Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Kotkin's 'Opportunity Urbanism' unveiled

The Kotkin project I've been involved with for almost two years now finally got formally released to the public at a Greater Houston Partnership luncheon yesterday. The goal was to understand cities as engines of upward social and economic mobility, with specific case study focus on Houston. It's a big deal, because the framework represents Joel Kotkin's formal alternative model to Richard Florida's Creative Class (two of the big names in the urban policy debate). It's also meant to part of the "big picture" ideas and dialogue of urban policy, like smart growth and new urbanism. If Portland is the "poster child" city for smart growth, we want Houston to be the equivalent for opportunity urbanism.

I'll be posting much more on this in the near future, but I want to keep this one short so you'll spend most of your reading time at least browsing the really beautifully formatted report with some very interesting graphs and tables comparing different cities.

Opportunity UrbanismAn Emerging Paradigm for the 21st Century
(scroll down to "Independent Research")

I may be obviously biased, but I also think it's well worth reading the whole thing. There is also a short executive summary at the front, and here is some other media coverage that can give some overview:

Labels: , , , , , ,


At 10:23 PM, June 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever I read stuff like this I just shake my head. More sprawl, more pollution, more traffic, and cookie cutter homes.

It really makes me reconsider my choice to move here.

At 9:44 AM, June 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very few cities don't have lack of sprawl, more traffic, and cookie cutter homes.

Even European metros have sprawl with increasing traffic, cookie cutter homes, and vast highway expansions.

And all these things are not bad.

Who are you to tell other people that the personal plot of land they call their suburban home is a bad thing?

Shouldn't they have a choice to live where they want?

Would everyone being crammed into a dense urban center be that much better?

I you don't like sprawl, don't live in it! Move to the center of the city or move somewhere else.

P.S. The report was a great summary of urban oppurtunity Tory.

At 2:10 PM, June 07, 2007, Blogger C Neal said...

I used to live in Houston, but moved back home to Maine for a big pay cut and a bigger boost to my quality life. Nevertheless, Kotkin articulates some of the things I liked best about Houston: its egalitarianism, diversity, affordability, and creativity.

Ultimately, though, if we had to set up a spectrum between "opportunity urbanism" at one end and Richard Florida's creative-class "new urbanism" at the other, I think that the ideal would lie somewhere in the middle - both philosophies only get it partly correct.

I also might criticize Kotkin for having a very specific idea of "opportunity" - who says you can't be middle class without a lawn and a single-family house? In Houston, I was forced to spend a significant portion of my income on an automobile - a depreciating asset - and the costs of driving it long distances around the city. I may be earning less in Maine, but living in an apartment in a small city and sharing a vehicle with my girlfriend, I'm actually saving more than I did in Texas.

Thanks for sharing this, and keep up the good blogging.


At 2:20 PM, June 07, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The report is more aimed at the creative class and smart growth than new urbanism as a neighborhood design form, which I don't think Joel has a problem with. Provide both suburban and urban housing, and let the market decide. And Houston has been developing it's light rail network in the core, and there are plenty of apartments near it. Still not as convenient as a car, but an option for those who want it. I think our issue is with forcing transit and new urbanism on everybody, rather than providing it as an option to those who want it.

At 3:53 PM, June 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to think that given a few years, Houston will be a metro area that gives the best of both worlds to it's citizens as a choice.

You can easily live an urban life closer in the city or live a suburban live and commute to the city for work effectively.

To keep both option available, maintaining our expressway corridors and adding HOT lanes with the use of LRT for the inner city will provide this.

Not many cities with the size of Houston or larger can currently provide this. Commutes for suburbanites in many cities exceed the 1hour mark whether by car or mass transit. In Houston, most suburban commuters have a 1hour max commute or less. Also, many of the suburbs have access to Park-n-Ride transit which provides much quicker commute times.

