Monday, February 23, 2015

TX doomed to repeat CA mistakes? plus tops for affluence and food, first class buses, densification, and more

First this week, an event announcement: on Thursday March 12th, our new Center for Opportunity Urbanism will have it's inaugural event - "TEXAS…DOOMED TO REPEAT CALIFORNIA’S MISTAKES?", a luncheon event featuring speaker David Friedman, a California land use attorney, with yours truly serving on a panel after the keynote. Here's the description:
California’s tough environmental rules and planning represent the wave of the future to many planners and pundits, as well as to large parts of the federal government. The goal is to rein in “sprawl,” based largely on questionable environmental and urban design considerations California consciously seeks to impose a high-density, transit-focused future on the residents of the state. 
But California’s policies do not just affect Californians. Many federal agencies, including the EPA and US Fish and Wildlife Service, have embraced the Golden State’s regulations on climate change, wetland and endangered species protection, as role models to be adopted nationally. As California-style regulations diffuse through the federal government, Texas business could soon be subject to many of the same programs and policies. 
In this unique program, the Center for Opportunity Urbanism has invited David Friedman, a leading California land use attorney, to discuss the evolution of California land use and environmental regulation. California’s current regulatory programs were largely invented in the 1970s, when the state’s impressive job creation and economic opportunities made it the Texas of that era. By 1990, however, the California economy increasingly came to resemble the slower growing northeastern and upper Midwestern states, albeit with still-significant population growth. 
Dr. Friedman, who holds a PhD in political economy from MIT, will explain the social and economic impacts these regulations have had on the people of the state. He will also discuss how EPA and other federal agencies, as well as changing demographics and political pressure, could bring similar policies to Texas and the greater Houston area.
Dr. Friedman’s talk will be followed by an insightful panel discussion, moderated by the Center’s executive director Joel Kotkin, that includes Architect Tim Cisneros, Houston Developer Walter Mischer, Senior Fellow and urban demographer Wendell Cox and Senior Fellow and Houston Strategies blogger Tory Gattis.
Details here - hope to see you there!

Moving on to this week's smaller miscellaneous items:
"HOUSTON — If you set out to visit the nation's most diverse city — one with world-class dining, a flourishing arts scene, top-tier academic institutions and an influx of job-hungry college graduates — you'd be forgiven for setting your sights on New York City. 
You'd also be mistaken. 
But Houston, the city in question, would forgive you. That's just the kind of place she is. 
Over the past decade, the USA's fourth-largest city has quietly become not just a powerhouse of intellect and culture in Texas, but a major player on the world stage. The Bayou City's economic boom and urban renaissance have made Houston not just a magnet for travelers, but a permanent residence for many casual visitors."
  • Little news item I caught in a recent issue of Surface Transportation Innovations:
"In addition to services to more cities by Megabus, Red Coach, and other express carriers in 2014, at least two new luxury operators began service. Vonlane began first-class nonstop service between Austin and Dallas and Houston. Their buses have only 16 seats, an onboard attendant serving drinks and snacks, and a private six-seat boardroom. Vonlane partners with hotels in each of its cities. " 
I've never seen them or tried them - if you have, I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Their web site has nice pics, but only seems to be showing Dallas-Austin right now.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Texas is America's America, what stupid rail looks like, Millenials love the city and the suburbs, and more

This weeks misc items:
"Transit agencies are spending millions of dollars on new rail infrastructure that is no faster than existing bus service, simply because riders perceive a train as better than a bus. 
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed AirTrain link from La Guardia Airport in New York could be the latest example. It might cost $450 million or it might be more like $1 billion — the M.T.A. head Tom Prendergast wavered between the figures in a public hearing last month — but either way, from most places in New York City, it won’t be faster than taking existing bus service to the airport, because it will run southeast from the airport, away from Manhattan. 
In California, Bay Area Rapid Transit spent nearly half a billion dollars to build a three-mile rail connector to the airport in Oakland, which opened last year; it saves about 3,000 daily riders four minutes over the shuttle bus service it replaced. Atlanta’s downtown streetcar loop was a relative bargain at $100 million; unfortunately, Rebecca Burns, a writer at Atlanta magazine, took it to work for a week and found it was slower than walking. Washington’s shiny new streetcars, expected to serve 1,500 riders a day along H Street Northeast, are slowing the bus service that already serves 12,000 daily riders on that road."
"But in my mind, the biggest asset of Texas is Texans. Having spent a great deal a time there, the contrasts with my adopted home state of California are remarkable. No businessperson I spoke to in Houston or Dallas is even remotely contemplating a move elsewhere; Houstonians often brag about how they survived the ‘80s bust, wearing those hard times as a badge of honor. 
To be sure, Texans can be obnoxiously arrogant about their state, and have a peculiar talent for a kind of braggadocio that drives other Americans a bit crazy. But they are also our greatest regional asset, the one big state where America remains America, if only more so."
"Most Americans are happy with their commutes and would be willing to trade off even longer commutes in order to live in more desirable housing, according to a survey by YouGov. Moreover, the detailed results indicate that these preferences are almost as strong among 18-29 year olds as among older age classes. "
  • Citing county growth, Emmett seeks 'new model of urban governance'.  He raises a lot of good issues in his annual State of the County speech.  He also reiterated support for the ULI Astrodome plan, details of which are supposed to come out in a report soon.  They're hopeful it can be at least partially ready for the 2017 Super Bowl at Reliant, which is aggressive but would be awesome. 
Finally in the funny-but-kinda-pathetic media department, this short piece by Outside magazine on the Astrodome plan.  First, it claims the plan is by "Texas environmentalists" when it was a national Urban Land Institute panel.  Later, it mentions city councilors being split on the plan, when it has nothing to do with the City of Houston - it will be decided by Harris County Commissioners Court.  But then there's the real gem: "Voters narrowly rejected a 2013 referendum to convert the stadium into a convention center, largely due to a $217 billion bond price tag." Lol! Yep, our plan was to spend the equivalent of half of the national defense budget on revamping the dome!  That would be over $48,000 per citizen of the county! (think it would involve a tax increase?) As much as I'd like to see that plan (which I'm assuming involved a new solid gold coating), even I'd vote against that one!  Do they even have editors over there?  Or writers that do any fact checking at all?

