Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dallas vs. Houston in two words, HSR loses its sweet spot, how cities decline, and more

This week's items:
  • Dallas finally added a rail connection to DFW and thinks this helps qualify them as a world class city, even though downtown Dallas only has a tiny percentage of metro employment and it will take an hour to get there.  I've always heard a big differentiator between Dallas and Houston is that Dallas is much more image conscious about appearances (sort of an LA of Texas), and this really drives it home for me.  We're more pragmatic and are not worried about being considered world class (at this point, we already know we're there).  We tried express bus connecting downtown to IAH (far faster than a rail line), and it flopped, with only 2-3 riders per trip on average.  With that low of a demand, why would we build a multi-billion dollar rail line to the aiport that would be even slower?! That may very well sum up Dallas vs. Houston in two words: prestige vs. pragmatic.  A few years ago I laid out the case here for why rail to the airport rarely makes sense.
  • Speaking of Dallas vs. Houston, we definitely win this tourism smackdown vs. Dallas.
  • Aaron Renn kicks off a 3-post series with a devastating description of how declining cities get into a viciously reinforcing cycle of decline driven by corrupt vulturous interests in real estate, construction, and legal services.  The short version of the argument is that big local banks used to influence local politics to get broad economic growth, but those banks got rolled up into national firms and the business interests that are left really are mostly looking for narrow contracts subsidized by the taxpayer - they don't have the broader interests of the city at heart.  It is a scary and depressing trap that is almost impossible for a city to get out of once it starts (Detroit and Cleveland being two examples).  So far Houston seems to have avoided this fate, but it's certainly something we have to stay vigilant about...
  • A pretty devastating but logical case against the viability of high speed rail, with the nail in the coffin being that self-driving cars will eliminate any distance "sweet spot" that might have existed between driving and flying.
  • Governing magazine dissects the Ashby legal case and no-zoning in Houston.  My favorite excerpt:
"Whatever views one may hold about a city without zoning, it’s hard to deny that Houston has done pretty well for itself over the past generation or so. Its population has grown faster than that of almost any other American city. Its unemployment rate is among the lowest. It continues to attract new businesses no matter what slogan it chooses to adopt for itself. And a growing number of scholars, notably the urbanologist Edward Glaeser, have argued that Houston has done well precisely because it imposes so few restrictions on development."
"By 2023, Houston's gross regional product (GRP) will approach $1.1 trillion, more than double where it stands today. The region will add nearly 1.2 million residents, more than 700,000 jobs, and $300 billion in personal income."

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Reason TV features Houston, Portland vs. Austin rail, hurricane protection, greenways gamechanger, fast tech and fast cars in Texas

This week's items:
Finally, a great 10m video from Reason.TV that starts out talking about experiments with tiny houses in DC vs. their oppressive zoning regulations and bureaucracies, but then transitions to talking about the creativity and freedom allowed in Houston and Victoria.  If you want to jump to the transition about Houston, it starts at the 3:50 point with NYC.  Hat tip to Joel.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Our global ranking, Dallas sends us some respect, where we are on the political spectrum, problems of HSR in America, and more

This week's items:
"In our assessment, the three US cities with the best long-term prospects to enter the top ranks of global economy are Houston, Washington Metropolitan Area, and the San Francisco Bay area. The rise of 14th ranked Houston is based largely on its role as the “Energy Capital of the World”. The world’s oil supermajors are dispersed geographically (and include a number of state owned firms), and Houston is clearly the centre of the industry. The majority of traded foreign oil majors have their US headquarters in Houston and companies that are technically based elsewhere boast a significant Houston presence. In fact, Houston seems to be becoming more dominant. For example, Exxon, based in Dallas-Fort Worth, is opening a massive Houston campus that will be home to 10,000 employees. Additionally, a majority of the world’s largest oil services companies, such as Baker Hughes, Schlumberger and FMC Technologies, are based in Houston. The Texan city is also a centre for energy trading. Altogether, over 5,000 energy-related companies call Houston home. Houston has also developed other critical aspects of a global city, including the nation’s largest export port and the world’s largest medical centre. It has also become, by some measurements, the most diverse region in the country ethnically. In the last decade, for example, Houston increased its foreign-born population by 400,000, second only to New York and well ahead of much larger Los Angeles."
Still, even if the California, Florida and Texas projects all succeed, transportation experts say it is unlikely that the United States will ever have the same kind of high-speed rail systems as China or Europe. 
C. William Ibbs, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, said countries with successful high-speed rail projects had higher population densities, higher gas prices, higher rates of public-transportation use and lower rates of car ownership. “So it wouldn’t make any sense to have a high-speed rail train in most areas of the United States,” he said. “The geography is different and other factors are just too different.”

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