Monday, February 25, 2019

Fixing Houston's branding, hail-mary save for CA HSR, cautionary Chicago, learning from OKC, and more

A random thought before getting to this week's items: you know what might save the California high-speed rail white elephant recently dramatically downsized by the governor? Uber drone rides from the SF and LA metros to the new Merced and Bakersfield endpoints, respectively (ideally extended to be a bit closer, maybe Pleasanton and Palmdale).  I know it sounds a little crazy, but they might be closer to reality than you think, and the total price and travel time could be very competitive with airports if neither your origin nor destination are near airports.  Doesn't mean this thing hasn't been a gigantic waste of taxpayer money, but this solution might scrape together some value out of the boondoggle...

Moving on to this week's items:
  • Let's take a moment to be very, very thankful we're not the fiscal wreck of Chicago, and make a commitment that we never want to let Houston fall into the same hole. Some would argue we've already started down the same slippery slope :-( 
"Chicagoans are suffocating under unfunded debt liabilities from every level of government totaling $130 billion."
That's $48k of unfunded debt per person in the city, or almost $200k per household of four!! How many families would buy a house in Chicago knowing it came with an extra $200k debt attached to it?!
"It’s curious that while every company tries its hardest to convince you of how much different and better it is than every other company in its industry, every city tries its hardest to convince you it’s exactly the same as every other city that’s conventionally considered cool. 
Look at any piece of city marketing material, from promo videos to airline magazine ad inserts. It’s amazing how so many of them rely on the same basic ingredients: hipster coffee shops, microbreweries, bike lanes, creative-class members, startups, intimations of a fashion scene, farm-to-table restaurants, new downtown streetcars, etc. 
These are all good things, mind you: things cities should be happy to have. Some of them may even be modern necessities. But you can’t help but notice how few unique things about these cities manage to come through. A video from the Greater Houston Partnership, for example, shows outdoor art, bicyclists, a live music performance, and a light-rail train going by—but nothing about oil or energy. Except for some references to the space program, little else about the incredible uniqueness of Houston comes through.
Atlanta and Houston are major cities with strong identities. They are much more than a collection of generic urban elements. Why cities with great identities and heritages of their own so seldom lead with them is something of a mystery." 
The solution? Here's my suggestion.
Finally, Oklahoma City has a really innovative model for public funding of civic amenities that Houston should strongly consider.
"There is reason to take pause at such public works programs, and the general idea of attracting outside capital through industrial policy. It can lead to misappropriated resources, which in other cities have, in fact, included convention centers and streetcars. But there’s something reassuring about the way Oklahoma City does MAPS. The projects, for whatever one may think of them, are at least chosen and funded by residents themselves. And they are delivered low-cost and debt-free, providing more bang for the buck."

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At 7:44 AM, February 26, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

Amen to that, y'all need to work a lot harder to get to Chicago level dysfunction.

At 7:51 AM, February 26, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

Houston it's worth it, is helping Houston avoid the branding trap.
GHP's material is aimed at the Dallas set anyways, and so it's well suited for selling Houston to them.
Houston is a weird, chaotic, and wonderful sprawling megalopolis; and has good marketing for that set as well.

At 11:43 AM, February 26, 2019, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Amen! The GQ story had a really good handle on our identity/branding:


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