Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Highlights

Time for the annual hike down memory lane for 2016, wrapping up the 12th (!) year of this blog (official anniversary coming up in March). Looking it over, I feel like we've got a particularly strong set of highlight posts this year. These posts have been chosen with a particular focus on significant ideas I'd like to see kept alive for discussion and action, and they're mainly targeted at new readers who want to get caught up with a quick overview of the Houston Strategies landscape. I also like to track what I think of as "reference posts" that sum up a particular topic or argument; and, last but not least, they've also been invaluable for me to track down some of my best thinking for meetings or when requested by others (as is the ever-helpful Google search).

Don't forget we offer an email option for the roughly once/week posts - see the Google Groups subscription signup box at the bottom of the right sidebar. An RSS feed link for newsfeed readers is also available in the right sidebar (I'm a fan of Feedly).

As always, thanks for your readership.
And don't forget the highlights from the first few years. For what it's worth, I think the best ideas are found there, often in the first year (I had a lot "stored up" before I started blogging) and most definitely in the 10th birthday retrospective and the best of the first 1,000.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Bright lights district for Houston, millennials love HTX, tech cars vs. transit, real Houspitality, topping Chicago, and more

A lot more catch-up items this week, but some really good stuff in here:
"San Francisco, Seattle, and Denver tend to dominate discussions about where millennials are moving to. Further examination, however, reveals that there are other metros that are attractive as well, especially in Texas – Houston, San Antonio, and Austin all ranked very well."
  • Super-Cheap Driverless Cabs to Kick Mass Transit to the Curb - Bloomberg. Hat tip to Oscar.  Even more impressive, their graph shows that driverless carpool might be as low as $0.20/mile in 2025! How transformative is that?! This is part of why I think traditional rail mass transit is a very bad investment as it will get obsoleted by these very cheap point-to-point rides.  Excerpt:
"Having no driver to pay could reduce taxi prices to 67 cents a mile by 2025, less than a quarter of the cost in Manhattan today, the report found. 
It’s a change with the potential to reshape commuting patterns, transforming urban life. As prices fall, the challenge for cities is that the cars may become too popular. Instead of complementing public transit, they may lure commuters away from buses and trains, inundating streets with drone cars."
  • Atlantic CityLab: Self-Driving Cars Are Going to Beat Up on Trains, Too - "Got a gig in the global passenger rail industry? Prepare for an “enormous shakeout.”  Great cost graphs in this one to make the case.
  • Speaking of problematic rail, at the recent TAG luncheon Judge Emmet again expressed support for commuter rail.  Now I'm a big fan of the Judge (especially his Astrodome efforts), but I think he's been misinformed here.  Here's my simple challenge:  LA - with twice our density, perfect walking weather, and worse traffic - spent *$9 billion* on rail and yet transit ridership *fell*! Why do we think we can do any better with half the density, very problematic walking weather much of the year, and traffic nowhere near as bad as LA?  Commuter rail simply does not work in low-density, decentralized, multi-polar, post-WW2 automobile-based cities like Houston (with less than 7% of our jobs downtown - and falling).  It's also been tried and essentially failed as a strategy in Dallas, with low ridership (given the size) and no reinvigoration of jobs in downtown Dallas.  As I keep saying, the better solution is MaX Lanes - Managed eXpress lanes moving the maximum number of people at maximum speed across a network connecting all job centers to all parts of the metro area.
  • Second Ave subway in NYC: “At $2.2 billion per km, this sets a new world record for subway construction costs”  Wow. Just…. Wow.  There's no way the benefits top the costs there.
  • A great personal essay demonstrating Houspitality from a Cuban that made Houston home.
  • We Are Chicago, After The Fall:
"A question on every Chicagoan’s mind, at least in the context of this conversation, is “What about Houston?” Newspapers for years have (in Chicago) decried the city’s endless losses, or (in Houston) praised the city’s innovation and growth. It’s not difficult to see why, as the census numbers show, Houston just keeps going, while Chicago just keeps slowing. 
A Houston Chronicle article from June 2015 quoted University of Southern California demographer Dowell Myers as predicting that “It isn’t ‘possible,’ it’s ‘probable’ that Houston will grow to be the country’s third largest city,” and that “[Houston] has the employment trajectory, and it has the land area.” Chicago’s “exclusionary zoning rules” are also cited as an issue that gives Houston an edge, because Houston’s zoning laws are much looser."
Finally, I think it would be cool for Houston to do a "bright lights district" in our theater district around Jones Plaza, although I'm open to thoughts in the comments on other good areas around the city for it?...

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

GQ loves Houston, top rankings, our affordability model, sidewalks, worsening traffic theory, and more

Been too long since my last post, so a lot of items to catch up on...
The Next Global Food Mecca Is in… Texas? | GQ
“After a handful of visits since then, I've realized the joke is on me: I wish I were opening in Houston, because it just might be the next food capital of America. I've always wondered where the food in a Blade Runner-like future would appear first and what it would taste like—and I genuinely believe it's here. 
Partly that's due to a demographic reality: By some measures, Houston is the U.S.A.'s most ethnically diverse city (a bunch of New Yorkers just choked on their halal kebabs reading that, but it's true), and when you get a collision of immigrants, the food scene is guaranteed to be bonkers. 
Houston also has cheap commercial and residential rents—oh, and no state income tax—which means broke-ass cooks and chefs can afford to live and open here. Zoning laws are more permissive than an Amsterdam brothel. And customers have cash to spend.”
"By contrast, Houston has been enjoying record growth in jobs overall, middle-class jobs, STEM jobs and population — and may overtake Chicago as the third-largest city in America within two decades
Kotkin and Cox note that net migration between California, New York, and Texas has all been to Texas’ benefit: an influx of young, well-educated and socially diverse people. The most diverse county in America is now Fort Bend, on the edge of Houston. Low home prices have helped make that possible: 52 percent of Latino households own their own home in Houston, which is twice the rate in New York (in L.A., it’s 38 percent)
And low regulation has helped make those low housing prices possible. Houston famously has some of the most relaxed zoning and land-use regulations in the country. That doesn’t mean hog-rendering plants sit cheek-by-jowl with hospitals, but it does mean developers face fewer roadblocks when they want to knock down old buildings and put up town homes. 
Such an absence of restrictions has produced “a mash-up of architectural styles,” notes another piece in City Journal. “Everything about Houston screams spontaneous.” That no doubt would curl the hair of Virginia’s historic preservationist class. 
Houston might not be able to boast hundreds of homes preserved in antebellum splendor like dragonflies encased in amber. But it does boast a median-home price of just $145,000. And more than 60 percent of Houston’s housing stock is affordable for a family with a median income — which helps explain why so many young, diverse people are flocking there
Texas has a reputation for being arch-conservative territory. But on the metrics that matter most to economic and social mobility, it’s one of the most progressive places in the country."
"Some, such as Tory Gattis at the Center of Opportunity Urbanism and a frequent observer of local freeway projects, have noticed traffic worsening – albeit anecdotally. Gattis even theorized that one cause could be those energy workers finding new jobs that are scattering them around the area. 
“Whenever people have to switch jobs within the metro area, they’re more likely to end up with a worse commute than a better one,” Gattis said. “Assuming they picked where they live based on the original job they no longer have.” 
There might be some validity to Gattis' guess. According to TranStar average travel times, eastbound Interstate 10 west of downtown and the northbound portion of Loop 610 from Stella Link to Shepherd – two of the most congested freeway segments in the region – saw increases in the amount of time they were congested from 2012 to 2015, with a noticeable jump from 2014 to 2015."
Enough for this week. More items to catch up on next week.

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