Sunday, December 01, 2013

Houston's urban revival, CA vs. TX, another reason to love Houston, and why you should love cars

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend.  Just a few quick items this week.
"Essentially the city relies on the market to dictate development patterns, and these patterns are sometimes at odds with what conventional planning might dictate. Even so, advocates, developers and city leaders who don’t always see eye to eye generally believe the arrangement has worked in Houston’s favor over the years, allowing developers to respond quickly to market conditions and keep housing costs low. Regardless of individual Houstonians’ views on zoning, that part of the system is probably not changing. Four attempts at altering it have all failed."
"This picture has changed over the past decade. California’s tech manufacturing sector has shrunk, and those employed in Silicon Valley are increasingly well-compensated programmers, engineers and marketers. There has been little growth in good-paying blue collar or even middle management jobs. Since 2001 state production of “middle skill” jobs—those that generally require two years of training after high-school—have grown roughly half as quickly as the national average and one-tenth as fast as similar jobs in arch-rival Texas."
Finally, another reason to be thankful you live in Houston! Hat tip to Jim.

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At 2:01 AM, December 02, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your blog! If you have the time and resources you should look at expanding it to something like greatergreaterwashington in DC. If you need help there are surely plenty of us out here willing to pitch in!

At 9:50 AM, December 02, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Thanks Chris! Much appreciated. And thanks for the heads up and the very kind offer - I will dig through their site when I get a bit more time. Looks impressive after a quick glance. I do have an extremely busy career, and this is a pure hobby blog, but I do love Houston and that would be a pretty cool expansion!

At 7:15 PM, December 05, 2013, Anonymous Dom said...

CATO institute against mass transit..... I am surprised.......

But come on Tory, that was essentially a paid advertisement by Ford and GM.

Per your article, "Cars were an essential ingredient in both the civil rights and women's rights movements. The Montgomery bus boycott succeeded because enough blacks owned cars that they could share rides to work with former bus riders. Women's rights became a certainty when enough families owned two cars so that both spouses could drive to work."

Now that is a very large stretch like most of the article.

At 9:25 PM, December 05, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Not against mass transit - just pro-car. You can be for both. They each have their place. Somehow we've gotten to where pro-transit means anti-car, and that's what this article is arguing against. Mass transit will always be tiny niche of overall trips, but it's still important and absolutely critical to certain demographics.

At 10:39 PM, December 06, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Chris, that is an impressive site, but way beyond my bandwidth. But if anybody else wants to take the lead and build such a site, I'd be happy to be a contributor.

At 12:17 AM, December 07, 2013, Anonymous Dom said...

This article goes beyond that.... did you not see how it ties cars to the civil rights movement? Pretty sure CATO let GM write that article.

Cars got where they because of govt regulation and govt subsidies.

At 8:45 AM, December 07, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I don't buy that argument, but let's just say you're right for a moment about govt regs and subsidies - what would the world look like now if they weren't there?

Also our govt is a democracy, so whatever the did put in place is, at some level, the will of the people.

I'd argue cars require a lot less regs and subsidies to thrive than forcing people to live in density and ride transit. That takes some heavy-duty regs and subsidies.

At 1:00 PM, December 07, 2013, Anonymous dom said...

Are you kidding? We have a federal highway system and a slew of govt subsidies. Here in Houston you HAVE to include parking instead of letting the free market decide. That is just immediately off the top of my head. This country made an effort to force sprawl and automobile use since post WW2, which is no different than your notion of mass transit and density.

I'm surprised you can't make the connection or you are so vested in sprawl and automobile use. Instead of arguing extremes, how about a greater balance?

At 5:44 PM, December 07, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Big difference. Highways, for the most part, are covered by gas taxes. Mass transit is pure subsidy. Regardless, we have democracy, and govt supports what the people want supported. That has mostly seemed to be single-family suburban home development.

