Thursday, May 29, 2008

The French love Houston, NYC QoL, and more

Continuing the list of smaller items from earlier this week, which has already grown quite a bit just in the last few days. Plenty of reading material for your weekend...
  • NYT article on the nightmare of owning - specifically parking and re-parking - a car in NYC. In this case, in the outer boroughs like Brooklyn where you actually need one. You think this factors into their quality of life ratings?... ;-) Excerpts:
Plenty of New Yorkers spend more time each week parking than they do in a house of worship, or visiting aging parents, or reading to kids.
City drivers now plan their entire weeks — entire lives — around being able to move their cars for the hours allotted for street cleaning, then hurriedly move them back, safe and sound for another few days.
“It sort of extends the ‘good-for-tomorrow’ problem, in that you’re afraid to use your car if you’re in a spot that’s good for tomorrow,” Mr. Trillin said. “In a way, you have a car, and you can’t use it. You’ve got yourself a spot that’s just too good to leave, no matter what. You might as well just cement those cars to that street.”

This led him to another only-in-New-York solution: “You might as well sublet it. Have somebody live there. There’s no rent-control laws applying to cars. I think that ought to solve the problem.”
“Parking is such a joke in this neighborhood that no matter what they do, it won’t make a difference,” said Buddy Ferriola, from the deli Pollio on Fifth Avenue. “You got 20,000 cars and 2,000 parking spaces.”

  • Continuing on the theme of NYC's "quality of life," check out this NYT article on what 20-something's have to do to scrape by living there. Absolutely nuts. Because our media so universally worship the city, it lures so many young people who are ultimately disillusioned (they even say in the article they're suffering until their 'big break' comes along). I understand that most give up within a few years and move elsewhere in the country, usually back home or near home.
  • Some great stats on Houston's leading employment growth and home affordability vs. cities in the rest of the country.
  • If you want to see what outsiders from all over the country saw on a Houston bus tour at the recent Preserving the American Dream conference, check out these posts with pictures of the city core and a private master-planned community, Sienna Plantation.
  • A recent Cato study argues "...we can save more energy and reduce more greenhouse gases by encouraging people to drive more fuel-efficient cars and reducing the energy wasted in congestion than by building rail transit." Some excerpts:
Buses today consume as much energy and emit more greenhouse gases, per passenger mile, than the average SUV. Most light-rail systems also consume as much as or more energy per passenger mile than SUVs, and 40 percent emit more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than the average car.

Transit agencies that want to save energy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions should focus on increasing bus loads or reducing the size of their buses. The average King County Metro bus has 44 seats, yet carries on average just 14 passengers. Concentrating service in areas where loads are higher, and using smaller buses in areas or at times of day where loads are lower, will do far more to save energy than building rail transit.

  • More and more people are starting to explore the linkage between Smart Growth policies and the housing bust, something Texas thankfully avoided: Randal and Wendell, as well as local libertarian Brian.
  • Loren Steffy in the Chronicle on how Houston benefits from a lack of zoning and limited development regulations.
  • The Wall Street Journal on why doctors are moving to Texas and personal injury lawyers are moving out (especially to CA). Tort reform has clearly succeeded here.
  • A Cato report analyzing how long-term transportation planning gets done incorrectly and even abused by metro planners to get the plans they personally want, rather than the ones with the best cost-benefit.
“No plan did sensitivity analyses of critical assumptions. None bothered to project potential benefits or cost-effectiveness or projects considered. All but a handful of plans failed to include any realistic alternatives, and many failed to project the effects of the proposed plan on transportation. As a result, plans lacked transparency: taxpayers and other readers of most plans would have no idea how to projects were selected, whether those projects or the plans themselves were cost effective at meeting plan goals, or even, in many cases, whether the plans met any goals.”

Here's the agenda I'd propose for propelling Austin into the "Superstar City" pantheon: (1) discourage the construction of traditionally affordable housing like garage apartments and duplexes; (2) restrict the amount of land available for multi-family housing; (3) strictly limit multi-family density; (4) limit the construction of upscale condos and townhomes in order to force affluent homebuyers to compete for the scarce supply of close-in housing; (5) ban small-lot and "urban home" zoning; (6) require property owners/developers who build dense developments to shoulder the financial burden for things like affordable housing, parks and infrastructure; and (7) impose onerous design standards to increase the cost of new construction.

We can call it the "progressive" agenda. We'll be in the superstar ranks in no time.

Finally, a novel item to end the list. This French blog talks about the benefits of the low-regulation Houston development model (i.e. an "open city"). Can you believe a French blogger advocating Houston over Paris?! (thanks to Joel for the link) Since I doubt most of you read French, here's Google's attempt at an English translation. Rough, to be sure, but it will give you the gist. Clearly, the word is starting to get out about Houston since the bursting of the global housing bubble. In addition to the French, I also know people from New Zealand and Australia trying to learn from and promote our model. I can see the titles now:
Houston: From Pariah to Paragon...

