Monday, July 28, 2014

Houston = urban personification of the Texas spirit, happy #1 boomtown, 18 best city in America reasons, and more

Continuing with clearing the small items backlog, and I'm traveling over the next week, so this post will cover two weeks:
"To them, Texas meant opportunity, possibility, openness, freedom... "frontier spirit"
The frontier itself may be a thing of the past, but most of the qualities that we think of as quintessentially Texan are derived from the frontier experience—individuality, frankness, boldness, optimism, self-reliance, aversion to pretense, a kind of rustic humor, small-town communitarianism writ large, and the egalitarian ethos of a place unburdened by a centuries-old pecking order."
"An article in the Financial Times points out that about $10 trillion worth of wealth in the United States is phony, created by restrictive land-use laws that have pushed up the price of housing.
First, these planning laws contribute to income inequality by making people who already own homes richer while making those who don’t poorer.
Thanks to planning restrictions, the average size of home in Britain today is not only less than half the size of an American home, it is far smaller than the average before passage of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. This is the law that so many planners want to emulate in America.
Those who want to reduce income inequality by taxing the rich, concludes Harding, should take another tack. “If we want to make society fairer and more equal, just let people build.”
"The second article takes a very different tack, "How Cars, Not Subways, Will Make Us Richer." Written by Scott Beyer for the Daily Beast (June 4th), it begins with the 2011 study from Brookings finding that in America's hundred largest metro areas, only 22% of low- and middle-skill jobs are accessible via transit in less than 90 minutes (which is more than three times the duration of the average auto commute, BTW). It then summarizes a report from the Urban Institute led by Rolf Pendall, which found that transit access has little effect on people's economic success. By contrast, the study team found that low-income people with automobile access were twice as likely as transit users to find jobs and four times as likely to keep them. Beyer suggests that planners need to give greater attention to ways of increasing auto access for lower-income people who are not well-served by transit systems. The report is "Driving to Opportunity," released by the Urban Institute in March 2014, written by a team of people from Urban Institute, the National Center for Smart Growth (at University of Maryland), and the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA."
And wrapping up with a little fun: an absolutely crazy video of a massive intersection in Ethiopia with no controls of any kind.  Just chaos, but it does seem to flow!  Hat tip to Jay.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Saving the Astrodome, Houston really is creative, Florida beating Houston at express lanes, and more

Lots of smaller items backlogged:
    "I sometimes, half-seriously, call Houston the Land of the Lotus Eaters, full of people who are continually high from a cocktail of affluence, affability, and comfort."
    Finally, a couple of quick thoughts on the silly Rodeo and Texans plan to demolish the Astrodome and replace it with a pretty lame park.  First, here's a great book excerpt on the history of the Astrodome, which makes a compelling case for why it should be saved.  And here's a great new option posted by John to the Save the Astrodome Facebook group: a high-tech ski mountain!  Considering how many Houstonians fly to the Rockies every winter, I think it would be a big hit year-round and should be able to pay for itself when you consider the insane prices of lift tickets.  Can somebody in Judge Emmett's office reach out to these guys?...

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    Thursday, July 17, 2014

    Our big Houston article in the City Journal and WSJ on "America's Opportunity City"

    I was traveling and then furiously catching-up upon returning this week, so apologies for the posting delay, but I wanted to get a quick one out here about Joel Kotkin and I's big article in the City Journal and op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

    The City Journal piece is the long main one, and is something we've been working on over several months:
    America’s Opportunity City
    Lots of new jobs and a low cost of living make Houston a middle-class magnet.
    Summer 2014

    The Wall Street Journal op-ed is a trimmed down version of the City Journal article.  It can be found on the WSJ here, or a copy is available on New Geography if you're not a WSJ subscriber.
    Success and the CityHouston's pro-growth policies have produced an urban powerhouse—and a blueprint for metropolitan revival.
    Lisa Gray at the Chronicle shares her thoughts and favorite excerpts here.

