Sunday, April 28, 2013

Houston vs. NYC, density does not equal wealth, DART's poor rail investments, good rankings, and more

Another round of smaller misc items:
"What’s happening in New York is just part of a national shift. Highly paid, college-educated people are increasingly clustering in the college-graduate-dense, high-amenity cities where they get good deals on the stuff they like, while low-skilled people are increasingly flowing out to cheaper places with a worse quality of life. The end result, Diamond’s research shows, is that measures of the growing income gap between the high-skilled and the low-skilled, which already look pretty shocking, seriously understate the inequality between these two classes. 
This two-tier economy can seem inevitable, but other middle-income cities — particularly Sun Belt hubs like Houston and Charlotte — are now offering a third option, says Edward L. Glaeser, an economist at Harvard. A large part of their appeal has to do with policies that make it easier to build homes and expand the affordable housing stock for those people fleeing cities like New York. Places like Detroit are cheap, Glaeser told me, because they have become drastically less attractive locations to live and work. But places like Houston are cheap — and staying cheap, even as they grow — because the local governments have realized their comparative advantage is in deregulation, not in fancy cookies."
No. 7: Houston, Texas
"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 big city in the U.S. with the healthiest economy, Houston is also investing in a "green" future; last year it was the nation's largest municipal purchaser of wind energy."

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Monday, April 22, 2013

More great rankings, an outsider on our Ch.42 revisions, rethinking METRO, and more

My backlog of smaller miscellaneous items is at an all time high (over 50!), so prepare for a deluge as I try to clear it out over the next few weeks:
“Houston has gained broad acceptance as a top-tier market,” said Greg Kraus, managing director at Atlanta-based Invesco Ltd. (IVZ), a global adviser for pension clients including QSuper Ltd., an Australian fund for public-service workers. “It’s reflected in job growth, more gas refineries, more oil out of the Houston port and a true international feeling.”
"Houston, up 4.8%. Texas' largest city is big in the energy industry -- and not just in the traditional areas of oil and gas. It's also seeing gains in newer areas, such as wind and solar. Health care and aerospace are other major industries in town. Houston has an interconnected bikeway network over 300 miles long spanning across 500 square miles, so commuters can get past gridlock while getting healthy on their way to work. In their free time, residents can enjoy a rich, multicultural arts community."
"For the $75,000-annual-income hypothetical family, the highest total tax rate is in Bridgeport, Conn., where the family would pay $16,105, or 21.5 percent, of its income in taxes. 
The lowest rate at the $75,000 income level is in Cheyenne, Wyo., where the family would pay nearly $2,808 in taxes, or 3.7 percent of its income. 
In Houston, the same hypothetical family would pay $4,333 in taxes, or 5.8 percent of its income, making it 47th in the list of 51 cities. 
The tax burden that is looked at in the study includes state and local taxes on income, residential property, sales and vehicles. The vehicle tax incorporates the gasoline tax, registration fees, excise tax and the personal property tax."
Finally, dear readers, please fill out this Urban Houston Framework survey about what tools the city should and should not use in getting certain kinds of dense, urban development from developers.  I found some of the tools reasonable, and some to be overreach, and if you read my blog, you probably have a thoughtful opinion on these topics the city should know about.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Seizing the Astrodome opportunity to establish Houston's new global identity

The Chronicle published my op-ed this morning, although with an inaccurate headline (it would cover all technology and innovation, not just locals).  The headline above is the original one I proposed.  As I always do with such op-eds, I put a full copy on the blog here as a backup.  If you'd like to contact me to discuss it in more detail, I can be reached at tgattis (at) .  Looking forward to your comments.  If you're interested in the bigger picture behind this, see here: The Ultimate Houston Strategy.


"Houstonians love Houston. So do U.S. business owners. The rest of the world ... not so much. With lax zoning laws and plentiful space, Houston's low cost of living and doing business is a dream for American businesses and middle class workers, but the rest of the world pretends as though the city doesn't exist. The city has fewer international tourists than any other comparable global city."
  • Price WaterhouseCoopers survey of the best cities for business, life and innovation
Unfortunately for Houston, other cities have staked out the best tourism identities: family fun in Orlando, adult fun in Las Vegas or New Orleans, beaches in Miami or Honolulu, Hollywood glamour in Los Angeles, romance in Paris, culture in New York and so on. But there is a city Houston can learn from: Washington, D.C., a city where millions of families and school groups visit to learn about our country's history and culture through the great Smithsonian Institution and government institutions and monuments around the National Mall.

