Thursday, December 10, 2009

World's smartest cities, HOT lanes, Rice-BCM, iPhone app, and more

I've been cleaning out the email inbox of old newsletters, which yielded a lot of new small items to pass along:
  • A great quote I came across: "Those who argue that it doesn't pay to build a road because it just fills up again should test that argument on libraries, schools, and hospitals." Alan Pisarski, author of Commuting in America.
  • Sam Staley at Reason summarizes the arguments and data for HOT lanes. We have our first set on the Katy Freeway, and Metro is in the process of converting all of their HOV lanes. Now if we could just get them on 610...
  • At the bottom of page 3 in this pdf from the Greater Houston Partnership you can find a detailed analysis of how long it will take the city and metro of Houston to pass up Chicago (#3) and LA (#2). It's a lot longer than you might think, unless something big happens like a Houston-Harris County merger/annexation.
  • Rice President David Leebron describes the benefits and risks of a merger with the Baylor College of Medicine. It would definitely raise Rice's and Houston's profile, but there are some scary financial risks too.
  • Very cool time-lapse video of the TMC and downtown at night from the top of the Hotel ZaZa. Hat tip to HAIF and Swamplot.
  • Houston made the list of World's Smartest Cities:

    "As North America's economy shifts from import and consumption toward export and production, Seattle's rise will be a model for other business-savvy cities in the West and South. Houston's close tie to the Caribbean, as well as its dominant global energy industry, thriving industrial base, huge Texas Medical Center complex and first-rate airport, all work to its long-term advantage. Arguably the healthiest economically of America's big cities, Houston is also investing in--not just talking about--its green future; last year it was the nation's largest municipal purchaser of wind energy."

  • David Brooks of the NYT has an op-ed on nine great action items to get the country's innovation agenda back on track.
  • Houston is still the nation's #1 home construction market, substantially ahead of followers DFW, DC, Phoenix, and Austin. The largest declines since the peak of the housing boom? Atlanta, Phoenix, NYC, Chicago, and Riverside. Notice that Phoenix is on both lists: a big decline from a big peak still puts them ahead of most. Hat tip to Jessie.
  • If you have an Apple iPhone or iPod touch, check out a new application from Wayne at HAIF called Towrs. It "uses the iPhone's geolocation feature to display the interesting buildings near where the user is standing. Downtown Houston and Galveston are two of the areas it is designed for. It also works well in Chicago, Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, and a few other cities." I tested it and it's pretty slick. Just point your phone's web browser to . If you have feedback, send your suggestions or bug reports to
A final note: I'm on vacation for the next 10 days or so, but blog posts will return mid Christmas week. Don't have any more snow without me...

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At 11:53 PM, December 10, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

Sam Staley at Reason summarizes the arguments and data for HOT lanes.

Argument #1: we get millions of dollars from Exxon-Mobil and GM to promote roads. Just like we get money from Phillip-Morris and then argue that second-hand smoke doesn't kill.

At 4:28 PM, December 11, 2009, Anonymous Fort Bend resident said...

The good news, "Houston Remains Top Single Family Housing Market."
The bad news, "Dallas and Houston together now have more multi-family permits than New York City." Just what the Houston area needs, more apartments. Ugh. Are there not enough already in Sharpstown, Greenspoint, Gulfton and Alief? That was the downfall of those areas.

At 11:24 PM, December 11, 2009, Blogger Michael said...

>>The only plausible change in population rankings among major cities and metros in
the near future is that the Houston MSA could move past the Philadelphia MSA into fifth rank.

Hey, I'll take the 5th largest metro area. Passing Philly - a huge metro area on the East Coast, is a major milestone - and maybe it means Drayton will finally be able to afford a World Series team like big-market Philadelphia has had the past couple of seasons :).

I'll leave passing Chicago / LA / NYC for future generations. It would also be cool if we could pass up DFW and move into 4th place, but I'm not sure how that will happen, as DFW is growing about as quickly as we are (quicker, according to Wikipedia). Then we'd really be the nation's 4th largest urban area, which would be like the honorable mention of US population. Kind of cool.

At 12:52 AM, December 12, 2009, Anonymous Keep Houston Houston said...

Annnnd folks, this is why no zoning is great, because when you *have* a zoning board it gets packed by people like "Ford Bend resident" who say "Ugh" to more apartments, as they just contribute to "the downfall" of an area. (Poor people! Minorities! THE HORROR!)

Apartment permits are awesome, they keep rents low for those of us who didn't buy into the mortgage madness a few years ago. They also help keep single-family neighborhoods more "family" oriented since, if you restrict the supply of multifamily housing, you push group living arrangements into formerly single-family residences.

At 8:54 AM, December 12, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> It would also be cool if we could pass up DFW and move into 4th place, but I'm not sure how that will happen, as DFW is growing about as quickly as we are

The Census would have to decide to split them into two metros like they did with SF and San Jose. ;)

And very good points KHH.

At 4:04 PM, December 12, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

The Census Bureau could also define metro areas in a more sensible way. The basic problem with MSAs is that they're defined based on a very high percentage of commuters, 25%, working in the census-defined urban area. A better definition is based on a much smaller percentage of commuters - Japan uses 1.5%, Britain 5% - working in the central cities. The CSA mostly corresponds to the Japanese or British definition of what a metro area is. (Actually, the Japanese-defined metro areas of DFW and Houston would be even larger than the CSAs, though not by a lot; on the other hand, the Bay Area would grow by a lot more, rising to 9.2 million in this definition).


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