    Some of my favorite tidbits:
    • "Indeed, the Houston model of development might be described as “opportunity urbanism.”"
    • "Houston now has among the highest, if not the highest, standard of living of any large city in the U.S. The average cost-of-living-adjusted salary in Houston is about $75,000, compared with around $50,000 in New York and $46,000 in Los Angeles."
    • "An even bigger component of Houston’s growth, however, may be its planning regime, which allows development to follow the market instead of top-down government directives. The city and its unincorporated areas have no formal zoning, so land use is flexible and can readily meet demand. Getting building permits is simple and quick, with no arbitrary approval boards making development an interminable process. Neighborhoods can protect themselves with voluntary, opt-in deed restrictions or minimum lot sizes. Architect and developer Tim Cisneros credits the flexible planning system for the city’s burgeoning apartment and town-home development. “There are a lot of people who come here for jobs but don’t want to live, at least not yet, in the Woodlands,” he notes. “We can respond to this demand fast because there’s no zoning, and approvals don’t take forever. You could not do this so fast in virtually any city in America. The lack of zoning allows us not only to do neat things—but do them quickly and for less money.”"
    • "The flexible planning regime is also partly responsible for keeping Houston's housing prices relatively low. On a square-foot basis, according to Knight Frank, a London-based real-estate consultancy, the same amount of money buys almost seven times as much space in Houston as it does in San Francisco and more than four times as much as in New York. Houston has built a new kind of "self-organizing" urban model, notes architect and author Lars Lerup, one that he calls "a creature of the market.""
    • "Houston is neither the libertarian paradise imagined by many conservatives nor the antigovernment Wild West town conjured by liberals. The city is better understood as relentlessly pragmatic and pro-growth. Bob Lanier, the legendary three-time Democratic mayor who steered the city’s recovery from the 1980s oil bust, when the metro region bled more than 220,000 jobs in just five years, epitomized this can-do spirit. Lanier was more interested in building infrastructure and promoting growth than in regulation and redistribution. That focus remains strong today. “Houston is getting very comfortable with itself and what it is,” says retired Harris County judge Robert Eckels. “We are a place that has a big idea—supporting and growing through private industry, and that’s something everyone pretty much accepts.”"
    I may be biased here, but there is far too much worth excerpting, so I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing.  I'll end with the concluding paragraph of the City Journal piece:
    For now, though, most Houstonians see the city as a place that works—for minorities and immigrants, for suburbanites and city dwellers—and few want to fix what isn’t broken. “The key to Houston’s future is to keep thinking about how to be a greater city,” notes David Wolff as he passes a new set of towers off the Grand Parkway. “This road, it wouldn’t be built in many places. People might talk about these things, but in most places, they don’t get done. In Houston, we don’t just talk about the future—we’re building it.”
    Looking forward to your thoughts in the comments...

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    Monday, July 07, 2014

    1H14 Highlights

    First, an announcement: if you'd like to learn more about or contribute to the new Houston "No Limits" branding campaign, they're holding public events this week - details here.  I spent some time with the agency running the campaign last week, and they're very open to feedback and ideas...

    Moving on: it's time for the Winter and Spring 1H14 quarterly highlights post.  I skipped the 1Q highlights post this year after doing the best posts of the first 1,000 in February.

    These posts have been chosen with a particular focus on significant ideas I'd like to see kept alive for discussion and action, and they're mainly targeted at new readers who want to get caught up with a quick overview of the Houston Strategies landscape. I also like to track what I think of as "reference posts" that sum up a particular topic or argument; and, last but not least, they've also been invaluable for me to track down some of my best thinking for meetings or when requested by others (as is the ever-helpful Google search). They're not quite as useful as they were when I was still doing multiple posts each week, but still have some value (at least for me).

    Don't forget we offer an email option for the roughly once/week posts - see the Google Groups subscription signup box in the right sidebar. An RSS feed link is also available in the right sidebar.

    As always, thanks for your readership.
    And don't forget the highlights from the first few years. For what it's worth, I think the best ideas are found there, often in the first year (I had a lot "stored up" before I started blogging) and most definitely in the 5th birthday retrospective and the best of the first 1,000.