At 6:24 PM, December 07, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" ... our gov't. is a democracy, so whatever they did put in place is, at some level, the will of the people":

Kind of like how Americans consistently support an ever-larger influx of immigrants, especially undocumented ones, and have stated, in poll after poll since the early seventies, that they wish for population to surge, though, weirdly, their own reproductive practices suggest something different.
I mean I assume that support must be there, since our government only ever does what people want.

At 8:32 PM, December 08, 2013, Anonymous Dom said...

And mass transit has fares. Plus the gas tax hasn't been raised in quite a bit and expansion and maintenance has exceeded what the gas tax brings in. So I wouldn't say the gas tax covers most of the expenses. Plus toll roads (with single toll both costing $1-$1.45) have been built in greater number in the Houston area despite the decades long population boom than FREEways.

And has democracy somehow protected this country from bad decisions?

Come on Tory, your ideology is forcing you to fit a square peg in a round hole. Sprawl isn't as cheap as you make it to be.

At 8:39 PM, December 08, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Mass transit fares cover less than 20% of system costs. You're right that gas taxes have not kept up with inflation, which is why we keep going to bonds and toll roads, but the highway budget still equals whatever comes in from the gas tax. They are self-funding in a way that mass transit can't even start to approach.

If density is so much cheaper than sprawl, why do all the densest cities also have the highest cost of living, including taxes to support that density infrastructure?

At 1:53 PM, December 09, 2013, Anonymous awp said...

"but the highway budget still equals whatever comes in from the gas tax"

First of all not exactly, on the federal or the state level, but even leaving that aside.

The federal govt. collects gas taxes on fuel that is burnt travelling state and local roads. The state govt. collects taxes on fuel that is burnt on local roads. =>
Federal and State highways are subsidized by local road spending which is financed by property taxes.

"Regardless, we have democracy, and govt supports what the people want supported."

Please, I can't even believe you made that non-argument.

"If density is so much cheaper than sprawl, why do all the densest cities also have the highest cost of living,"

because they are generally the largest most desirable cities and or the most land constrained. And as you almost always correctly argue a large part of the high prices are because they don't allow enough density driving up the price of housing.

At 2:50 PM, December 09, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

As far as the democracy argument, all I'm saying is in the aesthetic debate between car-focused lower density suburbanism and transit-focused higher density urbanism, the voters have pretty much spoken for the former, including regulations and subsidies. You can make all sorts of arguments about the pros and cons of each, but the public has made its desires pretty clear. I'm tired of the argument that we wouldn't have sprawl except for the subsidies and regs, which I think have been both minor (esp. compared to transit+density), and, in any case, supported by the voters.

At 2:52 PM, December 09, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Oh, and I've made the point here before but will make it again: property taxes properly support the local road network since it is not optional - all land must be connected to it to be useful, even if the owner doesn't drive. It still needs service from fire, police, ambulance, delivery services, construction vehicles, mail, etc. The land is getting value from the road network connection, so property taxes properly support that network.

At 2:56 PM, December 09, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> because they are generally the largest most desirable cities and or the most land constrained.

Exactly. Density only happens when it is forced by demand exceeding supply. By default, people prefer lower density if it is an affordable option.

That said, separate from the cost of housing, I think you will also find that taxes are higher in higher density cities, and those cities have more govt spending per capita. Hard to argue the costs are lower.

At 6:48 PM, December 09, 2013, Anonymous Dom said...

Stop using the democracy excuse. Do we vote on city ordinances such as parking requirements that favor automobile. Did we vote on having an interstate highway system. The system is setup to prefer auotmobile use vastly over mass transit and density. That isn't democracy that's special interests taking control. You just don't want to admit the regulations and subsidies made sprawl since it totally anti-libertarian and anti-CATO.

And stop using extremes of high density to prop up your argument. America's urban cores are filled with street-car suburbs that are not very high density that have lost their street cars but maintain a grid style street network that makes it easy to drive, walk, bike, and use mass transit.

It's funny you try and argue for efficiency but there is nothing efficient about sprawl and cul-de-sacs unless you subsidize pollution, roads, and utilities.