At 7:57 PM, June 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

random thoughts,

I agree with you on the dislike for suburbia. That is why i am saving as much money as I can so that in the next couple of years I will be able to buy a place in the heights. That way the traffic, cookie cutter homes, and sprawl wont be affecting me anymore.

It is all about trade offs and who are you and I to judge other people for wanting a bigger yard, a bigger house, lower taxes, and better public schools for their kids.

At 11:37 PM, June 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not just about choice. I want to live in a place with less air pollution and a world with less global warming. That is my choice. Sadly, the policies advocated by the author of this study will lead to neither. Even in cities with expanding suburbs (like NYC, Boston, DC, Paris, London, etc) they provide alternatives to driving. Houston does not. My hope was that this city is moving in the right direction, but when I read things like this I start to question that assumption.

If someone wants to live in a massive house (estate is what it would be called in most places) and commute a significant distance everyday for basically everything under the sun, let them pay for it. Include all the external costs that this kind of lifestyle entails. The problem with the author's theory is that these costs are not accounted for. More of the same.

If you want a country lifestyle, move to the country and stay there. Redevelop our small towns. Don't add to their destruction and our ever polluted home.

At 8:44 AM, June 08, 2007, Blogger Rorschach said...

Global warming is not a result of CO2 production, in fact the opposite is true, CO2 is the result of global warming. Global warming has everything to do with cloud cover which current environmental models either completely ignore or badly underestimate. Believe it or not, particulate pollution REDUCES warming by acting as nucleation sites for water droplets. The resulting cloud cover shades the ground and reflects much of the energy back out to space. A newly discovered cloud formation mechanism is showing that it is far more capable of driving global warming than CO2. cosmic rays impacting the upper stratosphere also act as nucleation site formers. The amount of cosmic rays making it to the stratosphere are driven by both the solar heliosphere which grows and shrinks depending on how active the sun is at a given time, as well as the strength of the earth's magnetic field which is currently waning due to an impending magnetic polar flip that will occur sometime in the next century or so.

Your car has very little to do with global warming. Al Gore is selling you a bill of goods so he can make money selling non-existent "carbon credits".

At 9:06 AM, June 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been trying to find the best way to phrase the previous comment about global warming. Thanks Rorschach!

People really to have to wake up and realize the global environment is much bigger and less influence by us humans.

As far as the earth and the environment is concerned, humans are just another blip on it's several billion year existence.

At 11:01 AM, June 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I imagine that a significant portion of the young "talking class" of aspiring commentators have not been exposed to this type of report. Thank you for this study and its comparison to the "cool-hip" strategy for urban developement. In any event, governments should not waste valuable resources on efforts to be "in-style" with a small minority of the worlds population. The idea of lifting people out of poverty through "coolness" seems very questionable. Building up highways, seaports, airports, powerplants, medical districts, and building massive amounts of reasonable housing seems like a better strategy.

At 1:52 PM, June 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s interesting to hear the complaints about urban sprawl, but one often misses the many advantages. I can give one example. A friend of our family is being asked by his engineering company to move to Boston. He currently lives in Sugar Land, and they have three kids. Basic professional, educated family--not rich, but able to afford a good living [salary that one may expect from an experienced engineer]. His wife is a part-time nurse.

They are having trouble finding decent housing in the Boston area. In Sugar Land, 300 to 350K is more than enough to purchase a very nice home in a good neighborhood with good schools. In Boston, they are looking at a purchase price of about 600K for an old home, fixer-upper, with only about 60% of the square footage, in a noisy neighborhood. It is very likely that he will politely refuse the move.

At 9:54 PM, June 08, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your whole attack on Florida's Creative Class business reminds me of the deconstruction of John Maynard Keynes' economics. They both come up with these byzantine diagrams and assumptions about human behavior that throw out individuals behaving anywhere in the ballpark of rational.

