Monday, March 28, 2016

Economic benefits of Houspitality, we're doing better than you think with traffic, #1 growth, and more

This week I want to feature a great piece by Scott Beyer in Governing magazine on Houston's friendliness and how that can help a city economy . Going straight to the great excerpts (highlights mine):
"Rather than fast-paced and impersonal, Houston has a friendly, small-town feel that is surprising for America’s fourth largest city. People hold doors, provide in-depth directions and smile at you on the street. Even in denser interior neighborhoods, it is common to greet passersby. 
This contrasts with other U.S. cities, where strangers avoid eye contact. In some cities, such as New York, this coldness can seem like rudeness, marked by aggressive drivers, open profanity and subway riders who hog bench space.
In “unfriendly” cities -- Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco -- street-level curtness has permeated the sociopolitical climate. Construction projects are viewed as neighborhood takeovers instead of much-needed new housing. It’s easier to find examples of corruption, and narrow self-interests seemingly hold more power, suggesting a lack of social cohesion. As a result, residents face high taxes, expensive housing and barriers to entrepreneurship.
This doesn’t mean that friendliness solely propels growth. But Jankowski says it can contribute to -- and result from -- prosperity. Houston, with its low taxes and regulation, has become meritocratic. It has a fast startup rate, a relatively high average wage and a low cost of living. It also has an optimistic spirit, with 89 percent of residents, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, agreeing that “if you work hard, eventually you will succeed.” This perception, along with warm weather and Southern culture, may explain the positive vibe. 
Houston’s lessons are twofold, says Jankowski. Leaders should promote policies that open their cities’ economies. Culturally, he says, leaders should encourage, through political rhetoric at least, a more welcoming atmosphere."
This seems like a good time to repeat my call for "Houspitality" as our city brand and identity.  It just fits us so well, and even outsiders seem to agree! Would be a great theme to spread during the Final Four this weekend!

Moving on to this week's smaller items:
  • For being the fifth-largest metro area in America, I'd say it's not bad at all to be ranked 11th nationally and 93rd internationally for traffic congestion! That's actually a pretty good sign of success for all of our mobility efforts. More can be done, of course, but it's all relative.
  • That last stat is even more impressive when considering that Houston was the fastest growing U.S. metro in 2014-2015 with 159,083 people added (!), even in the face of an oil crash (Census, Chronicle, New Geography stories)
"As a whole, the so-called Texas Triangle of Houston, Austin/San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth added more people last year than any other state in the country, growing by more than 400,000 residents, or roughly the population of Minneapolis. Harris County alone added nearly 90,500 residents."

  • The NYTimes covers the massive boondoggle of Honolulu rail, which has ballooned from an already insane $4.6 billion for 20 miles to an unimaginable $6.7 billion! That's $335 million per mile, folks!  And with a metro population of less than a million, that's a crazy $6,700 of spending per resident for a single project! Worse, since they've already built part of it as these massive cost overruns continue to accumulate, they're forced to throw good money after bad to keep building it.  It's a disaster, and worse, it's a disaster they can't walk away from.  It will be a financial burden for decades to come.  Take note Houston.  What should they have done? MaX Lanes!  Would have been 10x cheaper and easier.
Finally I'd like to end with the comment of the month by Colin Cassells, made on my post about the Purple City alternative to the TXDoT I45 redevelopment plan through downtown:
"I'm an independent business owner running a managed service provider company. We need to make client visits scattered all across the Houston region, to service computers and install computing infrastructure. As such we travel all over the region and we never know where my next client will come from. 
As a consequence, having great roads benefits my business by allowing me to service a larger geographic area, quickly and at lower cost. If I'm stuck in traffic I can't make money, as I'm not servicing any clients. More business opportunities means more money and the more people I can hire.  
The folks who are anti-roads and pro-mass transit are clearly thinking with an employee/office work mentality. Mass transit only makes sense when you have consistent commuting patterns, and only a minority of individuals work for large employer's. Most folks work with small business and often have very chaotic commuting patterns. Think of the guy who owns a home remodeling company, every day his workers go to a different work location all across the city.
Contractors, home builders, IT companies, consultants, all need the ability to free travel and mass transit and making congestion worse with anti-car policies, harms small business."

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At 10:04 AM, March 29, 2016, Anonymous Mike said...

Doesn't it seem like having the entire existing Pierce elevated devoted to toll lanes is a bit much? I find it hard to buy the argument that this is all necessary for the struggling small business owner (especially when this small business owner has such an academic knowledge of transportation policy issues).

I'm starting to think that this whole thing is ideological to its core. You're going to favor more roads, especially toll lanes, no matter what, because that's the conservative approach. And anything that would benefit urban life and the central city, especially such a phenomenal benefit such as removing the Pierce elevated, you're going to oppose if it costs even one dollar or impedes a single lane of traffic. There's almost a pleasure in opposing it, because it puts those lefty environmentalist liberals back in their place.

At 1:34 PM, March 29, 2016, Blogger Jardinero1 said...


Roads are a finite resource. The only way to be sure that finite resources are used efficiently is to price them at market rates so that their highest and best use is realized. All roads, every single one, should be tolled to manage capacity and encourage more efficient use of them. If roads were more expensive to drive on, than the current price of zero, then people might consider other modes of transport like buses, vanpools and car pools. So no, tolls are not the conservative approach, they are the efficient approach, and the environmentally friendly approach, since they would actually encourage some to use mass transit.

At 5:39 PM, March 29, 2016, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Agreed Jardinero - well said. Mike, even Bill Fulton, the lefty leader of the Kinder Institute at Rice says urban freeways are valuable:

The long term plan for MaX lanes is 4 lanes like the Katy Freeway lanes. If you start to think that might happen with I10, I45, and 59/288, then it certainly makes sense to have six lanes connect them up along the Pierce Elevated.

At 3:23 PM, March 30, 2016, Blogger George Rogers said...

"Mutt City" a quip from a food writer, is a perfect nickname for Houston.
I think it encapsulates what makes Houston Houston.


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