Monday, March 27, 2017

Bike plan prudence, how spontaneous order keeps Houston affordable, suburbs winning, high cost of zoning, and more

Before getting to this week's items, a short comment on the city's new bike plan: while I’m all for making biking better/easier/more popular (especially along bayous and power-line rights-of-way), I’m a bit worried that some activists are using it as a smokescreen to attack cars (reduce speeds, take away lanes for bike lanes, etc.), which of course carry magnitudes more people than bikes do, especially in Houston. It would be the equivalent of disrupting/slowing big jets at IAH so little single-engine prop planes have an easier time, and how much sense would that make?

I feel the same way about initiatives to reduce traffic deaths: noble intention, and we should certainly work on it, but within the realm of prudence. For example, radical reductions in speed limits would certainly reduce traffic deaths, but it would also slowly suffocate cities from a lack of mobility. Thank goodness autonomous technologies are coming to save us from our own bad driving...

There are a heck of a lot of new items this week, so here we go:
"Increased frequencies did far more to increase ridership than fare reductions, the paper found. So-called “choice” riders are most likely to value their time more than money (at least, within the range of transit fares), so this makes particular sense in areas where most people already have cars. 
The Antiplanner remains convinced that transit will soon be rendered obsolete by shared, self-driving cars. But until that happens, there seems to be little reason in most cases for cities to build new rail lines, as innovative bus services should be able to attract riders at a far lower cost."
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, many US cities have a lot to learn from Houston. With tight development restrictions, out-of-date urban planning regimes, and burdensome regulations forcing middle- and lower-class Americans out of West Cost and Northeastern cities, Houston’s mix of affordable housing and economic opportunity is more valuable than ever. As other cities have attempted to maintain tight, centralized control on urban and economic development—exemplified by a recent push by Dallas to shutter local businesses in order to attract chains—Houston has opted to take a back seat to residents, entrepreneurs, and civil society groups in cultivating economic development and crafting urban communities. 
Some continue to blame Houston’s unique approach for everything from flood damage—as if imposing side setbacks and keeping delis out of neighborhoods would avoid statewide flooding—to remaining pockets of poverty within the city. Certainly some form of citywide coordination on data collection and service allocation in pursuit of efficiency and equity makes sense. Yet past attempts to impose greater centralized urban planning on Houston have been defeated by overwhelming working-class opposition every time. Those residents know something many in the urban planning world don’t. It is well past time that we start taking Houston’s success seriously."
"According to a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh, from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and Enrico Moretti, from the University of California, Berkeley, local land-use regulations reduce the United States’ economic output by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, or about 10 percent lower than it could be."

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rodeo tops SXSW+Mardi Gras, #2 zoo!, defending our diversity, traffic better than you think, top rankings, and more

Lots of small items to catch up on this week:
"Also like Houston--which is routinely one of the nation's fastest-growing metros--the rodeo's overall 20-day attendance has spiked recently, going from under 2 million in 2009 to nearly 2.5 million last year. Attendance figures from the first 6 days of this year's rodeo suggests this number will increase yet more in 2017. Compare this with SXSW or Miami's Art Basel, both of which draw under 100,000 annually; or even Mardi Gras, which drew an estimated 1.4 million in 2017."
"Houston: Findings and Implications
The 2017 Metro Monitor’s Inclusive Growth Index shows that the Houston metro area did not make progress on economic inclusion, now ranking 64th overall. Houston dropped from 4th to 5th on overall measures of economic growth (now ranking 5th) but improved on prosperity, now ranking 2nd overall. Additionally, Houston posted the fastest productivity growth from 2010-2015, and posted the second-fastest gross metropolitan product (GMP) growth at over 28 percent, fueled by its energy, wholesale trade, and hospitality sectors as well as significant in-migration. This GMP growth also contributed to one of the largest increases in the average standard of living, but also saw one of the largest increases in relative poverty, as improvements in median wages within the metro area did not appear to extend to workers in the bottom half of the income distribution."
I'll make my point about this again: if coastal cities make themselves unaffordable to the poor and working class - so they move away - they look better on these poverty and median income stats, but did they really do a good thing? I would argue they didn't.  Another case of twisted stats.
Finally, the National Review on Houston's multiculturalism, sparked by David Brooks' column quoting me on Houston.  He does make some good points (including that the coasts have their ugly as well!), but I’m not sure I’m totally clear on his overall point. Brooks simply said there is an alternative model of conservative Republicanism that is immigrant friendly, and he pointed to Houston and Texas.  All this guy’s describing of the nuances in Houston and Texas don’t seem to really counter that point.  Yes, other cities can’t replicate our energy economy, but the rest of the Texas triangle cities aren’t the energy capital of the world and they thrive with immigrants as well.  And he ignores how well we’re also assimilating Asian cultures, and Texas certainly does not have a long history of that!

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The best posts from the first dozen years and million pageviews

Today is the 12th birthday of Houston Strategies.  In the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, what a long strange trip it's been. Coincidentally, we should get to one million total pageviews in the next week or so (standing at 995,842 as I write this, not counting pageviews over at the Chronicle). In honor of those milestones, I've decided to update my best posts from the first 1,000, which is now over three years out of date, by pulling from my annual highlights posts. As you skim this list, I hope you find some of interest that you missed, forgot, or may have been posted before you discovered Houston Strategies.  Enjoy.  As always, thanks for your readership.