Every year, countless children are inspired toward careers in public service by this experience. But where can America's kids go to be inspired toward careers in our country's most crucial need: science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM)? Something far beyond their little local science or children's museum?
Houston could be that city, building not only on our energy, chemical, aerospace and biomedical industries, but also on our top-rated and very popular existing STEM museums like Space Center Houston, The Museum of Natural ScienceThe Health Museum, The Children's Museum, Moody Gardens and The George Observatory. But we really need one additional anchor "mega-attraction" that will give us critical mass and undisputed STEM leadership. That flagship would be the National Museum of Technology and Innovation, the world's largest engineering and technology museum - something in the class of D.C.'s National Air and Space Museum (the second-most popular museum in the world), Germany's Deutsches Museum, San Francisco's Exploratorium or Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. It could even be one of the Smithsonian's network of national museums, which have started to move out beyond Washington, D.C., like Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York and the Smithsonian affiliate, National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Penn.
Think of it as Houston's version of Paris' Louvre or London's British Museum. And with the right design, it could attract STEM-related academic and commercial conferences from around the world to Houston (imagine a Davos of STEM).
By showing students stories of the great historical innovators who invented technology to address civilization's problems, we can inspire America's - and especially Houston's - youth into STEM careers. They can see how they could become the next Edison, Bell, Ford, Gates, Jobs or Musk. But this institution would not just look backward at history. It would inspire kids into STEM fields by framing the great challenges of the present and future, such as the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering by the National Academy of Engineering, including limitless fusion energy, health informatics, better medicines, artificial intelligence, carbon sequestration, preventing nuclear terror, securing cyberspace, advancing personalized eLearning and more.
Where can Houston find a grand structure to house such a grand institution? Yes, the Astrodome.
The problem with most of the Astrodome proposals so far is their isolation from a bigger civic vision. If a purely for-profit enterprise were feasible, it would have happened by now. Houston's philanthropic community needs to be inspired to invest in the future of the Astrodome (in partnership with Harris County). If it fails to act, based on the latest buzz, the Dome simply will be torn down for parking, and Houston's once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and historical icon will be lost forever. Imagine if Paris had torn down the Eiffel Tower after the World's Fair there, or if Rome had torn down its epic Coliseum?
Houston, we have our biggest problem since Apollo 13. It's time to come together to solve it.
The city has a great history of big visions and big projects that have paid off big time, from the Ship Channel to the Texas Medical Center to the Manned Spacecraft Center to the original construction of the Astrodome. Can we uphold that legacy and muster that civic will again for another round? Can we channel part of this great energy boom we're enjoying now into investments for our long-term prosperity? And most important, will a farsighted philanthropist step forward to champion a new vision for the Astrodome?
County officials have already stated a STEM museum is one of the best ideas they've been presented for repurposing the Astrodome, but they want to see philanthropic backing. The Getty Trust stepped up to build the spectacular $1.3 billion Getty Center in Los Angeles. Ross Perot's family donated $50 million to kick off a successful $185 million campaign to build the stunning new Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas.Bernard Marcus, founder of Home Depot, donated $250 million to build the world's largest aquarium in Atlanta. Does Houston have such a visionary leader?
As we bid for the 2017 Super Bowl, it's widely acknowledged that the time is now to decide on the fate of the Astrodome.
In two years, on the 50th anniversary of its opening, will we be celebrating a grand second life for this Houston icon, or will we be looking at a little golden plaque among a sea of parking spaces saying "The world's first domed stadium and Eighth Wonder of the World once stood here"?
Gattis writes the Houston Strategies and Opportunity Urbanist blogs.
UPDATE 4/24/22: this could also be integrated with the annual high school FIRST robotic championships which are held every year in Houston and bring thousands of top STEM students here!

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Winter 1Q13 Highlights, 8-year anniversary, updated best-of-the-best

It's time for the Winter 1Q13 quarterly highlights post, as well as acknowledge the 8-year anniversary of this blog.  Wow - kind of hard to believe I've been able to keep it going this long.  And around the end of this year, I should be hitting another major milestone: my 1,000th blog post.  That's a little intimidating to think about writing... no pressure, right?

These posts have been chosen with a particular focus on significant ideas I'd like to see kept alive for discussion and action, and they're mainly targeted at new readers who want to get caught up with a quick overview of the Houston Strategies landscape. I also like to track what I think of as "reference posts" that sum up a particular topic or argument; and, last but not least, they've also been invaluable for me to track down some of my best thinking for meetings or when requested by others (as is the ever-helpful Google search). They're not quite as useful as they were when I was still doing multiple posts each week, but still have some value (at least for me).

Don't forget we offer an email option for the roughly once/week posts - see the Google Groups subscription signup box in the right sidebar. An RSS feed link is also available in the right sidebar. As always, thanks for your readership.

And don't forget the highlights from the first few years. For what it's worth, I think the best ideas are found there, often in the first year (I had a lot "stored up" before I started blogging) and most definitely in the 5th birthday retrospective (which I'm now updating at the end of each year).


Monday, April 01, 2013

Astrodome to be restored to host 2017 Super Bowl LI

Harris County officials announced today a comprehensive plan to restore the Astrodome to its full functionality and grandeur by its 50th anniversary in 2015, and the NFL announced in parallel an agreement to have it host the 2017 Super Bowl LI.  In addition, both professional teams that once played there will return, with the Titans returning from a failed foray to Tennessee and renaming themselves back to the Oilers (Houston will join NYC as the only two cities to host two NFL teams), and the Astros returning from an aging Minute Maid Park, including a return to those stylish rainbow uniforms (although it has not been announced at this time whether they will be playing major or minor-league baseball).  Minute Maid Park will be converted into yet another convention center hotel to join the Hilton Americas, the Embassy Suites, the Four Seasons, the previously announced new hotel next to Discovery Green, and the Star of Hope - finally giving the GRB enough hotel rooms to compete in the convention big leagues.

Although the Oilers will not be sharing a stadium with the Texans like the New York Giants and Jets do, parking constraints do mean the NFL will not schedule them with home games on the same day other than the days they play each other, which will be twice a year given that they will both still be in the same division, the AFC South.  Bob McNair and Bud Adams have a tentative agreement on separate tailgating areas for such games.

Rodeo Houston will also be taking advantage of the new venue to double its programming, offering separate concerts each evening in both the Astrodome and Reliant Stadium.  Rodeo officials are thrilled now that they will have the opportunity to greatly expand their rap, DJ raves, and Justin Bieber concert programming.

Hope you enjoyed this year's April Fools post. Here are previous years if you missed 'em and would like a chuckle: