Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hou #1 mfg city, public routes service, sprawl args, WSJ Menil, transit resistance, and more

I let the list of small miscellaneous items get too long again before posting. Sorry, but here it goes:
  • Very cool interactive downtown map. Turn on and off what you want to see on the left, then mouse-over to get info.
  • Houston has been ranked as the #1 manufacturing city in the country, in terms of total jobs.
"MNI's regional study showed Texas ranks second in the nation for manufacturing, just behind California, and accounts for 6.4 percent of the nation's manufacturing jobs and 6.2 percent of its manufacturing plants... MNI also reported that Texas is one of the only large manufacturing states in the nation to gain industrial jobs over the past few years with major manufacturing states such as Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York all posting sharp employment losses over that period."
  • A pass-along announcement: " ( ) launched live today in Houston and is a comprehensive online resource for public transportation directions in the city. Now residents and tourists visiting Houston can just log onto one site and find everything they need for traveling around greater Houston in one place. All you need to do is type in the start and end address and will give you directions on how to get to your destination, no matter which METRO service you’re using. The launch in Houston is the 12th city launch in the U.S. and the site is also available in London."
  • Great post by Randal O' Toole on why sprawl is a phony problem, which debunks a few questions about sprawl:
"Russians say that Americans don’t have real problems, so they make them up. Urban sprawl is one of those made-up problems...

Does sprawl threaten farm production?
Does sprawl threaten forests?
Does sprawl threaten open space?
Does sprawl force people to drive more?
Does sprawl increase urban-service costs?
Does sprawl make people fat?
Does sprawl reduce people’s sense of community?"
  • A blogHouston and AP story on how people actively resist transit even at high gas prices. It supports what I've been saying for a while, which is that the personal vehicle is now a permanent part of our ever-wealthier society (regardless of how propulsion technologies change to adapt to the economics of oil and gas), and transit-based living will largely be a niche lifestyle for either the very poor or those people who choose to live that way for whatever personal reasons. It will not be adopted by - or forced on - the masses.
  • A nice Wall Street Journal profile of The Menil Collection on its 20th anniversary (7-day nonsubscriber link, permalink).
  • NY Times on chaos at the Houston passport office.
  • Bob Bruegmann of "Sprawl - A Compact History" fame, debates and deconstructs the anti-sprawl arguments: part 1 and part 2.
"Whether in imperial Rome or 19th century London, whenever a new group of people could afford to escape the congestion, noise and unsanitary conditions of city centers, they did so. In fact the exodus from central London in the 19th century, made possible by the newly invented railroad and public transportation, was at least as great as anything seen in the United States after World War II.

And every time a new group moved out there was an intellectual and artistic elite that was affronted and wished to stop it.


To get any significant number of people out of their cars and into transit it would be necessary for transit to be faster and more efficient than cars. Except in the case of rush-hour commuting trips to the very center of a few large cities in the United States, this not now the case. Without some dramatic changes in the type of transit we use, transit is very unlikely to be able to compete anytime in the near future.

It would take massive increases in density to boost significantly the present, extremely small market share of transit use in Los Angeles. And even if the market share of transit gained, the number of automobile users would increase more quickly than transit users for the foreseeable future. Without some dramatic increase in road capacity, this would guarantee worse traffic and longer trips for motorists and bus passengers alike. In fact this is what has been happening in L.A. for some years now. Most of the nostrums promoted by "smart growth" advocates are likely to make matters even worse."

"I just wrote and published a Novel, titled 'In The Death of Night,' by Matthew Reed. It's about a retired CIA Case Officer who manipulates the dreaded Russian Mafia into killing Islamic terrorists inside Houston."

I haven't read it myself, but a while back I did read another thriller set in Houston, and it does enhance the experience being familiar with the settings.
Have a great weekend.

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At 9:13 AM, June 29, 2007, Blogger Megan and Gavin said...

