to Houston, New Orleans, and Tampa by Praxis Strategy Group, where I work as a senior consultant, shows that many of their new citizens are coming from the East and West Coasts, especially New York and California. Also over the past decade, Houston has attracted as many foreign immigrants, relative to its population, as New York has—a considerably higher rate than in such historical immigration hubs as Chicago, Seattle, and Boston, though still lower than in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami. 
What's more, the Third Coast is winning the battle of the brains. Over the past decade, according to the Census Bureau, 300,000 people with bachelor's degrees have relocated to Houston.
Many of the region's new arrivals are attracted by the low cost of living. The median home-price-to-income ratio in Houston, Tampa, and New Orleans is roughly one-half that of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Jose. Over the last decade, Houston boasted the highest growth in personal income of any of the country's 75 largest metropolitan areas.
Thanks largely to expansion in energy, manufacturing, and engineering services, Houston now boasts a considerably higher per-capita concentration of STEM jobs—those relating to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics—than Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York, according to an analysis by EMSI.
When Garreau published Nine Nations 30-some years ago, he predicted that as growth kicked in, the Gulf region would "clot" into an archipelago of cities similar to the Boston–New York–Washington megalopolis, or to the band stretching from San Diego through Los Angeles and San Francisco to Portland and Seattle. If he proves right, Houston will be the hub of this new system, much as New York anchors the East Coast and Los Angeles the West
The greater Houston metropolitan area is one of the fastest-growing in the country; its population, now 6 million, is expected to double over the next 20 years. Houston is also the nation's third-largest manufacturing city, behind New York and Chicago. Over the past decade, the city and its surrounding communities have added almost 20,000 heavy-manufacturing jobs, the most of any metropolitan area in the United States. Further, Houston has the third-largest representation of consular offices, after Los Angeles and New York, and it hosts more Fortune 500 companies—22, as of 2011—than any city other than Gotham. Over the past half-century, says Federal Reserve economist Bill Gilmer, Houston has consolidated its position as the center of the global fossil-fuel industry. In 1960, Houston was home to just one of the nation's large energy firms, ranking well behind New York, Los Angeles, and even Tulsa; by 2007, 16 such companies were headquartered in Houston, more than in those three cities combined. 
The burgeoning health-care industry is also finding a home in Houston, especially at the Texas Medical Center—"the largest medical complex in the world," its website boasts. Like so many things in Houston, this cluster of 48 nonprofit hospitals, colleges, and universities owes its existence largely to the energy industry. According to its chief executive, Richard Wainerdi, the center benefits from "probably the biggest confluence of philanthropy in the world, and a lot of it is oil money." Every day, 160,000 people enter the vast campus, equal in size to Chicago's downtown Loop; its office space, now over 28.3 million square feet, exceeds not only that of downtown Houston but also that of downtown Los Angeles. The figure is expected to surpass 41 million square feet by the end of 2014, making the center the seventh-largest business district in the nation
Houston's solid business climate empowers entrepreneurs. Between 2008 and 2011, according to a study by EMSI, the number of self-employed workers grew more quickly in Houston than in any other large metropolitan area. Greater numbers of educated workers are coming, too: Houston's total increase in people with bachelor's degrees over the past decade bested Philadelphia's, was three times that of San Jose, and was twice that of San Diego. "I don't get the pushback I used to get" from potential recruits, says Chris Schoettelkotte, who founded Manhattan Resources, a Houston-based executive-recruiting firm, 13 years ago. "You try to find a city with a better economy and better job prospects than us!" 
Though Houston has always been a good place to do business, it continues to suffer from a bad cultural image. In 1946, journalist John Gunther described Houston as a place "where few people think about anything but money." It was, he added, "the noisiest city" in the nation, "with a residential section mostly ugly and barren, a city without a single good restaurant and of hotels with cockroaches." The miserable city that Gunther described no longer exists, but residents on the other two coasts have been slow to acknowledge that development, despite Houston's first-class museums and lively restaurant scene. "Let's face it, we have a bad reputation," says L. E. Simmons, a legendary Houston energy investor. "But the good news is, it keeps the stylish opportunists out. It makes us kind of an urban secret."
Amen to that!

While I'm on Joel Kotkin, he also has an excellent New Geography story on Houston's philanthropic nature and how it created the world's largest medical center.  One favorite excerpt of mine below, but definitely read the whole thing.
All of that oil money has fueled a massive experiment in private, voluntary initiative—a major healthcare system that is more private than public, more charitable than profitable. Its scale can only be described as Texan. The campus is equal in size to the Inner Loop of Chicago. It currently has over 28.3 million square feet of office space—more than downtown Houston, even more than all of downtown Los Angeles. (By the end of 2014, its square footage is expected to exceed 41 million square feet, which would make the medical campus the nation’s seventh-largest business district of any sort.) Every day, 160,000 people enter the area, which has grown into Houston’s largest employer. Every year, TMC hosts about 7.1 million patient visits, including 350,000 surgeries and 28,000 newborns delivered. 
Houston’s real philanthropic achievement, however, is not just the scale of the TMC. It’s the extraordinary quality of its institutions. In the 2013 U.S. News & World Report hospital rankings, TMC-affiliated institutions topped the charts. Methodist Hospital was a nationally ranked leader in 13 of 16 adult specialties. (Of the 4,793 hospitals included in the rankings, only 148 facilities—roughly 3 percent of the total—were considered a nationally ranked leader in even one of the 16 specialties.) St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, likewise on the TMC campus, earned national ranking in 10 adult specialties. The Texas Children’s Hospital was ranked fourth among all U.S. children’s hospitals. M. D. Anderson has been named the best cancer center in America for 9 of the past 11 years, including 2012.

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