Monday, July 05, 2021

Austin vs. Houston, 45N defunding, Houston's 'tough love' homelessness model, traffic rankings, and more

 A few small items to kick it off this week followed by extensive excerpts from Evan Mintz's excellent Texas Monthly piece on Austin vs. Houston.

Finally, some of my favorite excerpts from Evan Mintz's newest Texas Monthly essay (highlights mine): 

Dear Austinites, You Have Permission to Move to an Affordable, Weird City: Houston

If you’re trying to buy a home, then you’re probably a grown-up. You deserve a grown-up city—the city of Houston. 

"Austin is a fun place, no doubt. Texans from across the state love to hop in the car and spend a long weekend paddle-boarding on Lady Bird Lake, swimming at Barton Springs, partying on Sixth Street, and reliving college memories at Kerbey Lane—as if the city were their personal playground. But playgrounds are for children. If you’re trying to buy a home, then you’re probably a grown-up. You deserve a grown-up city—the city of Houston. 

Don’t get me wrong; Austin has some great attributes. The Capitol is a beautiful and historic building. Houston should aspire to have a campus of the caliber of the University of Texas. And Austin summers are somewhat more of a dry heat. But those great Austin amenities that people swear they could never do without—the live music! The outdoors! The progressive attitude!—exist in every other major city in one form or another. And I would argue that Houston’s offerings are better, and more sophisticated, than Austin’s. 

...the fact that the city’s leadership can’t find a way to make housing affordable should be an indictment of anything related to self-proclaimed progressiveness. Politics is about power, and if Austin politicians can’t use their power to improve the fundamental living conditions of not only the most vulnerable but also a reasonably privileged middle class, then they should just admit the city is becoming a resort town for celebrities and a techno-oligarchy and spend their time arguing about plastic straws. Say what you will about Houston’s relationship with the oil and gas industry; at least pollution here has abated. Austin still hasn’t figured out how to mitigate the collateral consequences of tech wealth and Hollywood tourism. 

...

No doubt Houston isn’t as affordable as it used to be, especially for renters already struggling. But somehow it remains tenable for those upwardly mobile geriatric millennials taking their first steps into homeownership. In the past few months alone, I’ve seen four friends buy their first places: a new townhouse in Oak Forest, a classic eighties townhouse in Montrose, a bungalow north of downtown, and a cottage in the Second Ward. These homes aren’t in far-flung suburbs; they’re in Houston’s inner core, within walking and biking distance to the breweries, restaurants, arts venues, and other hallmarks of a livable, enjoyable city. Some of these are dense housing allowed by Houston’s lax land-use rules. Others are older homes still left standing—and reasonably priced—as new construction soaks up capital like a sponge, saving older neighborhoods from the deluge of wealth that has made Austin so unaffordable. I also know people who moved to the Woodlands. 

...

In contrast, Houston, a place without pretension or zoning, will gleefully tear down its past if that makes the present more appealing—anything to give you the freedom to grow. You won’t be restrained by outdated notions of what the city should be. You’ll be empowered by hopes of what the city can be. We’re improving our parks, adding more bike lanes, and expanding the mass transit system. And we don’t listen to NIMBYs who want to block affordable housing. Forty years of the Houston Area Survey show that we’re a city perpetually, even irrationally, optimistic about our future. Houston thinks there are better days ahead, while Austin worries it is past its prime. 

The choice is clear: You can rage against the dying of the light in Austin and spend 50 percent of your income on housing, or you can be reborn a sweaty, home-owning phoenix in Houston."

Hear, hear!

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19 Comments:

At 2:55 PM, July 06, 2021, Blogger George Rogers said...

Austin: All the Downsides of a small city, with all the downsides of a large one.

Austin has worse traffic than DFW and almost as bad as Houston.

 
At 3:02 PM, July 06, 2021, Blogger George Rogers said...

There is a big flaw with these congestion reports the way they structure things. More VMT is a bad thing in the rankings (which is wrong, because VMT is a good thing because that is vibrancy!) If the number of per capita VMT is going down in a city that means that you have less vibrancy because people are refusing to travel because of traffic. Peoples travel time tolerance is fairly constant therefore the more per capita VMT the better a city is at handling traffic.

 
At 3:19 PM, July 06, 2021, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Good point!

 
At 8:35 PM, July 07, 2021, Blogger Neil Strickland said...

In that 80/20 post you link, you mentioned Michael Skelly's idea to congestion price all lanes on the Hardy Toll Road instead of widening 45N for them. I wish there were a way, other than a Big Dig, to do that and then connect it to Spur 5. Spur 5, being the largely-existing right of way for a failed radial freeway, would then continue the Hardy from 45S to South Loop East and out toward Hobby.

 
At 9:18 PM, July 07, 2021, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

That's a pretty cool idea, but you're right there's no way to do a dig. Maybe elevated that follows the existing freeways on the east side of downtown?

