Tuesday, January 09, 2007

LAT on Houston and SF parking rage

Well, I ended up blowing most of my evening watching the Steve Jobs' MacWorld keynote video demo of the new Apple iPhone, so we're going to do a couple quick pass-alongs tonight. If you get a chance, check it out. It completely redefines the mobile phone, and it definitely looks to be as big a milestone as the original Mac or iPod.

The first item is an LA Times story on the oil boom titled "Houston is feeling energized" (thanks to Hugh for the link).
"When the rest of the country is doing well, it seems like Houston is often struggling. But when the rest of the country is struggling, it seems like Houston is often doing well."

High oil, natural gas and electricity prices may bring pain to families and business owners elsewhere, but in America's energy capital, they bring prosperity.

Two out of every five Houstonians owe their jobs to energy — many big oil and gas companies have their world or American headquarters in Houston — and the industry's spectacular profits in recent years have helped the nation's fourth-largest city outdistance the country as a whole in economic growth.

Los Angeles and most big cities are seeing slowdowns in their real estate markets this year, but Houston's is still climbing: For 34 months straight, area home sales have increased compared with the same month a year earlier. Yet Houston's housing remains surprisingly affordable: The median home sales price in November was $147,000, compared with $487,000 for the Los Angeles region.

The city is on pace to add 75,000 jobs this year, an increase of about 3.5%, or more than twice the national average. Though that growth rate falls short of Las Vegas and a few other large American cities, experts say it is remarkable that Houston's economy continued to expand even after one of its largest white-collar employers, Enron Corp., collapsed from a financial scandal and declared bankruptcy in 2001.

"A petroleum engineer coming out of Texas A&M now gets about $87,000 a year and a $30,000 signing bonus, and that's for someone with no experience," said Robert W. Gilmer, a senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. "Houston has heated up to the point where it spreads all the way through the employment sector, to plant operators and truck drivers."
Houston's economy is much more diverse than it was two decades ago, when roughly 80% of all jobs were tied to energy; the city now has a thriving port and a rapidly expanding medical district known for some of the best specialized care in the South. Still, veterans of Houston's boom-and-bust energy economy are mindful that fortunes could turn quickly, like they did in the 1980s, when a sudden swoon in crude oil prices sent the city's economy crashing.
HOUSTON, like other Sun Belt cities, remains relatively affordable. Its cost of living is 24% less than other metro regions of 2 million or more people, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research, a national group that compares basic costs such as housing, groceries and utility bills.

So after paying their bills, many still have money to spend.

Those benefiting most from the current energy boom are behaving demurely compared with past generations of Houstonians, who giddily spent small fortunes on jewelry, 12-cylinder Jaguar sedans and lizard-skin cowboy boots when oil prices were high, only to sulk in shame when they bottomed out. A bumper sticker popular in Houston's sober aftermath read, "Please Lord, give me one more oil boom. I promise not to blow it next time."
Houstonians also love going out to eat — and they do so more than big-city dwellers anywhere else in the country. The Zagat Survey this year found that Houston residents dined at restaurants 4.2 times a week, compared with 3.4 times for New Yorkers and 3.2 times for Americans overall.
Other parts of the article profile Tony's restaurant, twentysomethings buying real estate, and energy headhunters in a frenzy. As always, it's kind of interesting to read how outsiders perceive the city.

The second item is an interesting NY Times story on San Francisco "parking rage" that will give you yet another reason to be happy you live in Houston. Evidently it's gotten so bad that violence has erupted several times between motorists and parking control officers, as well as fights over spaces (including one killing). Somehow they even manage to get a dig in on Houston because we have convenient parking.

Many local planners say the lack of parking is in part an unfortunate byproduct of the city’s popularity.

“Any city that is worth visiting is going to have a terrible parking problem,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a public policy center. “If you don’t want it to be Disneyland or Houston, you’re going to be experiencing a parking shortage.”

Mr. Metcalf added, however, that the density of San Francisco, with an estimated 740,000 residents in 49 square miles, also put in a different category from New York, which is also known for its parking nightmares.

It’s too dense for people to drive easily and not dense enough for really great public transit,” he said. “So the result is frustration.”

That opinion was seconded by Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, widely considered something of a parking theory guru. (His fans are called Shoupistas.)

Professor Shoup said the chronic lack of parking here was a result of a decision to encourage a bustling downtown free of atmosphere-killing parking lots, a phenomenon echoed in other parking-challenged — and popular — cities like Boston, Chicago and New York.

“Whenever someone from San Francisco calls to whine about the fact there’s no parking,” he said, “I always say, ‘Well, you have to choose, do you want to be more like San Francisco or more like L.A.?’ And that usually ends the conversation.”

That said, Professor Shoup noted that San Francisco had some questionable parking policies, namely cheap on-street parking and expensive garages and lots, a dynamic that encourages drivers to look endlessly for meters rather than pay for the privilege of parking off the street.

Wow, San Francisco is not dense enough for good transit? That's kind of a frightening thought. Sort of the "worst of both worlds." Essentially a "Valley of Death" density between comfortable surban levels and workable transit levels. Getting the urban core of Houston across that valley is an intimidating thought.


At 3:02 PM, January 10, 2007, Blogger kjb434 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:04 PM, January 10, 2007, Blogger kjb434 said...

If San Francisco wouldn't control the height of all development outside of downtown and just preserve certain historic district, it could encourage the development of high rise condos and/or apartments that would allow for more density. It can also attempt to lower the median housing price and allow a more diverse income range to live in the city. I guess common sense is always trumped by someone with an urban planning degree.

At 6:34 PM, January 10, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...


Unfortunately, I believe the reason for the height restriction is at least partially a "drawbridge" mentality. Even in cities without height restrictions, like NY, you see that where a metropolitan region has become a hub for finance and other professional jobs, it builds up a wealthy population base that cares little about laws that increase the cost of living. Then they quell their guilt by supporting low-income housing mandates and government welfare, rather than simply lowering taxes, cutting regulations, and allowing more development by slashing land use restrictions.

It's typical limousine liberalism. You could argue that the city is successful on some levels -- being a nice place to live with a certain "feel" and all -- but it's essentially an unaffordable urban playground for rich yuppies. That's the type of city they want to protect (and as you might guess, I find that pretty disgusting).


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