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At 7:38 PM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, you do not need a car in a place like Brooklyn. It is not a necessity. There are subway stops and an extensive bus system that is very, very reliable. Not only that, Brooklyn is very walkable. They have neighborhood stores, markets, grocers, fruit stands, you name it. I realize that you haven't ever lived there but have you ever even been there? It seems not because the statement about "needing" a car is complete misinformation.

At 9:47 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I have been there, and I've had people that live in the outer boroughs tell me that it is very tough not having a car. And it's obvious from the comments and numbers in the article that plenty of people do feel the need to have a car, and put up with the incredible hassles of having one there. They wouldn't do it if they didn't think it was necessary and worth it.

At 11:19 PM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know hundreds of people who live in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx that live perfectly fine without a car. Me thinks the people in the story have a car but don't use it very often (poor financial choice - rent). That is why they need to play this game of making sure they don't leave their car on the street for too long. If they drove their car everyday, they wouldn't have to worry about leaving it on the street when the cleaners come through.

At 9:40 AM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To paraphrase your comments, "It's obviously that plenty of people do feel the need to live in New York City and put up with the hassles of living there. They wouldn't do it if they didn't think it was necessary and worth it."

Let's see; the idea that New York City is an amazing, unique city that offers all kinds of benefits (along with the negatives, of course - like all choices in life) is the result of some kind of media worship that's hypnotizing people into moving there. But the idea that you need to own your own car in Brooklyn - as opposed to spending those thousands of dollars every year on cab fare, Zipcar, weekend car rentals, etc. - is just common sense.

Er... OK.

Tory, I grew up in the NYC burbs. And I grew up when NYC was at a low point - every day the news would feature who got pushed in front of a subway, who got murdered, the garbage strike, Son of Sam striking again, the city's plunge into insolvency and so on. I have no great illusions about New York. But is IS a unique place. It is dynamic in a way that Houston, much as I love it, just isn't. If you want to work in publishing or finance there is nowhere in the US like it.

As for the car thing: having gone through the big step of going car-free (while living in Boston) I can tell you that for most people who grew up in our car culture (as I did) it's really hard. I had figured out a year before I did it that it made absolutely no financial sense to own a car; I had figured out that I was spending all kinds of time parking, and if I took the T or a cab for those car trips I'd spend less time and money on them... but that sense that the car is outside and I could hop into it any time and go somewhere is very, very compelling. I'm sure there are plenty of people in New York for whom car ownershipo makes sense, but I would bet that there are a lot for whom it's more an emotional than rational choice.

The neighborhoods that are badly served by transit and cabs do tend to be the ones with ample parking, by the way.

At 6:14 PM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Three different links to Randal O'Toole's blog in a single entry.

I hate to say that I'm beginning to feel as if this blog is becoming a parody of itself.

At 6:56 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger Unknown said...

It occurs to me, and now it will to you, that the major appreciators of New York's, Austin's or Seattle's inimitable features are self-selected to a dramatically greater extent than in the case of Houston.

At 7:25 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree NYC is an amazing city. And you're right it's the place to be for finance or media. Obviously, some people think it's a QoL paradise. But I think most people view it as putting up with a lot of QoL hardships in order to have access to that dynamic, esp. the jobs. The QoL is not what's attracting them to NYC - it's the career opportunities.

At 7:51 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thomas: well, they just stacked up that way over a few weeks. What matters is not who wrote it, but what they have to say and the facts and arguments they have to back it up. Attacking something just because of the author is weak. See

At 4:21 PM, June 02, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory Gattis said...
"Attacking something just because of the author is weak."

But Tory, you know that the tired old tradition of attacking the messenger is so much easier!

At 4:26 PM, June 02, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the link. the google translation is... can't find the word !!!

In France, official speech about land use is totally governed by anti-sprawl hysteria. Even if we don't translate "smart growth" litterally, our land use laws are, in fact, mandating smart growth policies to every town. And housing affordability severely decreased in the past 10 years.

So the actual presence of places like Houston, even if there is no such thing as a "perfect city", shows that a "free choice" oriented land use can lead to very livable places, that this developpement model hasn't to be rejected systematically, without critical analysis.

This is precious to the very few voices advocating against land use planning in our country.

At 8:59 PM, June 02, 2008, Blogger engineering said...

There are lots of good things about Houston and some not so good.

The stats on the article might just include Sugar Land and The Woodlands because last time I checked the city of Houston had a population of about 2 million people. Where did the other 3.5 million come from? Also, if not mistaken the median household income for the city of Houston is about $36,000 something.

The following site has some related stats
It is also interesting the discussion on cost of gas.

Personally I think people will change their driving habits to make up for the increase in costs. I don't think transit will gain significant ridership from it mainly because of service constrains. On the other hand, scooters appear to make a good alternative except when the weather is horrible when people might just have to get the old auto out for a spin.

Now last Saturday Sue Lovell said that we will have commuter rail within one year. She must know, she represents the city at the TPC.

Tory, 2009 is when the reauthorization of the federal transportation bill comes to turn. Any thoughts on this? We do have to pay for our Iraq war and gas consumption is going down. I bet all transportation funds will be cut.

At 9:24 AM, June 03, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

You're assuming Congress has fiscal discipline and can resist loading it up with pork projects. Experience says otherwise...


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