Sunday, January 17, 2021

How a Biden presidency can boost Houston, plus the cause of our growth, how LA is like us, Montrose is dead, and a graffiti artist guide to visiting HTX video

A lot of people are probably thinking about a Biden presidency as a negative for the oil industry and Houston, but there are some potential silver linings here. A big one would be a massive federal infrastructure investment bill that could dramatically improve Houston's flood resilience, including the Ike Dike and Galveston Bay Park surge barriers (great overview video). Another would be reopening international migration, which has been a big booster for Houston in the past (and has been significantly suppressed since 2016). 

But the biggest potential boost would be the oil industry giving him a viable alternative to the Green New Deal.  Instead of banning fracking or federal drilling permits - which just imports more oil from the Middle East - how about a tariff on imported oil to boost local jobs while also reducing carbon emissions? (by keeping prices up) Could the industry give him cover to get it passed and popular with the public?  How about channeling the industry into something it has the expertise, infrastructure, and capital to do very, very well: carbon sequestration? (i.e. injecting it into the ground) How about encouraging LNG exports to Europe to give them an alternative to coal and Russian natural gas? Or LNG exports to China to displace the massive coal plants they're building there? There are so many ways the oil industry could be part of the solution on carbon, if they would just engage in good faith. 

Moving on to some smaller items this week:

  • Market Urbanist Scott Beyer at the Foundation for Economic Education: What's the Cause of Houston's Growth? For decades, Houston has been the nation’s leading example of an “opportunity city.”
"If America had a more market-oriented urban approach, those aspects of Houston—the density and affordability—would be the ones most likely replicated. For this reason, “getting a bunch of Houstons” should be an urbanist goal."
  • Los Angeles: a city that outgrew its masterplan. Thank God. In the first of our regular series of dispatches from around the world, this longtime LA resident argues that his city's endless variety should be a key part any new metropolis's design. Sounds a lot like Houston. Hat tip to George.
"The very lack of defined form and cultural tradition here, the statelessness of the city itself or those who live in it, allows for a distinctive type of vitality that I've felt nowhere else."
Finally, I'll end with a fun video: Houston by a Local - Travel Tips for Houston - A Day in Houston, Texas. Discover Houston with a local: Graffiti artist Gonzo 247 shows you highlights of his home town in the U.S. state of Texas. One of them is Space Center Houston.  Hat tip to George.


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Sunday, January 10, 2021

My HBJ piece on NZ adopting TX MUDs, Techxodus, video on Houston's identity, future of offices, HTX developments in 2021, Stack City, rich zip codes, and more

The lead item this week is my short piece in the Houston Business Journal on New Zealand adopting the Texas Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) model to encourage more homebuilding in a country with an extremely limited supply of overpriced housing. I helped host a research delegation from New Zealand in 2018 that brought our MUDs model back and successfully crafted and passed similar legislation there - a huge win for our Urban Reform Institute think tank and endorsement of the Texas model for supplying a continuous flow of new, affordable housing.

Moving on to this week's items:

"Harris, the most populous county in fast-growing Texas with 4.7 million people, went to six zip codes on this year’s list from just one last year." ... 
"Almost half of the richest zip codes, 49 of the 100, are in just seven counties: Manhattan & suburban Westchester County in NY, Connecticut’s Fairfield County, Chicago’s Cook County, California’s LA & Santa Clara counties, & Houston’s Harris County (6)."
"Travel is a part of our lives. Instead of treating it like a cost, we should embrace it, using it to enhance our economic and social well beings. To the extent that government is involved in transportation, instead of trying to limit travel it should do what it can to enable it and to extend the benefits of travel to as many people as possible."

