Sunday, October 16, 2016

New GHP Tower, Houston attracting talent as a knowledge capital, saving the Astrodome, and more

This week I was able to attend the media preview of the Greater Houston Partnership's new tower and offices next to the GRB.  It is an amazingly well-designed space that will be fantastic for hosting outside visitors and promoting economic development.  I took my own pictures, but the Chronicle pictures here are better if you want to check it out, or the Twitter feed pics of the event here.

Moving on to this week's items:
"Among knowledge capitals, Houston had some of the strongest economic indicators, including its GDP per capita and GDP growth between 2000 and 2015. Its trade, air passenger traffic and research profile also scored well. 
Overall, Houston ranked third of the 19 knowledge capitals, behind Chicago and Dallas. Houston actually out-performed Dallas in all but four categories: venture capital per capita, educational attainment, overall metropolitan area population and air passenger traffic. 
But there’s room to improve. Houston actually ranked lowest of all 19 knowledge capital cities when it comes to educational attainment, and in the bottom three for venture capital investment. 
But as Houston continues to grow, these rankings may not hold. Houston is already on track to surpass Chicago’s population. And the University of Texas has eyed an expansion in Houston, adding to its university scene. The Texas Medical Center continues to add jobs and boost the city’s research potential. And a planned — if delayed - new terminal at Bush International Airport promises to bring more air traffic to the region."
Finally, I wanted to pass along this intriguing and thought-provoking quote Barry sent me.  I love it!
"WE WILL NEVER FIX GOVERNMENT UNTIL WE ABANDON THE CENTRAL PLANNING MODEL OF REGULATION. We must return to the Framer’s conception of a “Republic” in which officials act on their best judgment and are accountable for how they do. Of course law is vital—to set goals and governing principles, and hierarchies of accountability, and, sometimes specific rules, as with pollution limits. But when law tries to supplant human judgment, it fails. Life is too complicated to be governed by dense rulebooks. That’s the core flaw of modern government. Law can’t think. People on the spot must take responsibility to do what they think is right, and be accountable for how they do. Talking about “better management” and “less red tape” and “new systems” will do nothing without human authority to make necessary choices. What reformers need to talk about is putting humans in charge again."

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Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Houston's lack of zoning held up as a model nationally plus the City Journal on Texas Rising

I'm back from travel and quite a few items have definitely accumulated, especially around the topic of zoning, which I'll focus on this week.  But first, City Journal just released their special issue titled "Texas Rising," including many pieces by Center for Opportunity Urbanism staff and affiliates, including this great sidebar on Houston by COU Fellow Anne Snyder.  I read it cover to cover on my flight back, and I can't recommend it highly enough.  Many fantastic pieces on how Texas works (or does not, in some cases - there's always things to improve), including key ones by Aaron Renn on the Texas Triangle and Joel Kotkin + Wendell Cox on Texas-style Urbanism.

On to zoning. The big news is that the White House is taking on zoning over-regulation as a barrier to housing supply and affordability, including very specific recommendations for enabling more housing to be built.  Pause here for a moment of thankfulness that Houston doesn't have this problem compared to most cities in America, especially on the coasts.  Scott Beyer covered the story in Forbes with this great excerpt:
"But anecdotal evidence shows that global megacities that embrace rapid construction, such as Houston and Tokyo, can maintain affordability despite populations that are both fast-growing and wealthy. The academic literature shows that this isn’t an accident; regulations that restrict supply really do make areas more expensive, while a hands-off attitude creates more elastic markets and lower prices. It’s nice that America’s highest level of government has caught on."
I think the Chronicle's response was excessively negative, seeming to imply we have the same woes when ours are at nowhere near the same scale as the coasts.  Our median housing price to income ratio is a healthy 3.5, while theirs can easily top 6 to 9.  And somehow they lump inequality into the issue, which is just reflective of the high-paying jobs and industries in Houston. The most equal big cities tend to not have those types of jobs or industries, like, say, Memphis or Tampa.
"Housing advocates, urban planners and city leaders have called recently for a more comprehensive plan to address the affordability, preservation and economic issues surrounding housing in Houston."
Didn't we just do that?  And, btw, there's now a whole new Twitter feed dedicated to showing how Houston is naturally densifying in healthy ways.  Even the Boston Globe is extolling Houston's non-existent zoning code:
"More cities should emulate the example of Houston. It has no zoning code, and voters have repeatedly refused to authorize one. There are regulations aplenty in Texas’s largest city, but there’s no zoning. By and large, it is market incentives that determine what gets built where — not buckets of rules imposed from above by omniscient city planners
The results are impressive. Industry, housing, and business sort themselves out without Big Brother’s help. In the process, they have turned Houston into one of the nation’s fastest growing cities — popular, affordable, eclectic, and diverse. Treat private property rights with respect and deference, and what you get is a booming, blooming city. Maybe Boston ought to try it."
And a similar piece extolling Houston's approach from Washington DC:
"Single family zoning is somewhat of a third rail in American local politics; it's exceptionally rare for residents of suburban-style neighborhoods to allow denser development. Urbanist commentators have noted that "missing middle" housing—forms like duplexes and small multifamily apartments—has been regulated away in most American cities. Houston represents an important dissent from the notion that single family neighborhoods are to be preserved at all costs. 
The results of these reforms have been remarkable. Areas that were once made up entirely of ranch-style houses, McMansions, and underused lots are now covered in townhouses
But the key insight here is that piecemeal densification is possible, and it works. Houston has found a way to add significant amounts of housing without sprawling."
Nolan Gray at Market Urbanism is now writing detailed pieces on Houston's approach to land use so other cities can learn from it, including this absolutely excellent one with the best-detailed summary on our approach I've seen so far.  If you can only send one link to someone to explain Houston's approach to land-use regulation, this is the one to send.  I'll end with this excerpt from it:
"Houston was the only major city to hold a public vote on comprehensive zoning and it was the only major city to turn it down. For decades, folks scoffed at Houston for refusing to implement residential segregation, mixed-use prohibitions, and density restrictions. It turns out that Houston was right all along, and that’s worth talking about."

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