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Monday, February 09, 2015

The great 21st-century disruption of autonomous vehicles, home searching by commute time, rail costs, world urbanization, and more

I wanted to post this week on the new general plan Houston is developing, but I'm going to hold off another week or two until the new general plan web site is up.  Instead, we'll clear out some more of the smaller miscellaneous items...
And there's a slew of items about the radical transportation revolution barreling towards us.  First, Uber has launched UberPool, which enables super-cheap dynamic ride sharing (hat tip to Phil).  They're also hiring from Carnegie Mellon and creating their own R-and-D facility to create self-driving cars.  The autonomous taxi is coming very soon, and it will revolutionize cities and transit.  This description of the next decade with autonomous vehicles will absolutely blow your mind.  It will be one of the most disruptive technologies of the century, including the potential loss of up to *10 million* jobs.  I do think he might be a bit excessive in his prediction of everyone switching from car ownership to on-demand autonomous taxis.  I recently visited my brother in California, and his family lives out of their mini-van - there's no way they'd switch.  There's just too much stuff that they always keep handy in their mini-van.  Families in general may not want to get too far from car ownership.  And then there's people who just want a personal status symbol - an autonomous taxi just won't do.  So I don't agree with his prediction of the collapse of the automotive industry.  But extremely disruptive? Absolutely.  Read the whole thing.  Here's a couple of my favorite excerpts:
"A Columbia University study suggested that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City – passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile. Such convenience and low cost will make car ownership inconceivable, and autonomous, on-demand taxis – the ‘transportation cloud’ – will quickly become dominant form of transportation – displacing far more than just car ownership, it will take the majority of users away from public transportation as well.  ... 
Morgan Stanley estimates that a 90% reduction in crashes would save nearly 30,000 lives and prevent 2.12 million injuries annually. Driverless cars do not need to park – vehicles cruising the street looking for parking spots account for an astounding 30% of city traffic, not to mention that eliminating curbside parking adds two extra lanes of capacity to many city streets. Traffic will become nonexistent, saving each US commuter 38 hours every year – nearly a full work week. As parking lots and garages, car dealerships, and bus stations become obsolete, tens of millions of square feet of available prime real estate will spur explosive metropolitan development."

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Sunday, February 01, 2015

Announcing the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, new rankings, downtown tunnels, The Texas Miracle, and more

I apologize for the lack of posts the last couple of weeks - I was traveling in California.  But I'm back with a very big announcement.  As of January, the Center for Opportunity Urbanism - a national think tank - has been established in Houston with Joel Kotkin as its Managing Director and myself and Wendell Cox as Founding Senior Fellows!  This is really exciting, as it gives our Opportunity Urbanism work (scroll down to Independent Research here) a permanent home and allows us to continue the work and promote it around the country and the world.  As most of you know, we consider Houston to be the exemplar city of Opportunity Urbanism, and are really looking forward to promoting the Houston model to other cities.  Stay tuned for announcements about future events and publications - in the meantime, you can read more about the Center here.

Moving on to some smaller miscellaneous items from the backlog...
Finally, I'd like to end with some Houston excerpts from Joel Kotkin's newest piece in The Daily Beast "Why We Need More Lunchpail Liberals And Fewer Limousine Liberals: Blue state tech and clean energy economies sound nice, but they don’t do much for manufacturing, construction, or farming, and the real losers are middle-class Americans"
"Even in Houston, some academics hail the impending “collapse of the oil industrial economy,” even as they urge city leaders to compete with places like San Francisco for the much ballyhooed “creative class.” Yet University of Houston economist Bill Gilmer notes that low energy prices are driving tens of billions of new investment at the port and on the industrial east side of the city. This growth, he suggests, may help offset some of the inevitable losses in the more white collar side of the energy complex."
In contrast, the recoveries in the middle part of the country have been, to date, more egalitarian, with incomes rising quickly among a broader number of workers. At the same time, minority incomes in cities such as Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Phoenix tend be far higher, when compared to the incomes of Anglos, than they do in places like San Francisco, New York, or Boston. In these opportunity cities, minority homeownership—a clear demarcation of middle income aspiration—is often twice as high as it is in the epicenters of the ephemeral economy.
Under current circumstances, the centers of the ephemeral economy such as New York or San Francisco cannot accommodate large numbers of upwardly mobile people, particularly families. These, for better or worse, have been vast gated communities that are too expensive, and too economically narrow, to accommodate most people, except those with either inherited money or elite educations. This is why Texas—which has created roughly eight times as many jobs as California since 2007 and has accounted for nearly one-third of all GDP growth since the crash—remains a beacon of opportunity, and the preferred place for migrants, a slot that used to belong to the Golden State."

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