“There are a number of examples of the Texas-style stack in and around our larger metropolitan areas, including Houston, which, because of its large number of stack interchanges, is known as “Stack City””
My first time hearing that nickname - curious to hear in the comments if others have come across it before?
  • NYT: The Future of Offices When Workers Have a Choice (archive link) - Some work spaces in central employment districts may become housing, and some housing in residential areas may become work spaces.  My prediction is that managers will try to get people back to the office, but it will be very bumpy (not everybody vaccinated, virus continues to circulate at a low level, employers sued by employees that get sick, people unhappy with returning to commute), and talent will start looking for employers that don’t require the commute, even a day or two a week. Also companies will find they can access much more affordable remote talent globally, and those companies will start winning vs. companies constraining themselves to limited, expensive local talent pools. Key excerpt:
“Even before the pandemic, there were signs of trouble with the office market in the handful of cities where the “creative class” had been flocking. In 2018, net migration to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco was negative, while the U.S. economy grew at a healthy 2.9 percent. Creative magnets like London and Paris were experiencing similar declines. 
The explanation for the declines — mostly high housing costs because of severe limits on new construction — obscures other forces that were destabilizing the traditional office market. In the middle of the 2010s, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and others started splitting their headquarters into multiple locations. Stripe, one of the world’s most valuable start-ups, went a step further. In 2019, it “opened” a remote hub, hoping to “tap the 99.74 percent of talented engineers living outside the metro areas of our first four hubs” in San Francisco, Seattle, Dublin and Singapore. 
For the fastest-growing companies, being able to tap into talent anywhere became more important than having all their teams in one place. Smaller cities were good enough. In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been a surprise, despite all the talk about the importance of giant, dense labor markets to fuel innovation. After all, Silicon Valley itself is not a city but a cluster of sprawling towns scattered along a highway. 
The defining characteristic of this new version of the creative class may not be where it lives, but its ability to live anywhere it wants. Put differently, people move to certain cities in search of better-paying jobs, but it’s now possible to earn high (if not the highest) salaries from almost anywhere. That has been true in certain smaller cities in recent years (Austin and Denver in the United States, for example, and Manchester and Leeds in Britain). To a lesser extent, it has also been true for people who chose not to live in cities at all.”
Finally I'll end on a couple of fun items: some very exciting items Houston can look forward to in 2021, including some really cool developments, and a really well-done video by the Rockets on Houston's identity where they hit on a lot of great aspects and moments from our history. Actually choked me up a bit during the disaster parts. Proud of H-Town! 



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Sunday, January 03, 2021

Bloomberg's Case for Moving to Houston (but not a city for the soft), URI-COU 2020 year in review video, HTX youth, TX #1 growth, and more

Happy new year everyone. Hope you enjoyed the holidays and the recent amazing weather (while staying safe). A lot of you probably had out-of-town family and/or friends visiting.  Next time nonlocal friends or family say Houston is too hot, floods too often, or gets too many hurricanes, here's my recommended reaction: politely agree with them that Houston is not a city for the soft or irresilient - they should probably choose somewhere like California. Texas welcomes the tough.

The big item this week is Bloomberg Businessweek's "The Case for Moving to Houston" graphic from a recent cover story on high-tech workers leaving the big expensive coastal cities. Click to enlarge, but note Houston in the upper-left pole position of the best bang for your buck, a combination of high average salaries and low cost of living, reinforcing my ongoing argument that Houston has the highest standard of living among major metros in the US and probably the world as well.

The Case for Moving to Houston graph

The article also has a couple of nice excerpts:
"Consider Phyllis Njoroge, who grew up in Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University in 2019 with a degree in cognitive and brain science, she started making spreadsheets of places in the U.S. that had a warm climate, were diverse, and had a reasonable cost of living. Houston won out, and she moved there in March" 
... 
Having more remote workers means “wages in Texas are going up,” he says. So are housing prices. “You can’t have a $2 million, 2,000-square-foot house in San Francisco and a $200,000 house in Dallas that are basically the same for very long when there are airplanes and internet connections and Zoom.”
Moving on to some smaller items this week:
"I simply say, “no, please don’t be sorry. I love living in Houston. It’s a great place to live and I have a great life there. It’s actually not that place that you might imagine it to be. In fact, it’s one of the country’s most ethnically diverse and progressive cities. My children go to school with kids from all over the world. And the wine and food scene there is great, too.”
Finally, I'd like to end with a great year-end review 1m video our President Charles Blain put together on the Urban Reform Institute - Center for Opportunity Urbanism's work, events, and publications in 2020. Here's to 2021 being even better for our growth and impact!


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