Monday, February 21, 2022

Texans don't leave, checklist for opportunity cities, offices losing, exurbia rising, HTX tops for tree cover, 15-min cities, and more

Lots of good stuff this week:

"In fact, a primary reason Texas is growing so fast is that we tend to stick around as compared to natives of other states, meaning there’s less out-migration to offset the in-migration. About 82 percent of people born in Texas still live here, making it the so-called stickiest state in the country."
  • American Affairs Journal: Exurbia Rising by Joel Kotkin, packed with great stats. Here's the opening paragraph:
"Perhaps nowhere is the gap between America’s cognitive elite and its populace larger than in their preferred urban forms. For nearly a century—interrupted only by the Depression and the Second World War—Americans have been heading further from the urban core, seeking affordable and safe communities with good schools, parks, and a generally more tranquil lifestyle. We keep pushing out despite the contrary desires of planners, academic experts, and some real estate interests. In 1950, the core cities accounted for nearly 24 percent of the U.S. population; today, the share is under 15 percent, according to demographer Wendell Cox. Between 2010 and 2020, the suburbs and exurbs of the major metropolitan areas gained 2.0 million net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost 2.7 million."
"Lessons from history and from the relative success stories of the present point to clear priorities for today’s cities:
  • Get the urban basics right: schools, safety, livability.
  • Strengthen local anchor institutions in higher education, health care, and other areas.
  • Invest aggressively in local quality-of-life amenities.
  • Rebuild and expand critical infrastructure.
  • Work toward openness, diversity, inclusion, and a welcoming approach to newcomers.
  • Ensure a high degree of economic freedom.
  • Emphasize housing affordability and work to build an opportunity-rich physical environment."
  • WSJ: People Are Going Out Again, but Not to the Office - Only a third of U.S. employees have returned to the office, as workers prefer remote and companies fear ordering them back. Companies that force employees to the office will have to pay more (including office costs) for inferior talent from a more limited local talent pool. Excerpts:
"Elected officials are imploring companies to send workers back to the office. 
“Business leaders, tell everybody to come back,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, in remarks before a civic organization earlier this month. “Give them a bonus to burn the Zoom app and come on back to work.” 
The gap between public enthusiasm for office return and other activities underscores the wide range of factors other than health considerations that are slowing the return to work. After close to two years of working from home, surveys suggest most employees simply prefer it to the office, which often requires lengthy commutes and gives workers less flexibility in how they spend their days. 
Employers have also been reluctant to insist that workers return for fear of driving employees away during a labor shortage, corporate surveys show. Many managers feel remote work disrupts efforts to promote a corporate culture and collaboration, but they aren’t applying much pressure because studies have shown that many workers are as productive—or even more productive—when they work remotely. 
“They feel like remote work isn’t perfect, but it’s working pretty OK,” said Brian Kropp, chief of human-resources research for the advisory and research firm Gartner. “There’s not a real urgency to change it.”
"We’re not going to double urban densities, especially when the doing so will fail to eliminate driving anyway. As urban economist Edward Glaeser once wrote (as quoted by Bertaud), the 15-minute city “should be recognized as a dead-end which would stop cities from fulfilling their true rôle as engines of opportunity.”
Finally, I'd like to end with this video on why Pakistanis are moving to Houston (hat tip to George). Although I wish it didn’t have the politics. She has some fair points about parts of rural Texas, but it muddles the video. I also think it completely misses the impact of lack of zoning and development regs that allowed those ethnic suburbs and shopping areas to develop. A lot of more regulated and zoned cities would have subtly (and not so subtly) prevented that from happening.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, February 14, 2022

Sprawl Is Good - The Environmental Case for Suburbia

This week I'd like to feature this excellent essay from Judge Glock at The Breakthrough Institute, "Sprawl Is Good - The Environmental Case for Suburbia". It makes a comprehensive case for why and how sprawl can be pro-environment and address climate change. Some key excerpts:

"Complementing sprawl has also been a long-term trend toward people driving more and taking transit less. In 1960, about 12 percent of all Americans took transit to work. By 2020, it was about 5 percent, and the decline of non-work trips on transit was even faster. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who travel to work by car, especially those who travel alone in a car, continues to increase. The miles driven by car per capita have almost doubled. This is not because of supposed subsidies to cars; according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, cars pay for almost all of the cost of roads through gas taxes and other charges, while transit riders pay barely a third of the cost of their rides, and that ratio is dropping as transit use declines. For decades, in fact, more and more of the gas tax has been siphoned off to pay for increasingly expensive and increasingly empty buses and trains. ...