 
At 10:13 PM, July 07, 2021, Blogger Max Concrete said...

@Neil Strickland: TxDOT actually considered a connection between Spur 5 and the Hardy Toll Road. It would have followed the railroad corridor along Spur 5 north-northwest to near the interchange at US 59 and IH 10, where it could connect into the Hardy Toll Road extension. This connection was considered due to concerns that future traffic to/from Spur 5 (when it is extended southward) could overload the planned improvements on NHHIP. The idea was a nonstarter due to the current anti-car, anti-road views at the City of Houston, and also would surely have encountered a lot of opposition in Eado.

 
At 1:28 PM, July 08, 2021, Anonymous Mike said...

The comment about people doing fun things in Austin "as if it were their personal playground" and how "playgrounds are for children" is a little cringe-worthy. We still haven't gotten out of the mentality that cities can't or shouldn't be interesting places, and the only thing to aspire for is a home somewhere on the suburban periphery. This is what gave Houston its reputation as a soulless place that everyone with a good education and career options wanted to leave, and has made for considerable brain drain from Houston to Austin. It also hurts the efforts of people like Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Memorial Park Conservancy to make the city interesting and fun, not just affordable.

 
At 2:32 PM, July 08, 2021, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I don't know anybody that's spent any significant time in Houston and thinks it's soulless. There's nothing wrong with making a city interesting and fun - and Houston absolutely is - but too many cities *only* focus on that while ignoring the hardships their unaffordability creates for the middle and working class. They become playgrounds for the wealthy or at least educated upper-middle-class professionals while ignoring everybody else.

 
At 3:06 PM, July 08, 2021, Blogger Michael said...

The comment "playgrounds are for children" makes it sound like cities should only be for suburban houses and the infrastructure needed to support them. There are better ways to make the point you just made. As far as "soulless," I don't think Houston is, but reputations don't come out of nowhere.

 
At 4:26 PM, July 08, 2021, Blogger George Rogers said...

No Michael the "Playgrounds are for children" remark was aimed at the fact that Austin has no true big city amenities such as a symphony, art museums, high end restaurants that don't look like the food offerings at the Ritz Carlton.

 
At 4:29 PM, July 08, 2021, Blogger George Rogers said...

Houston is more cosmopolitan and worldly than Chicago, let alone Austin!

 
At 5:34 PM, July 09, 2021, Blogger Neil Strickland said...

Mike/Michael's comments are always constructive reality checks. He would've never bothered commenting if he were trying to leave Houston a worse place than he found it.

 
At 9:45 AM, July 12, 2021, Anonymous Mike said...

Thanks, Neil. To George, while I agree that Houston has better high culture offerings than Austin (although I don't think that was the reason for the quote), I would disagree that we have surpassed Chicago in this regard. One thing I've noticed at performing arts events in Houston is the amount of tickets given out free through corporate giveaways in order to fill seats. Our organizations are strong due to large donors but not as much driven by public interest. Chicago by contrast has a large community of avid attendees. This list of budgets gives some perspective:

http://clymer.altervista.org/minor/orchbud.html

 
At 10:06 AM, July 12, 2021, Blogger George Rogers said...

Chicago may of had better high preforming arts than Houston (but I think Chicago's ham fisted COVID response may have changed things). But in the second comment I was talking about the diversity and cosmopolitanism of the streets rather than the high arts. Chicago is a midwestern center of high arts and culture but it is not a cosmopolitan port city.

 
At 2:59 PM, July 12, 2021, Anonymous Mike said...

Hmmm. If we are a cosmopolitan port city, then I guess Baytown, Laporte, Deer Park, and Pasadena are really where the culture is here. But Chicago's more globally-connected airport may help them on this.

 
At 5:07 PM, July 12, 2021, Blogger George Rogers said...

The lack of opportunity due to IL shitty government means that there is less international and domestic immigration to the area. Which makes an area less Cosmopolitan! Chicago draws from the midwest. I wish Chicago and Illinois wasn't run like shit, I recently moved to the Space Coast in Florida with my folks due to Chicago's shitty government.

But the coastal city vs international city is a difference between Dallas and Houston in addition to the fact that Houston is a Oil town vs Chicago and DFW being Consumer Product towns.

 
At 8:46 AM, July 13, 2021, Blogger George Rogers said...

https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/us-immigrant-population-metropolitan-area Chicago has a much smaller immigrant population as a share of the cities size than Houston or Dallas.

 
At 9:49 AM, July 13, 2021, Anonymous Mike said...

So in your usage, "more cosmopolitan" simply means "more immigrant population"? Which I guess would make El Paso the most cosmopolitan city in Texas?

 
At 10:42 AM, July 13, 2021, Blogger George Rogers said...

No it is a combination of things like the mix of immigrant groups, El Paso is mainly Mexicans.
But a diverse immigrant population is part of the mix along with high culture and vibrant business climate.

 

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