Houston's changes, challenges, opportunities, and identityApologies for the sporadic posting lately - it's been a crazy couple of months. My Center for Opportunity Urbanism recently held an HBJ-sponsored event (alternate link) to release our major report on Texas Urbanism, with a focus on the Texas Triangle cities. I'll have more to discuss on this in future posts, but in this one I wanted to give my thoughts/notes on the questions the HBJ moderator asked the panel during the event.
How has Houston changed in the past 30 years?
Culturally, from provincial to much more cosmopolitan (including restaurants). Much more educated, attracting many more college grads. Higher demographic diversity. Economically full cycle, from the collapse of the first oil boom to the collapse of the second oil boom. Massive growth - more than doubled in metro population. Huge growth and densification inside the Loop, especially townhomes, apartments, and residential towers. Also the rise of the suburban edge cities: Sugar Land, Pearland, Katy, Woodlands, League City.
Obviously the second oil boom was a massive driver. The lack of zoning enabled easy densification. Culturally, our long history of comfort/tolerance with diversity has made it easy for immigrants to move here and assimilate. The energy industry has become much more global. Massive housing unaffordability developed on the coasts which made Houston a much more attractive proposition for all classes (including recent college grads). Freeway investments/expansions helped enable the suburban growth, especially the edge cities.
What are Houston’s biggest challenges?
- Traffic congestion, and in turn keeping major employers in the core instead of moving out to the suburbs like Exxon and Shell (solution = network of MaX Lanes – Managed eXpress lanes moving the maximum number of people at maximum speed).
- Education (Klineberg).
- Risk of the fossil fuel industry being replaced with renewables – how long will the transition take and how will we adapt?
- Building the Ike Dike before the Big Hurricane hits.
- Resolving the City pension funding crisis and making them sustainable long-term.
- Continuing to offer the highest standard of living among major metros in the US (esp. for families and mainly thru housing affordability), which helps attract a diversity of talent and cultures.
- Continuing to develop a more urban core.
- Growing the port, esp. trade via the expanded Panama Canal and downstream petrochemical investments with some of the cheapest feedstocks in the world.
- Becoming the city of choice for foreign companies to put their Americas regional headquarters offices.
- America’s most affordable global city.
- Cultural crossroads of opportunity: Started with South meets West meets Mexico in the 1800’s and evolved from there with immigrants from all over and the international energy industry.
They are not as global or diverse as us, but they can certainly learn from our mobility investments (freeways, toll roads, managed lanes) and free market in land use/development.