Thursday, July 17, 2014

Our big Houston article in the City Journal and WSJ on "America's Opportunity City"

I was traveling and then furiously catching-up upon returning this week, so apologies for the posting delay, but I wanted to get a quick one out here about Joel Kotkin and I's big article in the City Journal and op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The City Journal piece is the long main one, and is something we've been working on over several months:
America’s Opportunity City
Lots of new jobs and a low cost of living make Houston a middle-class magnet.
Summer 2014

The Wall Street Journal op-ed is a trimmed down version of the City Journal article.  It can be found on the WSJ here, or a copy is available on New Geography if you're not a WSJ subscriber.
Success and the CityHouston's pro-growth policies have produced an urban powerhouse—and a blueprint for metropolitan revival.
Lisa Gray at the Chronicle shares her thoughts and favorite excerpts here.

Some of my favorite tidbits:
  • "Indeed, the Houston model of development might be described as “opportunity urbanism.”"
  • "Houston now has among the highest, if not the highest, standard of living of any large city in the U.S. The average cost-of-living-adjusted salary in Houston is about $75,000, compared with around $50,000 in New York and $46,000 in Los Angeles."
  • "An even bigger component of Houston’s growth, however, may be its planning regime, which allows development to follow the market instead of top-down government directives. The city and its unincorporated areas have no formal zoning, so land use is flexible and can readily meet demand. Getting building permits is simple and quick, with no arbitrary approval boards making development an interminable process. Neighborhoods can protect themselves with voluntary, opt-in deed restrictions or minimum lot sizes. Architect and developer Tim Cisneros credits the flexible planning system for the city’s burgeoning apartment and town-home development. “There are a lot of people who come here for jobs but don’t want to live, at least not yet, in the Woodlands,” he notes. “We can respond to this demand fast because there’s no zoning, and approvals don’t take forever. You could not do this so fast in virtually any city in America. The lack of zoning allows us not only to do neat things—but do them quickly and for less money.”"
  • "The flexible planning regime is also partly responsible for keeping Houston's housing prices relatively low. On a square-foot basis, according to Knight Frank, a London-based real-estate consultancy, the same amount of money buys almost seven times as much space in Houston as it does in San Francisco and more than four times as much as in New York. Houston has built a new kind of "self-organizing" urban model, notes architect and author Lars Lerup, one that he calls "a creature of the market.""
  • "Houston is neither the libertarian paradise imagined by many conservatives nor the antigovernment Wild West town conjured by liberals. The city is better understood as relentlessly pragmatic and pro-growth. Bob Lanier, the legendary three-time Democratic mayor who steered the city’s recovery from the 1980s oil bust, when the metro region bled more than 220,000 jobs in just five years, epitomized this can-do spirit. Lanier was more interested in building infrastructure and promoting growth than in regulation and redistribution. That focus remains strong today. “Houston is getting very comfortable with itself and what it is,” says retired Harris County judge Robert Eckels. “We are a place that has a big idea—supporting and growing through private industry, and that’s something everyone pretty much accepts.”"
I may be biased here, but there is far too much worth excerpting, so I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing.  I'll end with the concluding paragraph of the City Journal piece:
For now, though, most Houstonians see the city as a place that works—for minorities and immigrants, for suburbanites and city dwellers—and few want to fix what isn’t broken. “The key to Houston’s future is to keep thinking about how to be a greater city,” notes David Wolff as he passes a new set of towers off the Grand Parkway. “This road, it wouldn’t be built in many places. People might talk about these things, but in most places, they don’t get done. In Houston, we don’t just talk about the future—we’re building it.”
Looking forward to your thoughts in the comments...

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