Sunday, May 22, 2022

People leaving unhappy cities for Houston, fixing the housing shortage driven by remote work, Stephen Kleinberg tribute

 A few smaller items this week:

“ A paper published this week by two California economists calculated that the mass shift to remote work accounted for 15.1 percentage points of the 24% increase in U.S. home prices between November 2019 and 2021.”
“There are lots of places in America with jobs and lower climate risks or jobs and racial diversity, but if you want all three, Texas will take care of you best,” The NYTimes noted in 2021.
“Many of us move to big cities and spend little time in nature — also not a path to happiness. A study by the economists Ed Glaeser and Josh Gottlieb ranked the happiness of every American metropolitan area. They found that New York City was just about the least happy. Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco also scored low. The happiest places include Flagstaff, Ariz.; Naples, Fla., and pretty much all of Hawaii. And when people move out of unhappy cities to happy places, they report increased happiness.”

And a little humor, lol: "The data-driven answer to life is as follows: Be with your love, on an 80-degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex."

  • And here are the academic paper details behind that excerpt: Unhappy Cities. People are the least happy in some of America's largest cities like NYC, LA, SF, Boston, and Chicago. Oddly, Dallas and Houston are not included, although Galveston scores surprisingly high (#16).
"Abstract: There are persistent differences in self-reported subjective well-being across U.S. metropolitan areas, and residents of declining cities appear less happy than other Americans. Newer residents of these cities appear to be as unhappy as longer term residents, and yet some people continue to move to these areas. While the historical data on happiness are limited, the available facts suggest that cities that are now declining were also unhappy in their more prosperous past. One interpretation of these facts is that individuals do not aim to maximize self-reported well-being, or happiness, as measured in surveys, and they willingly endure less happiness in exchange for higher incomes or lower housing costs. In this view, subjective well-being is better viewed as one of many arguments of the utility function, rather than the utility function itself, and individuals make trade-offs among competing objectives, including but not limited to happiness."
Finally, a great little video tribute to Dr. Stephen Kleinberg at Rice University, who is retiring after an amazing 40 years of conducting the Houston Area Survey. Thank you, Stephen Klineberg.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Metro's pretty good Inner Katy BRT plan, Ashby's corrective ordinance, induced demand from freeway expansion isn't bad, housing policy failure and success, urban exodus

I attended Metro's public meeting last week on the Inner Katy BRT+Express Bus elevated lanes and was fairly impressed with the plan. One-seat Silver line BRT ride from downtown to uptown. Easy access for 290 and I10W HOV express buses without a transfer. Uses Purple/Green LRT lanes downtown so no new lanes are lost. Good destinations like Memorial Park, POST, Theater District, GRB convention center, and Eado/PNC Stadium.  One downside: HOV/HOT vehicles won't have access, and will lose access to existing elevated HOV lanes into and out of downtown. But TXDoT is planning to build their own to extend the Katy managed lanes all the way downtown. Seems a little duplicative to me. I sent this official public comment to Metro: 

Just attended the public meeting and am overall impressed with the plan, but non-transit HOV vehicles losing access to the CBD ramp to downtown is problematic and could generate public blowback (I use that ramp myself quite often). As you know, that ramp bypasses a significantly congested traffic bottleneck downtown. Engineering should be possible to allow those vehicles to share the lanes on the portion between the Studemont station and downtown (with ingress and egress just east of Studemont) without significantly impacting the bus service. Or if not, please coordinate closely with TXDoT to facilitate access for those vehicles with an alternate route/lanes, maybe with a shared structure/ramp/bridge? 

and got this response:

"Dear Mr. Gattis: Thank you for contacting Metro and thank you for participating in our latest public meeting. METRO is currently working with TxDOT concerning the Katy CBD Ramp. As mentioned during the virtual public meeting, TxDOT plans to tear down the Katy CBD Ramp (one lane in each direction) as part of TxDOT’s North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP). TxDOT then plans to replace the Katy CBD Ramp with managed lanes along I-10 (two lanes in each direction with shoulders) that would accommodate non-transit vehicles. 

These managed lanes would go to the east side of downtown and have connections in and out of downtown to the west. During the interim of these projects (TxDOT’s NHHIP and METRO’s METRORapid Inner Katy Project), METRO and TxDOT are looking into the timing and what can be feasibly done during the time gap between these projects. As TxDOT progresses with their projects in the I-10 corridor, they will also hold public meetings in the future to provide additional information concerning the Katy CBD Ramp.

Please visit TxDOT’s meeting schedule here for more details.

METRO appreciates your feedback regarding vehicular access and will take this into consideration during our coordination efforts. If you have any additional comments or questions, please contact us at or visit for more information. Thank you for contacting Metro."

Interested to hear your thoughts on it in the comments...

Moving on to a few smaller items this week:

  • From Wendell Cox: "The Australian Financial Review (the nation's equivalent to the WSJ) ran a piece suggesting that housing may be the most important policy failure in the nation" (based on our URI/COU Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey). I'd flip that and say housing may be Texas' and Houston's most important policy success!
"All the research suggests housing is a critical determinant of well-being and good community functionality and has long been considered an essential part of the “Australian dream”... Econometric analysis has shown that in some places in Australia, planning restrictions are responsible for 67 per cent of the cost of housing." (!!!)

“Induced demand isn’t necessarily bad or wasted VMT. Being able to get to a better job or access venues that offer better choices and lower costs isn’t bad. Businesses having access to a bigger labor pool and potential customer and supplier bases isn’t bad. Making those supply chains work better isn’t bad. Getting emergency vehicles where they need to go, faster, isn’t bad. Pulling cut-through traffic out of neighborhoods isn’t bad. Using infrastructure to shape development or improve economic competitiveness of given geographies isn’t bad."
"it seems less likely that those who purchased homes in the suburbs and exurbs during the pandemic, motivated in part by new remote work options, will be selling and moving back to cities."

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Monday, May 02, 2022

Houston's mini-kaihatsu, sinking false alarm, annexation history, shrinking population, school choice, and more

 Several smaller items this week:

Mini-kaihatsu, Houston
"The concept is the same, and it’s no coincidence that both arise in places with light regulation, strong demand, and little public streets funding. As I wrote about Houston:

Houstonians achieve privacy by orienting many new townhouses onto a share courtyard-driveway, sometimes gated, which creates an intermediate space between the private home and the public street… 
The courtyard-driveways also provide a shared play space, as evidenced by frequent basketball hoops. Despite what Jane Jacobs may have told you, city streets are not viable play spaces for 21st-century children. But cul-de-sacs can be. Houston’s courtyard-and-grid model may be the ideal blend, unlocking the connectivity of a city while delivering the secure sociability of a cul-de-sac to a large share of homes."

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