Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rankings, rankings, rankings

An Otis White post alerted me to this report by St. Louis comparing itself to 35 other cities over a huge range of statistics - over 80 in fact. If you want to fully see how Houston measures up, I recommend opening it and doing a search on "Houston." Here are my personal highlights of interest:
  • 7th largest metro (although not far from passing Miami, recently passed DC)
  • 6th fastest growing from 2000-2005 at 12%
  • Diversity: highest percentage of Asians in the population outside of the coasts (7th overall, 5.7%)
  • 3rd youngest median age, at 32.9
  • In the top 3 nationally for children under 5 and children under 18 (percent). Can you say "family town"?
  • #1 in the nation for family households at 70.7% (did I mention "family town"?)
  • 7th fastest job growth, 2001-2004
  • 4th fewest drug-related fatalities per 100K population
  • 6th lowest incidence of cancer per 100K population (maybe the refineries and air pollution aren't as bad as we think?)
  • 16th, percent of obese adults, right at the national average of 23%. So much for fattest city, eh?
  • Top 3 for children and adults living in poverty. Not good, although not unexpected given our immigration and affordable housing/cost-of-living.
  • 3rd lowest African-American poverty rate relative to whites
  • Average (15th) employment dispersal outside of the core county, but Dallas and Austin are the top two in the nation for employment leaving the core.
  • #2 for toxic chemicals and bad air days. OK, ignore what I said earlier - clearly a priority problem.
  • Average commute time only 2.1 minutes longer than the national average
  • 6th best change in traffic congestion, 1982-2003
  • Believe it or not, better transit service than New York City (and the national average), according to the MOBILITY INDEX - Annual transit revenue hours of service per households without a vehicle, 2004.
  • 3rd highest federal funding per capita (2004)
OK, those are the ones that jumped out at me, but, like I said, spend a while browsing and you'll learn a whole lot more about how Houston and other cities stack up.


At 10:35 AM, December 18, 2006, Blogger David said...

That is a terrific study, and is becoming one that all these top cities could use to produce their own reports.
But your statement that we have better transit service than New York City is a little over the top. NYC is shown as the leader in terms of transit seat mile capacity (nearly 20 times as much as Houston). The Mobility Index (Annual transit revenue hours of service per households without a vehicle) is not something that makes immediate sense to me and I'd appreciate some explanation, if anyone understands it.
I assume NYC's revenue hours are massively greater than Houston's and so is the number of households with vehicles. (In NYC about half of households (about 3 million) have no vehicle, and in Manhattan it's 75%. In Houston it's 80,000) But what does that mean? That we deliver somewhat more hours of service to our households without vehicles than NYC does? Or is it more about the fact that the cities at the top of that list tend to be cities where driving is pretty much required, so the number of carless households is small?
And, of course, the report shows that our congestion cost is far higher than New York's, which has to imply that the transit system is driving that cost down.

At 1:21 PM, December 18, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think you're right: we have a lot of service to cover a very large area, but not that many carless households, so it's a large numerator and small denominator. It doesn't seem like they distinguish between high capacity rail and low capacity buses either, making NYC's numerator smaller than it really should be.

The top cities are SLC, Denver, Austin, Portland, SF, and Seattle, which all sound to me like wealthier cities with very few carless households, keeping their denominator small.

I will note that, while you're right that our total congestion cost is higher than NYC, they, DC and Chicago all have higher average commute times (transit commute times are generally longer), so total person-time (and, therefore 'cost') lost to commuting is much higher in those cities. DC and SF, despite being similar size metros to Houston with multi-billion dollar rail investments, also have higher congestion costs than Houston.

At 3:42 PM, December 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

*3rd youngest median age, at 32.9

*#6th lowest incidence of cancer per 100K population

Surely those two are related?


At 9:36 PM, December 18, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also #2 among these cities for poverty rate at 13.4%. About 50% greater than average. Not a good thing.

At 7:27 AM, December 19, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree poverty is never a good thing, but I think you have to look at a few mitigating factors in Houston's case. Most cities try to use land use regs to prevent "undesirable" populations (esp. limiting apartments), and Houston does not, therefore we end up with more. The people have to live somewhere - in Houston's case, they live inside the city rather than outside it.

Of course, we also have extremely high immigration. And I also believe that the poverty income cutoff is the same nationally, taking no account of cost-of-living/housing by metro. Since Houston is the least expensive major metro in the country, "poverty" here is not really the same thing as, say, poverty in the expensive east and west coasts.

At 7:45 PM, December 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


On your first point, I could sort of grant you that. But remember, we are talking about MSAs here. So this includes city / suburb / exurb / farm. There are plenty of apartments in other cities as well.

I would grant you also that living at the poverty line in Houston may be somewhat easier than in NYC or San Fran. However, $12,000 or whatever the poverty level is for a single individual, is still not a lot of money any way you slice it - not until you start hopping national boundaries. At least that's my humble opinion.

I think the reasons for our poverty rate being above average include:
- Immigration, as you mention
- Illegals making less than minimum wage
- Minimum wage in Houston is still $5 and change
- Lack of union organization among not highly skilled workers

Among many other factors, I'm sure!

At 8:36 AM, December 20, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

The reason that Houston isn't considered a world city can be found in the education statistics - Houston MSA just isn't as educated as world-beaters like New York, Boston, etc. And because the educated people in this world determine the course of business expansions, international travel, and other trends, Houston will increasingly fall behind without some sort of sustained effort to improve its higher education, like making UH a Tier 1 Research University.


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