Monday, November 25, 2013

Philly vs. Houston energy hubs, why Yankees are coming to Texas, tops for diversity and STEM, and more

Just a few misc items this short Thanksgiving week:
"...Sugar Land, the largest city in Fort Bend County, which Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University, calls the most ethnically diverse county in America. By that, he means that this county southwest of Houston comes closer than any other county in the United States to having an equal division among the nation’s four major ethnic communities — Asian, black, Latino and white residents."
"As economist Tyler Cowen points out in Time magazine, when you adjust incomes for tax rates and cost of living, Texas comes out ahead of California and New York and ranks behind only Virginia and Washington state. 
Critics charge that Texas’s growth depends on the oil and gas industries and is weighted toward low-wage jobs. In fact, Texas’s low-tax, light-regulation policies have produced a highly diversified economy that from 2002 to 2011 created nearly a third of the nation’s highest-paying jobs. In those years, its number of upper- and middle-income jobs grew 24 percent. 
Liberals like Noah often decry income inequality. But the states with the most unequal incomes and highest poverty levels these days are California and New York. That’s what happens when high taxes and housing costs squeeze out the middle class."
Finally, I'd like to end with a pretty mind-bogglingly impressive time lapse video of Chicago at night.  Watch it in full-screen HD for the full effect. Still waiting on someone to step up and do this for Houston...

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Monday, November 18, 2013

If I were mayor, Houston planning and opportunity, complete streets downside, Buffalo Bayou history, and more

Some smaller misc items this week after an event announcement: a new preservation group called "Pier and Beam" is launching with a happy hour this Wed evening (11/20) at Mongoose vs. Cobra.  If you're interested you can read more at the invite here and register here.  Hat tip to Dave.
Q: After 33 years studying it, do you believe Houston's lack of zoning hurts or helps the city? 
A: It's kept Houston's marketplace moving, and I think it puts us at an advantage over other cities. I'm not your typical planner. I have seen a warehouse piece of property become a single-family development in just a matter of a year, year and a half. You go to another, zoned city and that takes years to get through the approval processes. The lack of zoning gives us a lot of flexibility as a city to reinvent ourselves fairly quickly, and it allows us the ability to amend our rules fairly quickly to respond to problems. It's part of the energy, part of that can-do spirit that's in Houston.
  • KUHF asked respondents to finish this statement: "Please tell us what you would do if your were the mayor of Houston, using the sentence as a springboard: If I was the mayor, I would ..."  My three answers around the Ike Dike, city branding, and METRO are near the bottom here.
  • WSJ on bike lane wars and how complete streets eliminate street parking.  Let's hope that's not how they get implemented in Houston - we definitely need to keep our street parking.  Excerpt:
"Our little squabble illustrates the tactics you can expect to see when the bike wars reach you. Cyclist-commuters may number no more than 2% of the adult American population according to a 2002 report by The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, but they are the ones who go to city council meetings. They'll push for the kind of "Complete Streets" policy that our city adopted, one that gives priority to pedestrians and cyclists over cars. 
In the abstract, that will sound innocuous, but when the time for implementation arrives, you'll find yourself losing your street parking, street by street, as roads are repaved."
For Ting, Houston still promises “the idea of ‘if you work hard, you’ll reap the benefits.'" ...
He seriously thought about moving to Austin, given its young population, but to him, “the city just feels like a college town.” Next to Austin’s revelry, Houston is the mature, moneyed older brother: “It has the resources and the population I’m going after.”
    • Speaking of opportunity, there are fresh links to the Opportunity Urbanism report Joel Kotkin and I created at the GHP web site here (scroll down under Independent Research), including my policy framework.  Hat tip and thanks to Patrick.
    Finally, an interesting half-hour video on the history of Buffalo Bayou and Houston (hit the bottom right corner brackets to see it full size).  If you don't have a half-hour, at least watch the opening 40 seconds - good stuff.  Hat tip to Paul.

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    Monday, November 11, 2013

    Options to save the Astrodome

    Of course I was bitterly disappointed by the defeat of the Astrodome renovation bonds last week, especially given that all of the polls had it passing easily.  It looks like those polls created an unwarranted sense of complacency both among campaigners and pro-Astrodome voters who didn't turn out.  Based on the outpouring of "don't demolish it!" sentiment over the last week, I'd say the majority clearly support re-purposing it, they just didn't bother to vote (13% turnout!).

    In case you missed it, the architecture critic at the LA Times made a passionate argument for saving it, including this powerful opening statement:
    Forget Monticello or the Chrysler building: There may be no piece of architecture more quintessentially American than the Astrodome. 
    Widely copied after it opened in 1965, it perfectly embodies postwar U.S. culture in its brash combination of Space Age glamour, broad-shouldered scale and total climate control.
    Wow. If we tear the Astrodome down, I'm convinced it will become Houston's Penn Station moment, forever regretted.

    So what are our options to keep it from being demolished? Here are my thoughts in rough order of increasing cost:
    1. Mothball it, minimize maintenance costs, and wait and see if a more compelling option backed by private money comes forward at some point.  The high cost of demolition in both dollars and potential regret can be avoided.
    2. Invest the minimum amount possible to make it a festival park for year-round climate controlled festivals (rather than just the spring and fall as they do now).  I'd say that involves fixing the climate control and giving access to the floor while cordoning off/mothballing all of the upper levels.  This also preserves future options.
    3. Value engineer the Slattery proposal to strip it down to a steel structure over a greenspace park (similar to the Eiffel Tower) at a cost marginally above full demolition ($78 to $98m).  Get input from the OTC and Rodeo on how to structure the covered/rain-protected greenspace best for their needs.
    4. Revamp the proposal and try again next year when more voters will turn out for congressional elections and pro-Astrodome forces can mount a more effective campaign.
    5. Renovate the Astrodome to provide all of the functionality a new Reliant Arena is supposed to provide.
    6. Find wealthy backers to support the STEM institute/museum concept (big picture) or Astrodome Tomorrow's concept.  They don't necessarily have to support the full cost, but enough to justify a public-private partnership.
    In the meantime, someone has developed a clever flag to rally support around the Astrodome and prevent demolition.  Show your support and buy the shirt - I did.  


    Sunday, November 03, 2013

    Vote to Save the Astrodome! plus a whole lot more...

    A lot of smaller misc items this week, but by far the most important one is to VOTE TO SAVE THE ASTRODOME on Tuesday.  Even if you're not thrilled with the plan, it saves it from the wreaking ball and preserves future options.  I've also heard it's very cost competitive on a sq.ft basis with other convention centers recently built around the country. Watch this excellent 5min video on the history of the dome and the plan and I think you'll be sold (click the bottom right brackets to make it full screen).

    Owly Images

    Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Joel Kotin, some nobody local blogger, and Patrick Jankowski at the GHP Oct 24th.

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