Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Austin vs. #1 Houston, transit, migration, CoL, and more

Some smaller items this week:
The Lone Star Shines  
There are good prospects for ambitious young professionals across the country, but Texas dominates our list, boasting three of the top 10 spots. Because of its business-friendly environment and abundance of oil money, 14 of the country's largest companies (as measured by market capitalization) are based in our No. 1 city, Houston. Only New York, N.Y., which ranks No. 4 on our list, boasts more big employers. Houston also shines thanks to high average incomes and a concentration of grads from elite colleges--and not just from local Rice University, but from across the country.
  • Here's a fun interactive map at Forbes showing domestic migration.  Pick any county and see where people are coming in from (black lines) and going out to (red lines).  Harris County is doing quite well with mostly black lines, although there a few red ones to New Orleans (returning Katrina refugees) as well as a little weather, geography, or tech-driven migration (I assume) to Austin, CO, and WA.  As you might expect, Austin/Travis County looks like a black hole: people come in, but they don't go out.  Check out the exodus from Chicago and Detroit.  Ouch.  Hat tip to David.  Here's some of the debate on why people are moving to Texas, and here are some more of the maps for browsing (hat tip to kjb).
  • A little (dark) humor: a New Yorker on "Reasons I Hate Public Transportation".  NYC is not the transit/transportation paradise it is often made out to be.
  • The power of private commuter transit in NYC: Private Bus Line Seeks to Profit on MTA Cuts - WSJ.com .  This is something I've advocated for a long time.  An excerpt on the cost disparity:
  • "He sees opportunity because he says he isn't burdened with the MTA's expensive union rules, debt payments and legal mandates, such as providing transportation for the disabled. For example, the $5.50 fare for the X90, which Mr. Azumah will keep the same, covered just over one-quarter of the MTA's estimated $19.04 cost per rider on the route."
    Although I doubt Metro has anywhere near the same cost burdens as MTA, could you imagine the huge numbers of new express commuter bus routes that could open up in Houston with that kind of cost savings?
  • Continuing with the NYC theme: New York's envy: What will half a million dollars buy you in Houston? - 2010-Jun-17 - CultureMap Houston.  Hat tip to Hugh.
  • Cost of living excerpt below from the GHP.  Note the benefits of no-zoning on housing and grocery competition, although I'm surprised it didn't help more on misc goods and services.  Also note that our transportation costs are not out of line, despite claims from the anti-sprawl crowd.  I'm actually impressed our utilities are in-line with the national average given the high A/C requirements here in the summer.  Maybe electricity competition is actually working?
Houston Maintains Low Cost of Living — In Q1/10, the cost of living in Houston was 18 percent below the average for 27 metropolitan areas over 2 million population and 9 percent below the average for all 308 reporting places, according to the ACCRA Cost of Living Index. The index, produced by the Council for Community and Economic Research, measures differences in the relative cost of consumer goods and services appropriate for a professional or managerial household.
Bargain housing costs help maintain Houston’s low cost of living. In Q1/10, housing costs in Houston were 39 percent below the major metro average and 22 percent below the average of all 308 reporting places. According to the ACCRAsurvey, the same new house that cost $209,000 in Houston in January cost $348,744 in Miami, $420,600 in Boston and $607,391 in Washington, D.C.
The cost of grocery items in Houston was also the lowest among the major metro areas, 17 percent below the major metro average and 13 percent below the national average. Houston did not differ significantly from the nationwide average on the other components: utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services.

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At 7:42 PM, June 29, 2010, Blogger John said...

After 6 years in Texas I remain mystified by the attraction of Austin. I mean, if you like expensive real estate, bad career options, and snotty people, fine... but if I wanted to live in that sort of small city I'd head back to upstate New York, which is 100 times prettier, inexpensive, and better connected to big city cultural amenities in Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and New York than Austin is to... anything.

As for electricity deregulation working... that's a joke, right? You've compared rates, right? And you realize that everyone from DC down to Florida also pays a ton for cooling (and in many cases have to heat their homes in a serious way, too)?

At 8:05 PM, June 29, 2010, Anonymous kjb434 said...

John de-regulation hasn't occurred everywhere. Only a few places have it currently.

Places like California failed miserably because they wouldn't let any added capacity get built in their state.

Texas is currently adding capacity (along with our needs) and there have been an additional Nuclear facility in the works in the state which will help greatly.

Our neighbors in Louisiana don't have deregulation, but at the same time they are very non-NIMBY when it comes to expansion and added capacity so they don't really need deregulation and competition.

Deregulation in the power industry works well when the industry is allow to add capacity. If the state bars that aspect deregulation won't do anything.

At 10:22 PM, June 29, 2010, Anonymous Martin said...

That's funny kjb434 because San Antonio has had no problem adding additional capacity.

Deregulation of the electric industry has been a complete and utter failure. Compare Houston electric utility rates to utility rates in San Antonio (which has a publicly owned, municipal utility) and you will see that "free competition" in the electric utility industry is a joke.

At 7:54 AM, June 30, 2010, Anonymous kjb434 said...

What does public ownership have to do with deregulation Martin?

You completely missed the point.

Deregulation saw TXU and Reliant have to rethink their business models. People who actually looked for lower rates got them.

A neighbor of mine was complaining about his electric bill. He has Reliant (which was the local monopoly). I have one of the many new companies that formed when deregulation when full bore. I've been with this company for 3 years now. My rate is cheaper. I have no minimum monthly fee (even if no electricity is used). My neighbor and I figured his electric bill would be about $30-40 cheaper if he had my provider.

He switched. People claiming it's a failure because their rates or bills haven't gone down are the people who aren't shopping for a lower price.