O'Toole really adds nothing to the debate. He cites statistics that are misleading and do not provide the whole story. Further, his citation of "The Costs of Sprawl" is seen by many who actually study sprawl as being inadequate because it focuses on one component of sprawl, density. A chapter from my dissertation on land use policy provides, what I hope is a little more in depth analysis of sprawl, its causes and associated problems. If you are interested the link to this chapter is:

At 5:23 PM, June 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm... these answers seem mostly obvious:

Does sprawl threaten farm production? Yes
Does sprawl threaten forests? Yes
Does sprawl threaten open space? Yes
Does sprawl force people to drive more? Yes
Does sprawl increase urban-service costs? Yes
Does sprawl make people fat? Maybe, or maybe fat people live in sprawl. Either way, more fat people live in sprawling areas than in dense urban areas.
Does sprawl reduce people’s sense of community? Depends, but I would say yes.

At 9:01 AM, June 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You do know that if you actually look at O'Toole's article, he actually ANSWERS those questions, and he does so with more than blind assertions.

At 9:04 AM, June 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


O'Toole's statistics are only seen as "misleading" by those who want to cloud these issues and vainly attempt to hold onto the notion that intense government planning is a "solution" to a nonexistant problem, IMO. If his facts are truly misleading, their faults should be easy to explain.

At 1:58 PM, June 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yes, I realize that. I am saying that any study that answers those questions that contradict my "blind assertions", as you call them, would be highly suspect to me. As an educated person, I find studies that contradict common sense and basic knowledge to be highly suspect.

"There are lies, damned lies, and then statistics". You have to trust intuition as well, as well as recognize bias in authors, studies, etc. For instance, on this blog, environmental cost of driving and sprawl is almost never a factor in the studies or assertions given that cars are better than mass-transit. And Rush Limbaugh the other day was quoting a study that H2s are more environmentally friendly than the Prius, "if you drive them 200,000 miles, given the cost to manufacture them". Now, nevermind that virtually nobody drives a car 200,000 miles. The assumptions of a study like that are questionable (ie not taking into account the actual driving usage of the cars, and just focusing on some possibility given non-existent driving habits), which leads to a questionable conclusion.

One study saying that "sprawl does not threaten forest" or whatever O'Toole writes, does not a fact make. It does, however, make for some inherently suspect "assertions".


At 8:10 AM, July 02, 2007, Blogger Megan and Gavin said...


Truthfully, if you take the time to read the chapter or really do any type of study of conceptualizing and operationalizing sprawl you will see that the majority of the research suggests that using density as the only measure of sprawl is misleading. In the chapter I cite, I present both sides of the arguments and come to a conclusion using actual data. The only clouds here is your disregard of what the research reports.

At 4:49 PM, July 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Most of O'Toole's assertions are hardly ground-breaking. The arguments via open space, farm production, and forests are generally mistaken for a variety of obvious reasons: the US has plenty of open space overall, better farming techniques (including GM foods) have decreased the need for farmland, and the lessened need for farmland has increased the amount of forestland. None of this seems counterintuitive.

Furthermore, the obesity/sprawl link has always been pretty weak, and O'Toole shows that it doesn't always hold true (as in Chicago). Urban service costs are also iffy; I've known for a while that greater density tends to increase costs overall.

You argument regarding pollution, however, strikes me as the weakest. If you mean CO2, we can argue about that (I question global warming predictions, and in any case, I question whether the different between suburban driving and urban driving is sufficient to impact the trend). If you mean anything else, I think you're wrong. A dense, integrated urban environment will concentrate pollution, thus magnifying its affects on people. Just go to Times Square -- the amount of concentrated car exhaust you have to breathe in is staggering.

At 4:54 PM, July 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I glanced over the chapter, and I understand what you're getting at. However, I do think that the greatest difference between so-called "sprawl" and "smart growth" is the focus on density in the latter. Statistics regarding density, then, are imperfect but still illustrative of the relative costs of sprawl versus smart growth.

(Incidentally, I recall Smart Growth America does a sprawl survey using several weighted factors, and at least at one point Houston didn't rank highly, despite being largely unplanned -- food for thought).

At 6:32 PM, July 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The statistics on density vs. auto commuter share are a bit misleading -- they are based on metro areas, including suburbs. The density of Manhattan undiluted by suburbs is over 60,000 people per square mile, compared to 5,300 for the metro area, and only 18% of trips are made by car. The City of San Francisco itself has a density of ~16,000/sq mi, and transit share of ~60%. Washington DC (per se) has a density of ~9,000/sq mi, and transit share of ~40%.


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