Perhaps the most important tool for reducing the heat island effect is trees, which provide shade and absorb solar radiation. Suburbs are, almost by definition, more verdant than cities. Famously sprawling cities like Atlanta or Houston have tree cover on more than 30 percent of their landmass, while older, denser cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago have under 20 percent. Besides reducing the heat island effect, nearby trees have been shown to intercept particulate matter and absorb ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, thus reducing local air pollution as well. The personal and psychological effects of trees are real too. Studies have shown that the presence of trees decreases stress, increases attentiveness and sense of safety and comfort, and reduces the likelihood that pregnant women will have low-birthweight babies. There is no way to have the same access to trees in dense urban areas.
Over even a medium-term time frame, the increasing adoption of hybrid, electric, and autonomous vehicles will almost completely sever the connection between VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and greenhouse gases. Those who are attempting to redesign cities, projects that will take decades or even centuries, merely to reduce the use of gasoline-powered cars are thus engaged in a futile exercise that will only become more futile with time. It would be like attempting to redesign cities in 1900 to reduce horse manure. The technology will change faster than the city will."
Wendell Cox did his own review of the essay with some additional points and data:
'Issuing a challenge, Glock talks of the “Long Triumph of Sprawl,” describing a “clear global and long-term preference,” while the “pandemic has only made the shift toward the modern, sprawling city more rapid and obvious.”

Glock suggest that “instead of warring against sprawling cars, planners and environmentalist should recognize how the green spaces of suburbia allied to autonomous electric vehicles in green single-family houses can provide both the affordability and sustainability most Americans crave.” ...

 Appropriately, Glock concludes, “environmentalists should embrace the same future that most Americans have already chosen.”

These excerpts just give a taste of the essay - I highly recommend reading the whole thing. It makes a strong and amazingly comprehensive case.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Houston #1 for std of living, housing the root of many problems, solving homelessness, debunking the 15-min city, and more

Our featured item this week is this detailed Stanford study that backs up what I've been saying for years: Houston offers the highest standard of living in the country (discretionary income after costs), especially among growing cities. After opening the pdf, search the word 'Houston' and look at the Consumption column to see how much higher it is than most other cities for households in different income ranges. Hat tip to George. 

Moving on to some other items this week:

"The struggle to solve homelessness is getting harder nearly everywhere. Yet recent years have still seen many more victories than defeats. And the biggest victory is in greater Houston, which over the last decade has cut homelessness by more than half. 
Houston’s story holds lessons for Los Angeles. The chief one is that solving homelessness is less about economics than about strategic clarity and execution."
'Even a prominent urban economist like professor Ed Glaeser has been sufficiently alarmed by the spread of the 15-minute mania that he felt obliged to comment on it. In a blog, he wrote that the 15-minutes city "should be recognized as a dead-end which would stop cities from fulfilling their true role as engines of opportunity."
  • New Geography: Analysis of how metro cost of living relates to domestic migration. Bottom line: there is a goldilocks zone of not too cheap and not too expensive that attracts migrants.
  • NYT: Amid a Baby Boom, Texas Gains 1,000 Residents Every Day - A surge in births in Texas comes amid a declining birthrate nationwide. Fits my hypothesis: when housing is plentiful and affordable, fertility stays up. People want plenty of space to raise families. When housing is pricey and small, fertility drops - see Japan, Korea, China, Europe...
  • The housing theory of everything - Western housing shortages do not just prevent many from ever affording their own home. They also drive inequality, climate change, low productivity growth, obesity, and even falling fertility rates. A really long but comprehensive case. Conclusion:
"What matters is that housing shortages may be the biggest problem facing our era, and solving it needs to become everyone’s highest priority....

If we’re right about this, it means that fixing this one problem could make everyone’s lives much better than almost anyone realises – not just by making houses cheaper, but giving people better jobs, a better quality of life, more cohesive communities, bigger families and healthier lives. It could even give renewed reasons to be optimistic about the future of the West."
Finally, a fun item to conclude with: a cool map a friend of mine made with how to fly from Houston to every capital city in the world either nonstop (red) or connections (blue). Almost all can be reached with a single connection except for a few in the South Pacific (thru LAX+Fiji). We are a very well-connected city in the global economy. Click on it to see it larger.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,