Also, deregulation doesn't mean you choose the source of the electricity. If the source is a municipally owned system, you'll still get that electricity. The change is that all the electricity that is produced is placed a commodities market type system where providers purchase it. Then they resell it to customers.

At 9:51 AM, June 30, 2010, Blogger Michael said...

>>Deregulation saw TXU and Reliant have to rethink their business models. People who actually looked for lower rates got them.

The point is, San Antonio is still regulated, and there the rate is 6.9 cents per kwh. Are you really getting lower than 6.9 cents per kwh with your deregulated electric provider? If so, please do tell who you use. I get 8.9 cents through Startex and I think that's pretty low....

At 7:40 PM, June 30, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not sure exactly how deregulation worked and what the new setup is, but I also had a lot more power failures when I lived in San Antonio.

At 8:14 PM, June 30, 2010, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

I graduated from UT and thought Austin was paradise at the time. Of course, I lived near campus and walked most places. I drove my car only on the weekends. I never had to struggle with a commute or maintain a household.

The few times that I have returned, I realized what an utter pit Austin is to live in. It's ten degrees hotter than Houston in the summer. Ten degrees colder in the winter. Mobility is a major, major problem. You can't go anywhere in less than half an hour. If you don't own a boat or like to go to sixth street, there is nothing to do. Couple the high cost of everything with the local disdain for everything not Austin and I prefer to avoid Austin altogether.

At 11:29 AM, July 01, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

From an urbanist point of view, I've never understood what's so attractive about Austin. Yes, it's a liberal city in the South, and if you care about that, it's good for you. But otherwise, it's at the intersection of everything that's wrong with the Northeast and everything that's wrong with the Sunbelt. If I want to deal with smug hipsters surrounded by smug suburbanites, Brooklyn is a lot closer to home and a lot easier to get out of.

At 11:43 AM, July 02, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Austin really is a great city and I think we are fortunate to have it so close. It makes for a nice break from Houston life.

That being said, it's awfully homogenous, but somehow convinces itself that it's not. Most, if not, all of Austin's culture is largely enjoyed by white people from middle to upper middle class backgrounds. They "appreciate" diversity as long as it doesn't make them nervous (ie. Texas Relays)

Still had a fun time living there, though.

At 5:17 PM, July 02, 2010, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

Homogeneous? Austin has at least twelve different types of strident, white liberals and eight varieties of preachy, white feminists. You also fail to consider that on Monday mornings, at 8:00, they open the gates from east Austin to let the workers in. So there are quite a few non-whites lurking around between eight and five, Monday thru Friday. Also, every two years, during legislative sessions, conservative white males along with their minions are permitted in the city.

At 11:18 AM, July 05, 2010, Anonymous Former Austinite said...

I lived in Austin for several years, and think all of the fascination the national media has with it lately is beyond silly. It has all of the horrible summer heat (or worse) as Houston, and almost as much traffic and sprawl and stripmalls and Walmarts and... basically all the things that the national media and Houston-bashers complain about with Houston. There's no real public transit. Austin's humidity is, on average, only about 10% lower than Houston's.

What does it have over Houston? Aside from better natural scenery (which applies almost exclusively to the west side of town) and the obvious love it receives from the media (unlike Houston), any other advantage has to do with the more homogeneous population (which, being a college town is more educated and has less poverty) so there's less violent crime (though property crime and rape is actually higher than Houston). It lacks the international vibe, great restaurant scene, notable arts/museums, and world-class performing arts available in Houston. The whole "keep Austin weird" thing is now commercialized and non-genuine; besides, I never saw anything in Austin as "weird" as Houston's Montrose.

This is what I have really come to enjoy about Houston - the best of both worlds. You have the laid-back vibe of Austin (except much more real and genuine rather than fabricated or forced) and all of the big-city amenities of Dallas (or better). What's not to love about that?

At 1:08 PM, July 05, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Great comments all, everybody. Thanks for sharing. I thought I was in the lonely minority seeing the advantages of Houston over Austin, but clearly there are more of us than I thought. Love that last link, FA: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Austintude

At 12:17 PM, July 06, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Austin has done a good job for being a small city, developing nice things and taking care of itself. Houston for being one of the biggest cities is dissapointing in that many important areas are filled with ugly, abondoned ruins. Austin has done much better job with what it has been given compared to Houston. So maybe Houston has "more" in absolute terms, but it still dissapoints compared to Austin's "less"

At 11:01 AM, July 07, 2010, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

Where are these ruins to which you refer?

At 11:54 AM, July 07, 2010, Anonymous rjnagle said...

First, I'd written a long piece comparing Austin vs. Houston a few years ago . For a while, it was the number one search result when people typed "Austin Sucks" into google.

Second, Micheal, I think your facts about San Antonio power pricing is misleading. First, San Antonio has a very dirty fuel mix: (0.9% wind, 15.8% natural gas, 38.1% coal and 35% nuclear, according to a CPS rep). Second, Houston power rates are a fixed rate whereas SA have a peak surcharge. I pay 9.2 cents per kilowatt plus $7 base for Centerpoint 100% renewable with dynawatt. At 1000 watts, that's $99 (a dirtier fuel mix costs about 5 dollars less). For SA CPS, it is $82 for 1000 watts. I suspect the CPS Windtricity charge would be 10-15% higher.

Speaking of which, why would anyone use Startex electric company? Very dirty fuel and higher priced than renewable plans like Dynawatt's Go Green.

At 9:39 AM, January 11, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something to be said about widespread literacy and somewhat law abiding citizens versus Houston. Moved from Austin to Houston and have witnessed some violent crime here, hear and see it on the the local news every single day. Yea Houston may have more things to do but you damn well be doing those things during the daylight hours and away from certain sections of the city.


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