Sunday, September 18, 2016

New COU video, the land-use trilemma, national Cistern coverage, Houston's millennials, and more

Several items this week, but first, our Center For Opportunity Urbanism has released its first short promotional video!

"In sum, less government regulation means lower housing costs."
  • Richard Florida on the difficulties of density - which peaked in America in the 1950s - and the land-use trilemma (below). No matter what you do, there are tradeoffs. And we need to recognize the reality that, as society gets wealthier, people want more personal space.

  • Atlantic CityLab talks about Houston's Cistern, which I visited on Saturday. Just amazing. Highly recommend the tour, especially as this may be your only chance to see them "raw" - next year they'll start hosting art exhibitions.  The 17-second echo is a pretty incredible experience, and the water is such a perfectly still mirror you'll swear there's another walking ledge down below...
"Clothing can protect you from rain, wind, and cold while biking – it cannot protect you from extremes of heat and humidity that Denmark does not face. Nobody has yet invented the air conditioned jacket. Houston should certainly improve its biking infrastructure where it can, but let’s not harbor any illusions about significantly reducing cars and their very critical air conditioning in this city…"

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Should Houston have its own version of the Sydney Bridge Climb?

I recently learned that there are plans to completely rebuild the Beltway 8 bridge over the ship channel even taller/higher than the existing (quite high) span.  It reminded me of my own amazing experience climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge in 2014, which is the most popular tourist attraction in Sydney.  And it is a *huge* moneymaker: roughly $250 per person, with groups of 12 ($3k!) going out every few minutes all day long - do the math!  Honestly, it might generate more money than many of HCTRA's toll plazas.

So I'll raise the question: should we try to design our new bridge to offer a similar experience?  Yes, I understand that the ship channel view is not exactly Sydney Harbor, and that Houston is not a tourist destination the way Sydney is, but I still think it could be a popular attraction with an impressive view worth integrating into the new bridge design.  I will say from personal experience the view is only part of the experience - the thrill and adventure of the climb itself is a big part of it, and ours could be as impressive if not more than theirs.  In fact, theirs has a lot of cumbersome safety overhead because the bridge was never designed for tourists to climb it (continuously connected safety harnesses and those blue jumpsuit outfits so you can't drop anything on the cars below). If tourist climbing was integrated from the beginning, a lot of that hassle (and cost) could be eliminated.  There might even be an elevator and viewing platform option for the less adventurous (or disabled). And of course this assumes that the new bridge design would have very high tower pylons that would be worth climbing, not like the current design.  If it's cable-stayed like the Fred Hartman bridge, the climb (and elevator) could be integrated into one of the tall tower pylons (like this one in Maine) and/or the large main cable, rather than along the steel arch like in Sydney.

So cool idea or crazy? A tourist attraction to put Houston on the map? Looking forward to your thoughts in the comments...


Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Fixing local regs to encourage entrepreneurship, zoning = crony capitalism, defending MUDs, and more

A few small items this week:
"When people hear “crony capitalism,” they usually envision corporatist policy at the higher levels of government. It might be the federal Export-Import bank subsidizing Boeing, or Nevada granting Tesla tax breaks. But perhaps the most common form is the kind occurring in your own backyard. In many U.S. municipalities, zoning codes have evolved from reasonable public protections into regulatory cobwebs that benefit the rich over the poor. If a crony system is, according to Investopedia, one where “instead of success being determined by a free market and the rule of law, the success of a business is dependent on the favoritism that is shown to it by the ruling government,” then zoning is cronyism’s localized version. 
Most readers are likely familiar with zoning’s practical purposes, such as separating incompatible uses or expelling nuisances. But they may not realize just how comprehensively it is now used to micromanage society, impose petty moralism and protect special interests."

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