Thursday, August 17, 2006

Oil-barrel airfares, Kotkin suburbs, risky Houston, cheap airfares, HOT lane popularity, transit vs cars

The miscellaneous box has filled again, so here are a bunch of interesting short items.
  • JetBlue ties Hobby-NYC/JFK one-way ticket prices to the daily cost of a barrel of oil. Clever. You can read an chat thread about it here, along with some commentary on Houston.
  • Joel Kotkin on the triumph of the suburbs in the August issue of The Next American City. Houston excerpts:
Nearly every major region of the U.S. in this sense is undergoing suburbanization, even if the downtown is growing. In Houston, for example, there has been much talk about a downtown housing surge. But the entire inner ring of the city - which extends well beyond the central core - accounted for barely six percent of new units; the vast majority of the growth took place in the region’s far-flung suburban areas.
At the same time, the increasing decentralization of economic activity may spur the development of ever more self-sufficient “suburban villages.” We can see this model emerging in new communities such as Valencia, California, or the Woodlands, outside Houston, which have developed their own successful town centers complete with thriving cultural and religious establishments.

And his conclusion:
The real issue is not so much how to prevent suburban growth, but how to make it more humane and capable of accommodating an increasingly diverse population. One key solution might lie in the growth of telecommuting, which could allow more suburbanites to work close to or at home. Already 20 million people work part-time or full-time from their residences. ...

In this sense, we need to look at current suburbia not as a finished product, but something beginning to evolve from its Deadwood phase. During this evolution, our ancient sense of the city still has much to teach the suburbs, notably about the need for community, identity, the creation of “sacred space,” and a closer relation between workplace and home life. Of course, the emerging suburbs won’t be able to duplicate the forms of our great historical cities, but they will borrow from them as new public spaces are built and a sense of civic identity is established. In this, the suburbs can carry something of cities-past in their substance as they contribute to a new chapter in urban history, one that we today can play a role in forging.

  • Houston has been ranked as the eighth-riskiest city for natural disasters, behind Miami, New Orleans, and most of California's west coast. I have to say, personally, I'll take a hurricane over an earthquake any day. It's all about a few days warning vs. none.
  • Houston airfares, while not falling because of escalating fuel costs, have gone up the fifth slowest in the nation, only 3.9% over the course of a year. I'm sure this is helped by the strong competition between Continental at IAH and Southwest at Hobby.
  • High-Occupancy Toll lanes, or HOT lanes, that are congestion-priced to keep speeds high, are proving popular with the public. Even the poor support them by a 3-to-1 margin, because it's nice to have the "gridlock insurance" option when speed is important (for an appointment, for instance). I think we can expect to see many more of these lanes in Houston in coming years. The sooner, the better.
  • This is an excerpt from a post about the article, "The war against the car will never succeed". Unfortunately, I've misplaced the link to the post, but have one for the article. The excerpt:
    Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente suggests that "TTC" ---
    the initials of the Toronto Transit Commission --- really means
    "take the car." In a July 22 column, she notes that ridership has
    fallen substantially and that it takes longer to travel by
    transit than car. Moreover, she sees through the usual "we ought
    to be like Paris" blather, noting that most people in Paris live
    in the suburbs and get around by car.

    She concludes the column with a particularly effective paragraph:

    If we really wanted to tackle smog and congestion, we wouldn't be
    fantasizing about massive new investments in public transit. We'd
    be investing in transportation infrastructure, less polluting
    fuels, more intelligent roads and vehicles with sensors to
    control traffic flows, peak-time user fees and more flexible
    forms of public and private transport, such as group taxis. But
    you won't find the planners talking about these things because,
    to do so, they would have to concede defeat to the unwholesome
    lure of the automobile -- to say nothing of the overwhelming
    preference of the public. And that would be very, very wicked.
Well put. Have a great weekend.


At 8:48 AM, August 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, the inner loop, consisting of barely 100 square miles, accounted for 6% of new construction, while the remaining 9,962 square miles, or 99% of the Houston Metro, if you prefer, accounted for 94% of new construction.

While Kotkin's summary is correct, his disingenuous use of statistics actually works against his pre-conceived conclusion.

At 9:05 AM, August 18, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think his point is still valid: as much as people want to talk about an inner city living revival - and it is happening - it is still a very small drop in a very big bucket of rapidlly growing suburbs that shouldn't be forgotten (and still represent substantial majority preference).

At 9:10 AM, August 18, 2006, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...


I don't think Kotkin disputes the housing boom in inner-city Houston. Nobody would. However, the fact is that the suburbs are accomodating most of Houston's growth. That was Kotkin's point.

Besides, there are many ways of measuring the boundaries of a metroplex. You seem to be using the consolidated metropolitan statistical area, which is the most expansive definition. Kotkin could be using another.

At 11:02 AM, August 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yea, it seemed to me that Kotkin was saying even with the boom in downtown still a majority of the growth of the city is occuring outside the loop.

At 3:05 PM, August 18, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

CMSA definitions are worthless when it comes to land area. My understanding is that they're a set of counties that have any piece of the contiguous metro area in it, even if that urbanized area is a tiny corner of a huge empty county (like, say, Montgomery or Ft. Bend). Metros with smaller counties would look like they have less land area, even if the urbanized area were really the same.

At 9:50 AM, August 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Montgomery and Fort Bend counties aren't mostly empty and together do account for (as of 2005), almost 850,000 people. Far-out Rosenberg is quickly growing, as is the Willis-Lake Conroe area. Perhaps (I think) even better examples to illustrate the point being made would be Austin and San Jacinto counties. They have less than 30,000 people each. And they're both within the slightly more restrictive definition of the metro area (as opposed to the CMSA).

Still, I agree with Tory's point: most growth is in the suburbs. The Downtown-Midtown housing boom seems more impressive only because these areas have been neglected for so long. I suspect many of the people moving to the inner loop are young singles who grew up in the suburbs (like me) and will likely move back out to the suburbs once they have families.

At 11:50 AM, August 21, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks for the supporting points. I was just trying to point out that most of Ft. Bend and Montgomery's populations are close to the Harris County border, and the further you get from it, the more sparse they quickly become.


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