Sunday, August 04, 2019

Atlanta is a cautionary tale for Houston

Aaron Renn recently wrote an excellent piece in the City Journal describing the challenges facing Atlanta, and it holds some cautionary lessons for Houston.

First, here are his excerpts related to Houston:
"Though still growing rapidly, Atlanta’s fortunes have taken a hit in the new century. From 1980 to 2000, metro Atlanta grew in population by an astonishing 82.3 percent, outdistancing Dallas–Fort Worth and Houston. But in the 18 years since 2000, its population growth rate was only 39.6 percent, which trails its Texas peers. Since 2000, the population gap between Houston and Atlanta more than doubled, rising from less than 500,000 to more than 1 million. And growth has continued to slow. From 2000 to 2010, Atlanta’s average annual population growth reached only 2.13 percent, and that has fallen to 1.45 percent since 2010.
...
Migration to Atlanta has significantly slowed. The city welcomed fewer domestic migrants than much smaller Charlotte and Austin did last year, and it’s drawing far fewer immigrants than Dallas, Houston, and even Philadelphia.
...
Atlanta also has huge transportation challenges. Its freeways are among the nation’s widest but also the most congested. Atlanta failed to rearchitect its freeway network as it grew, retaining its sixties-era beltway-and-spoke system. By contrast, Houston is working on its third beltway. The net result: Atlanta outside its I-285 perimeter is by far the most developed urban area in the world without non-radial freeways, according to demographer Wendell Cox. The metro area has the nation’s third-lowest share of jobs accessible to the average commuter in 30 minutes or less
The highway problems may be unfixable. Regional planners have been pushing transit expansion into the suburbs, but in the highly dispersed Atlanta region, transit has no chance of making a dent in mobility needs." 
I’ve been warning Houston for years about the risk of underinvestment in transportation infrastructure leading to employers leaving the core for the affluent suburbs like Exxon did.  Now I can point to an actual example of that happening in Atlanta (especially a lack of loop freeways), based both his piece as well as the comments there and at his blog.  There people discuss the jobs boom in the suburbs - not the core - because of congestion. Employers will move to where their employees want to live if they can't reach them within a reasonable commute time.

When a metro region gets too hard to get around – like LA and Atlanta – it fragments into an archipelago of isolated, zero-sum winner and loser “islands” rather than being a single cohesive labor market.  Houston faces the same risk if we don't invest in projects like the 45N expansion and connecting up a regionwide MaX Lanes network.

UPDATEAtlanta has hit a tipping point with dramatically slowing migration. Hat tip to Barry.

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