Unfortuantely, far too many people don't see spurious claims when they rise up. People like Florida write a really good story that feels good and so a lot of people clamour to get on board. There is no magic formula. No command/control system can ever enable an individual's ability to maximize their own intellectual capital.

Thankfully, there are people like you and Mr. Kotkin who will take the time to point by point deconstruct their claims. Hopefully "Opportunity Urbanism" will slowly kill off this latest meandering fairy tale.

Thank you for putting in the work and risking your reputations to bring the debate back to facts.


At 2:47 PM, June 10, 2007, Blogger Andrew Eisenberg said...

Interesting. This report highlights everything I both love and hate about Houston, but trumps up all this as good.

Love: the arts are very accessible and world class. High quality theater (love the Alley), and art (love the Menil Collection). Good restaurants are often cheap. Great Tex Mex...

Hate: miles and miles and miles of non-neighborhoods. Complete and utter dependence on cars. Lack of natural parks and hiking (Hermann Park doesn't count). Lack of regard for the local environment (Galveston beach leaves a lot to be desired)...

10 years ago, I lived in Houston, but I now live in Vancouver, sacrificing salary and space to live in one of the world's best cities.

Yes, urban living is more expensive than suburban living, but ask suburban residents to pay for their share of highways, sewers, power and phone lines, water treatment facilities, etc and I think the numbers would come out much differently.

Interesting blog. I will be coming back often because there are few large North American cities that are as different as Houston and Vancouver are.

At 9:59 AM, June 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Hate: miles and miles and miles of non-neighborhoods. Complete and utter dependence on cars. Lack of natural parks and hiking (Hermann Park doesn't count). Lack of regard for the local environment (Galveston beach leaves a lot to be desired)...

10 years ago, I lived in Houston, but I now live in Vancouver, sacrificing salary and space to live in one of the world's best cities.

1. Who are you to say that something is a "non-neighborhood?" It might not be the type of neighborhood you'd prefer to live in, but it's petty and irrational to define words along your preferences.

2. Why doesn't Hermann Park "count?" Is this the same way neighborhoods you don't like don't "count" as neighborhood? In any event, Houston has about twice as much municipal park space per capita as Vancouver. We also have more park space per capita than New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Don't feed the myth that Houston lacks park space. It's objectively wrong.

3. Of course, people prefer to live where they prefer to live. I'm not going to debate you on which city is objectively better, because that's a personal concern. However, everyone does need to realize that for MOST people, cost-of-living is a massive, overriding concern. They won't trade salary and living space for living in what they subjectively view as a neater, more eclectic city, at least not once they settle down with a family (which is what we ought to be encouraging). That's not to malign your choice, but you need to understand that it isn't the norm.

At 11:50 PM, June 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is Atlanta attracting so many more domestic migrants than Houston?

At 8:51 AM, June 16, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Go to this link and read the comments on draw zones. It's written about Dallas, but it applies even more strongly to Atlanta, which has a gigantic, very populated draw zone (substantially more than Houston). It is also considered the "capital" of black professionals, and that too is a powerful draw.

At 11:44 AM, June 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's an interesting concept, but then how would you explain why, from 1960 to 2000, Houston matched DFW and led Atlanta in growth (according to the graphs on Kotkin's report), whereas from 1997 to 2005, we have lagged behind?

My guess is that Dallas and Atlanta are much higher on the average American's list of nice places to live. Houston is having a problem attracting people who aren't immigrants looking to move into the cheapest American city.

At 12:39 PM, June 16, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

My thoughts:

1) Atlanta and Dallas participated more in the late 90s tech boom. Atlanta also got a large boost from the '96 Olympics.

2) They have a natural weather advantage over us because their humidity is not as bad in the summer (you can sweat and actually cool off) and hurricanes are less of a risk. They get a real 4 seasons. Their winters are mildly worse, but not much. Snow is still rare. Outside of CA, the ideal weather belt in the country seems to be Austin/SA- DFW- Tennessee- Atlanta- NC - avoiding the heavy snow of the north, but also avoiding the tropical heat, hurricanes, and humidity of the southern coast.