Lastly, how can you even argue property taxes covers Houston's roads? Travel throughout SW Houston (where I grew up) and tell me the taxes are keeping up with maintainance. Travel on Richmond inside the loop where a lot of growth is happening.... where is the money? Or Westheimer inside the loop. I can tell you living in Austin now, they don't have the 3rd world type of roads in pockets of their metro.

At 8:36 PM, December 09, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> Do we vote on city ordinances such as parking requirements that favor automobile. Did we vote on having an interstate highway system.

Yes, thru our city council reps and Congressional reps. The interstate highways system was pretty bipartisan.

At 8:37 PM, December 09, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Houston's road were devastated by the the 2011 drought. It will take years to repair.

At 10:21 PM, December 09, 2013, Anonymous Dom said...

Jesus Christ Tory. I do respect what you do here but you are seriously trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with your cherry picking of libertarianism and my points.

Why do the Houston surveys in the past decade have consistently shown the Houstionians want a denser city with more transit

Incompetent and corrupt METRO doesn't mean transit itself is corrupt, but it needs to be done right. That is something that is hard to grasp with those on the right.

How well do our councilmen represented interests when they can't convey the complex issues that surround it? Or even address them?

Lastly, our drought doesn't care about our notions of suburban vs urban or automobile vs mass transit. It just requires MONEY to fix, MONEY that we don't have through our taxes. Either way we need more money to maintain, fix, and upgrade our constantly expanding roads.

You just don't get the big picture.

At 10:54 PM, December 09, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

It's surveys vs. actual market behavior. Yes, the density is selling well (I love it and live in it), but not relative to the suburban. You offer both and let the market decide.

If we don't have the money to fix roads, we most certainly don't have it for rail at $100m/mile.

At 2:27 AM, December 10, 2013, Anonymous Dom said...


You are making me think you are about to run for office.... open seat in your district? Seriously.

So now it's surveys vs market behavior..... Instead of democracy. Thanks for making my point about special interests.

You say you offer both, but can you actually respond and say how you are doing so?

If we don't have money to fix the roads ten why are we constantly building new ones? Just more kicking the can down the road?

Perhaps once you answer the above, you can understand why having a low COL only means having less in the big picture. By the way, where does Houston rank for transportation costs? Top 5? Must be very expensive to commute 5 days a week compared to others.... but at least we can counter housing is cheap.... for now.

At 8:09 AM, December 10, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> You say you offer both, but can you actually respond and say how you are doing so?

Houston has good density and walkability in the core, and offers plenty of nice suburbs too.

We are building new ones to accommodate growth.

Transportation costs are slightly below the national average in Houston. See the 99.2 here:

At 11:55 PM, December 12, 2013, Anonymous Dom said...

In this transportation blog of yours.... you cry about costs when it's by "anti-automobile" yet you have no problem posting CATO.....


Below national costs my muscular butt. Post another link.....

At 8:39 AM, December 13, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The link I posted before was not Cato, but ACCRA, which is the gold standard for comparative cost of living across cities. Companies everywhere use their data to adjust salaries to local conditions.

At 1:55 AM, January 19, 2014, Anonymous Ra;fff said...

COL is high and taxes are high in high-density cities but there really aren't that many high-density cities in the USA and there are other factors to be considered like extremely rich people driving up costs in those cities. Still, a legitimate point.
Re: anti-car; the reason, as you surely know, that pro-transit people are anti-car is because it's wasteful of energy but more importantly it's wasteful of space. I don't want to confiscate people's cars, I want to make it desirable to live without one. You don't get rid of single-family houses, you reclaim street space from cars and density from mandatory driveways. It's not a coincidence that the densest neighborhoods (with single-family houses) have taken off, while the less dense areas have inevitably lost a pricing war with suburbs that lived in by people driving to work on roads Houstonians are paying for.

At 8:35 AM, January 19, 2014, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree that we should offer dense transit-focused neighborhoods to those that want to live that way, but disagree with forcing it on the entire city or metro area with anti-car planning biases.


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