Sunday, December 24, 2006

Too much to list

It's time yet again to catch up on what has become a very long list of small miscellaneous items. I'm not sure how much posting I'll be doing over the holidays, so hopefully this will keep you well set with plenty of reading material over the break.
  • A very nice New York Times piece on Project Row Houses in Houston (thanks to Peter for the link).
"Although it’s hard to tell at a glance, this stretch of Holman may be the most impressive and visionary public art project in the country — a project that is miles away, geographically and philosophically, from Chelsea and Art Basel and the whole money-besotted paper-thin art scene."
  • Yet another New York Times article, this one on the new Texas Bowl being played in Reliant Stadium, replacing the Houston Bowl and the Bluebonnet Bowl.
  • A Daniel Yergin article in Newsweek about high oil prices launching a wave of new high-tech energy technologies that could rival the Internet boom. You have to hope that Houston will be a major participant and beneficiary in this side of the new energy boom.
  • An excerpt from an Otis White post on a Detroit report on renewing that city:
"A Detroit business group, Detroit Renaissance, found in a survey that people in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston and Indianapolis thought they lived in the best metro area in the country. Detroiters thought they lived in the worst."

Clearly, four of those cities are delusional... ;-)
  • A Wendell Cox op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle on how restrictive zoning and smart growth can cause housing prices to spiral out of control:

"The escalation of housing prices relative to incomes in the highly regulated markets is not the result of low interest rates. The same low interest rates have not produced the same effect in markets with lighter regulation, such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston or Kansas City. Nor is the escalation a result of demand, as Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston are the fastest growing large metropolitan areas in the nation, yet the median house price has remained below the 3.0 benchmark.

The problem in highly regulated markets is that the supply of housing is not allowed to keep up with demand. If housing affordability doesn't improve, it is not inconceivable that it could at some point have serious effects on the overall economy, perhaps even a "smart growth" induced recession.

The economic and social consequences are ominous. The hundreds of thousands of additional dollars that must be paid to own a home in California, Florida, Oregon or other smart-growth states will mean less money for other needs. Fewer consumer products will be purchased. Fewer jobs will be created.

But, worst of all, there will be fewer homeowners. Lower income and many middle-income households will find their way to the mainstream of economic life blocked by artificially high prices resulting from naive urban planning policies. It seems likely these higher prices will lead in the long run to lower rates of homeownership.

The cost of this urban design extravagance will fall most significantly on minority households, whose income is generally lower and whose home ownership rate remains a full one-third below that of white-non-Hispanics."
  • Following up on my recent post about rubber sidewalks that handle tree roots better, Business Week has a profile of the Rubbersidewalks company.
"While the Rubbersidewalks initially cost Mann's department about 50% more than concrete, they can save money in other ways. Mann says a typical root pruning in his city costs $150 to $300. And because the pavers can be installed closer to trees than concrete, Mann doesn't have to get easements, saving about $300 in legal fees per house. But his ultimate savings will depend on how long the Rubbersidewalks last. Says Mann: "If they only last five years, we may not have made the best choice." Smith says the pavers should last at least seven years.

She sees other benefits as well. The pavers reduce the number of lawsuits from people who trip or fall over broken concrete. They don't contribute to the so-called heat-island effect, which is the increase in urban air and surface temperatures caused by hot pavements, asphalt, and buildings. And, of course, they help save trees and reduce the amount of rubber in landfills."
Like I said before, a tailor-made product for Houston. If you know people in Public Works, please pass it along.
  • A blog post and story on how Massachusetts is hemoraging jobs and college-educated young people, with four straight years of job declines. Their high regulatory, tax, and housing costs not only make them a "mini-Europe" (as the blogger describes), but also the" anti-Texas."
"Workers with bachelor's degrees constituted the largest group of those leaving Massachusetts. In 2003 and 2004, their top destination was Florida, followed by New Hampshire, Texas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and North Carolina.

"You can already make the argument that New England and the region is in decline demographically," Grogan said. "If we can't solve this problem, then Boston and Eastern Massachusetts, which is the economic engine of New England, is going to go into a long slow decline. We will simply not be keeping up with other regions in the country."

  • Christof has a good post on the difference between mobility and access, which ties well with the concept of "opportunity zones" I've previously described.

"The ideal for a city isn’t how fast one can travel — rural Montana trumped every U.S. Metro area in that regard. The ideal is being able to get to a lot of places — jobs, colleges, stores, restaurants, theaters — in a short amount of time.

Every place has access zone around it — the places which you can get to in, say, 20 minutes. In some places, that zone is a lot bigger than it is in other places. But the key measure isn’t the size of that zone; it’s how much stuff is in that zone.

Houston’s actually doing pretty well by that measure. We’re low density — there’s less “stuff” per square mile — but high speed — so the zone is big.
We should talk about access, and measure access and build for access. Access is opportunity and quality of life. Mobility is just speed."
  • A pretty neat Google maps overlay site that creates traffic congestion "heat maps". It defaults to comparing LA and DC, but you can zoom out and then zoom back in to any city you like. After a short pause, the traffic "heat" should display.
  • The Gulf Coast Institute has started a couple new blogs: one called Process to cover urban planning in Houston, and the other called Connections covering transportation issues.
OK there, I think that pretty much clears out the backlog. Have a happy holidays.


At 5:09 PM, December 31, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you quoted some harvard guy saying zoning was a highly regressive form of taxation.

One of my Econ profs at UH had a better description. A conduit for bribes to the city council setup by the city council. Gas Stations still get built next to neighborhoods when you have zoning. Only difference is that after zoning, Exxon will have to pay someone off.


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