3) Houston had a horrible energy industry crash in the 80s. Our 60-00 match came from the giant growth in the 70s and early 80s. We're more industry driven than diversified DFW and Atlanta.

4) I believe we are ahead of them in the last 2-3 years because of the energy boom and growing problems in Atlanta, but it will take a while for the data to come out and confirm this.

A quote I recently read on one of Atlanta's troubles, in addition to spiralling traffic congestion from underinvestment:

"another distressing trend is the region's per-capita income. He presented data that shows the Atlanta region had the lowest amount of per-capita income growth among the 17 major cities in the country.

Between 2000 and 2005, metro Atlanta's per-capita income increased by only 5.1 percent, compared to a national average increase of 13.4 percent.

"It makes us nervous," Alexander said. "A lot of the high-paying jobs are leaving the region. And the jobs we have added don't pay as much as the jobs we have lost."

At 10:52 AM, June 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you say that Atlanta and Dallas have attracted more domestic migrants because they are more diversified, doesn't this beg the question of why they are more diversified? Clearly there is nothing holding us to being just an industrial town or just the energy industry. It seems to me that Atlanta and Dallas, despite being more expensive places to live than Houston, have attracted more of the companies that are free to locate anywhere. This speaks to quality of life.

At 6:12 PM, June 17, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

It's their better weather and draw zone.

At 9:08 PM, June 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's why Dallas and Atlanta are able to attract diversified companies whereas we can only attract energy and industry? Because they have better weather and larger draw zones?

I don't think draw zones have anything to do with what kind of companies you can attract, and I don't think Dallas is perceived as having much better weather than Houston. I DO know that Dallas is widely perceived as being a cleaner, nicer city than we are. But you seem convinced that isn't a factor.

At 9:22 PM, June 17, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Companies are intimately tied to the availability of the work force, so, yes, the draw zones even impact the companies.

I do admit Houston does not have the cleanest, nicest perception, but I think it is a relatively minor factor vs. the others.

At 10:35 PM, June 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, what you're saying almost defies reason. You're telling me that Houston does not have a diversified economy like Dallas and Atlanta do because it is on the coast and hence has a limited drawzone. And because Houston's weather is so much worse than Dallas's. Not because the freeways leading from our airports have enough garbage and dilapidated buildings to rival a third world country, or because our city has such a poor reputation for aesthetics that The Economist a few years ago flatly stated, "Houston is ugly." Please tell me you'll think this over.

At 7:47 AM, June 18, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, I'm pretty much saying that. You know, the drive from the airports in NYC and LA and even Chicago are not very attractive either, but nobody holds that against them. We blow it way out of proportion because of our inferiority complex. I will admit Houston is not high on the attractiveness scale, and it has probably cost us a bit, but I still believe weather and draw zones are the major factors - and especially weather: hurricances, humidity, heat, and mosquitos. It's very tough here in the summer. In drier climes to the north, it's also hot, but you sweat and cool off. It's different, and it's our biggest negative we can really do nothing about. I'm not opposed to improvements to our aesthetics, but comprehensive land use controls are too high a price to pay.

At 9:43 AM, June 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you have a right to your opinion. I'm not sure why comprehensive land use controls are such a high price - Dallas has zoning, and cost of living is hardly any higher than it is here. I don't remember the Kennedy or Stevenson Expressways in Chicago being ugly, nor the 405 in LA, which I was on a week ago. Haven't been to New York in a while, but it too has well landscaped freeways. And there must be a dozen hemmed in coastal cities with diversified economies. Seems like in this era of giant metro eras, the metro area itself is the draw zone, and ours is bigger than most states.

The worst thing is that we really could make this city nicer if we'd stop saying it isn't a problem and put our minds to it.


Post a Comment

<< Home