Wednesday, October 26, 2005

My travels with Joel

Just finished a couple days of driving noted urbanist and author Joel Kotkin around Houston for all sorts of interesting meetings. He's based in LA, but I think Houston is starting to grow on him, and he might even be toying with slight possibility of a relocation. He certainly wouldn't be the first person charmed into moving here after spending a while here. Anyway, here's a random collection of observations and highlights:
  • Focus group with Tulane and Southern social-work students who are now at UH: when asked to name to biggest difference between Houston and New Orleans, they almost in unison said one word: Opportunity. Houston has much more opportunity to do something productive with yourself and your education - no critical social connections needed.
  • Exploring a potential joint study with TSU on Houston as an engine of upward social mobility. Very exciting stuff. Stay tuned.
  • I have a whole new appreciation for the incredible job done by church volunteers during the Katrina evacuation after hearing the details by pastor Ed Young at Second Baptist, the largest Baptist congregation in the nation. Houston should be very proud, and FEMA should take notes.
  • Got to meet former Mayor Bob Lanier at a book signing and lunch, who has an excellent idea for future hurricane evacuations: make the HOV lanes outbound, restrict them to 4+ passengers, and use orange cones to extend them out to distant points beyond the city by reversing the inbound lanes - maybe even all the way to San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas (will require a very large orange-cone inventory!). Since the average car only carries slightly more than one person, that single HOV lane could carry the equivalent of 4 normal lanes. Oh, and one more thing: hype those lanes to the media. People will have to decide: crawling in normal traffic, or form carpools and fly to their destination. Mix this with reversing the inbound lanes 24 hours earlier than they did with Rita, and I think the worst traffic nightmares could be avoided in the future.
  • Focus group with successful local immigrant entrepreneurs as part of a study comparing NY, LA, and Houston. Bottom line: Houston is the best small business environment in the nation for immigrant entrepreneurs, mainly because of the lack of bureaucracy, corruption, regulations, zoning, and permitting - resulting in plenty of very affordable commercial space and easy and affordable startups. But we have to stay vigilant against creeping local regulation that grows year after year, often well-meaning but with corrosive side effects.
  • It was noted that Houston seems to have just the right balance of high wealth and insecurity vs. other cities to really fuel our non-profit/charitable sector. Nice to see our well-known world-class insecurity has an upside.
  • Extremely high marks for Houston's philanthropic spirit and generosity from the head of the local Red Cross chapter. They went from 6,000 volunteers to 19,000 during Katrina, which is unprecedented in the history of the US Red Cross. Also of note: we are one of the five top-tier largest Red Cross chapters along with NY, LA, SF, and Chicago.
Well, I those are the highlights I can remember off the top of my head. Apologies if I left anything or anybody out. It was a very fun and stimulating couple of days, but now it's time to get back my "real" work that's been piling up...


At 1:03 PM, October 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't bet on many takers for the 4-person HOV lane. Most of the people I saw evacuating had their cars packed to the gills with their valuables.

2 people? Perhaps. 4? No way.

At 1:34 PM, October 27, 2005, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

I liked Joel's observations about Houston, but I think he glamorizes the Progressive movement far too much. Remember, Houston's lack of zoning is actually a rebellion against progressive ideals.

At 4:51 PM, October 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"he glamorizes the Progressive movement far too much"

Yeah, one shouldn't glamorize such Progressive movement pillors as child labor laws, women's suffrage, consumer protections (like food safety), and monopoly-busting. We would have been so much better off without all that.

At 10:44 PM, October 27, 2005, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...


I didn't say all progressive era reforms were bad, just that we shouldn't glamorize them -- as if they should all be considered presumptively good. Heck, Jim Crow is considered a progressive era "reform" by some (cure racial animus by doing what seems logical -- separating the races). Eugenics was popular among progressives as well.

So please, don't ascribe opinions to me that I haven't stated, and please think harder before you write. The progressives did some bad things as well as good.

At 10:17 AM, October 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So please, don't ascribe opinions to me that I haven't stated, and please think harder before you write."

Hey pot, kettle calling...

At 11:11 AM, October 28, 2005, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...


How so? Being enigmatic is hardly an intelligent response.

At 1:07 PM, October 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poopooing the incredible successes of the progressive movement because they also advocated the unfortunate idea of reducing racism by separating the races is akin to those who dismiss the incredible legacy of Jefferson because he like most major landowners of the time happened to own slaves.

At 6:00 PM, October 28, 2005, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...


Well, in my view the progressive era was a mixed bag in terms of policy. It had very good aspects (women's suffrage) and very bad aspects (eugenics). I don't think it was all bad by any means, but I don't find it sacrosanct.

At 10:10 AM, October 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course groups have been advocating eugenics all the way back to the ancient greeks and Plato. I don't think I'd pin that on the progressive movement.


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