Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Why people and companies love Houston + HSR, Census analysis, and more

Continuing from last week with the rest of the smaller items:
"What are people seeking in Texas? I’d call it quality of life with room for upward mobility: affordable homes with mortgage payments that leave some money for recreation, good public schools for their kids and generally less onerous tax regime.
In the end, we are seeing the birth of a Texas that is neither the white bread, big hair idyll of the cultural conservatives or the free market dystopia imagined by liberals. It is becoming more diverse, without losing its capitalist energy. With all its blemishes, the emerging Texas may well become the model for how America evolves in the coming decades."
But Forbidden Gardens is already being mourned by fans of Houston's zany monuments, which include a house made out of beer cans and an amusement park dedicated to oranges. "It's one of my favorite attractions in Texas," says Wesley Treat, co-author of "Weird Texas," a compendium of the Lone Star State's oddball pilgrimage sites. "Forbidden Gardens is really one of a kind."
And a special subsection on high-speed rail:
"Historical data shows capital cost overruns are pervasive in 9 out of 10 high speed rail projects and that 2/3 of those projects inflated ridership projections by an average of 65 percent of actual patronage. 
It is projected that 3.07 million people will use the train annually. Keep in mind that Amtrak’s Acela train in Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore only had 3.2 million riders in 2010. And that market’s population is 8 times the size of the Tampa/Orlando market."
"...subsidies to airline and highway travel average around a penny per passenger mile, while subsidies to Amtrak are closer to 30 cents per passenger mile."
Finally, my favorite excerpts from Harvard professor Dr. Edward Glaser's excellent op-ed in the Houston Chronicle on why people want to live here:
When all was done, the after-tax, after-housing-cost income was about 50 percent larger in Houston than in New York. On top of that, the Houstonians could access better public schools and enjoy a shorter, less arduous commute. 
Texas does have real economic strengths. Per capita productivity in Dallas and Houston is about 20 percent higher than the American metropolitan average, and unemployment rates remained low even in a recession. ... 
Texas attracts millions because it combines productivity with affordable housing. Lower housing costs in Houston are the most important causes of the city's real prosperity. America's anti-Texans would have you believe that housing is cheap in Houston because the area is unattractive, but if greater Houston was so unappealing, why is its population soaring? 
The real reason that Texas homes are inexpensive is because they are abundantly supplied.
It's not that pricier areas like Boston and San Francisco lack land. Harris County, Texas, has less land per capita than Middlesex County, Massachusetts, where I live. But Middlesex County generally prevents large-scale building, with high minimum lot sizes and abundant environmental restrictions. Texas does not. 
Ironically, Houston's laissez-faire, pro-growth attitude has allowed red state Texas to provide far more affordable housing for low- and middle-income people than progressive California and Massachusetts. Texas proves that unbridled private supply, not rent control or public housing, is the most effective way to ensure that every American can afford a decent home. 
Texas' unfettered construction also explains why the state has enjoyed stable prices. When demand rises in Texas, developers build and that limits both price increases and subsequent price crashes. 
Outsiders make a mistake by ignoring or disparaging the growth of Texas. The great urban areas of Texas have benefited from allowing the change that has been outlawed in America's costly coastal states. Other places could use a little Texan enthusiasm for growth.

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At 9:00 AM, March 02, 2011, Anonymous Seth said...

I'm generally with you in your boosting of Houston specifically and Texas generally, but I have to take issue with many of your positive comments on education here. Texas has a terribly broken educational system, and Houston is no exception. The Apollo 20 program which you commended in a November post has been a magnificent failure.


In general, Texas fairs poorly in educational rankings:


In order to maintain what makes Texas great, we cannot simply ignore these issues, nor buy into the skewed data that local schools offer us to make themselves look good. Our schools are not serving us well, and we must actively improve our educational system.

At 9:37 AM, March 02, 2011, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I definitely agree on the need for educational improvements, although I'm more optimistic on Apollo 20. What we really need is more charter school competition to drive improvement across the entire system.

At 12:55 PM, March 04, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, you are sadly misinformed about HISD. The district is in shambles, and any promised improvements via the Apollo program were doomed to failure even before the budget went belly-up. I know. I am watching it happen from the inside. I predict you will be very surprised when the proof comes later this spring. Disaster. As for the Charters vs public schools, you need to objectively compare apples to apples, which is not always done.


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