Monday, December 25, 2023

2023 Highlights

Time for our annual round-up of the best posts of 2023, with this year featuring as many great posts from Oscar as from me. If you missed them earlier this year - or just didn't have time to read them then - hopefully the holidays are a more leisurely time for perusal. 

I'd also like to thank MyBestPlan for their ongoing generous support. They always have the best and cheapest electricity plan for your Texas home. They have saved me a ton of money on electricity, and I suggest you contact them for a free, no-obligation savings estimate. Mention “HS” so they know you’re with us.

These posts have been chosen with a particular focus on significant ideas I'd like to see kept alive for discussion and action, and they're mainly targeted at new readers who want to get caught up with a quick overview of the Houston Strategies landscape. I also like to track what I think of as "reference posts" that sum up a particular topic or argument; and, last but not least, they've also been invaluable for me to track down some of my best thinking for meetings or when requested by others (as is the ever-helpful Google search).

Don't forget we offer an email option for the roughly once/week posts - see the Google Groups subscription signup box at the bottom of the right sidebar. An RSS feed link for newsfeed readers is also available in the right sidebar (I'm a fan of Feedly).

As always, thanks for your readership.
And don't forget the highlights from the first few years. For what it's worth, I think the best ideas are found there, often in the first year (I had a lot "stored up" before I started blogging) and most definitely in the best posts from the first 15 years and 1.5 million pageviews.


Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Houston's growing wealth, diversity, investability, tech scene (even over Austin!), food scene, and more

 Continuing to clear out some smaller items before the end of the year...

"Techstars isn’t the only entity scaling back in Austin, either. In November, unicorn Cart announced that it was moving its headquarters back to Houston after relocating to Austin in late 2021. The company, which describes itself as an e-commerce-as-a-service business, reached a $1.2 billion valuation in June after raising a $60 million Series C round of funding. 

Mitch Goulding, director of communications at Cart, told TechCrunch via email that the company had originally relocated its headquarters to Austin “with the explicit goal of attracting more software talent.” But as the company continues to scale (it claims to have seen its revenue climb by 9x since the end of 2021), it decided it needs to “augment other areas of the company,” including HR, finance, accounting and legal.

We feel the move to Houston will unlock a deeper talent pool in these areas based on its position as a hub for major business,” Goulding said. 

It’s also a matter of cost and convenience. 

Costs in Austin are high relative to Houston’s affordability, [and] Houston is also more accessible,” Goulding said. “It is typically easier and cheaper for employees flying in. It also tends to be easier for employees who drive in from across the state.”

"In Houston, Black-owned businesses have been thriving, with the city now rivaling Atlanta as a destination for Black families and young people.

Everyone is coming to Houston,” said Victoria Walsh, 30, who moved from New Orleans for a restaurant job in 2018. “There’s a whole lot of jobs, a whole lot of new concepts, a new pop-up each week.”...

The city of Houston has long had thriving Black communities, but in recent years, the new arrivals have driven a kind of renaissance that is fueled, in large part, by who they are: middle-class Black people from other states with good jobs and business ideas. ...

“When you look at other cities, they’re not as diverse as Houston,” he said. “They don’t have as many opportunities.”

"Now, Houston’s transformation to an international hub for a growing number of multinational corporations — backed by one of the nation’s busiest international airports and global shipping ports — has helped propel the city to the top of the second annual FT-Nikkei Investing in America rankings. ...

That reputation has drawn in businesses both big and small. The Houston area is home to 26 Fortune 500 companies, making it the third-ranking metro area in the country. ...

The transition to green energy is helped by the knowhow that made it a centre for oil and gas. Houston boasts unrivalled technical expertise in energy, including manufacturing, engineering, trading markets, and complex industrial project management. It also has a robust energy infrastructure and the nation’s biggest port by tonnage. ...

“Increasingly, people working in the energy transition space are saying, you know, actually where the action is, is here,” says Tudor. “It’s not really San Francisco. It’s not really Boston. It’s Houston, Texas.”
  • Pros 👍: pleasantly surprised by Houston; plays up affordability, inner loop density, diversity, and the amazing food scene ("strong candidate for best food city in the US")
  • Cons 👎: bike and anti-car snob, toured Houston on bike in wonderful late October - maybe try coming in August sometime and see how bike-over-A/C'd-car you are then?... 🥵🙄 I've said it before and I'll say it again: Houston was built around the car because it's the only way to bring an air conditioner with you everywhere you go!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Google optimizing traffic signals, idea for HTX office to residential conversions, Why Texas is Becoming America's Most Powerful State, NYT on Houston winning vs homelessness, and more

 Just catching up on some backlogged smaller items this week...

"Google AI models that can autonomously optimize the traffic timing at that intersection, reducing idle times as well as the amount of braking and accelerating vehicles have to do there." 
  • And I'd be happy to help get METRO on a better path while they're at it?...
"Light rail's proven in Houston, where transit ridership fell from 95 million bus trips before opening its first light-rail line to 78 million bus and rail trips in 2019 after spending nearly $4 billion on light rail... It has proven to be the most expensive way transit agencies can reduce transit ridership." 

"Dallas officials were prickly when I toured their city and asked them pointedly why Houston was doing better...

The lesson I take from Houston and Dallas is that success doesn’t come from repeating bromides about how housing is a human right; homelessness is indifferent to earnestness but does respond to hard work and meticulous execution. Houston has succeeded because it has strong political leadership that gathers data, follows evidence and herds nonprofits in the same direction. It is relentless."

Finally I'll end with this really well-done video on the population, economic, and energy boom in Texas, which is on track to pass California by the 2040s: Why Texas is Becoming America's Most Powerful State 

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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

The Economist on how America's car dependence makes the country fairer and more efficient

The Economist magazine has a fantastic article (no-paywall link) on the upside of America's focus on cars for mobility - and I would argue Houston is at the pinnacle in America for major metros. The whole thing is great, but here are the best excerpts (highlights mine): 

In praise of America’s car addiction

How vehicle-dependence makes the country fairer and more efficient

...It seems a classic case of elite opinions (cars and suburbs are awful) diverging from mass preferences (people quite enjoy them). For many, the main attractions of suburbia are lower housing costs and greater safety. Yet recent research sheds light on how cars are a crucial part of the equation, making America’s suburbs both impressively efficient and equitable.


Start with convenience. It is well-known that American cities are configured for vehicles, a process that began in the 1920s with the Model T. Car-centric urban designs became dominant throughout the country, involving wide roads, ample access to expressways and parking galore. To varying degrees, other countries have copied that model. Yet America has come closest to perfecting it. In a paper released in August, supported by the World Bank, a group of economists examined road speeds in 152 countries. Unsurprisingly, wealthy countries outpace poor ones. And within the rich world, America is streets ahead: its traffic is about 27% faster than that of other members of the OECD club of mostly rich countries. Of the 20 fastest cities in the world, 19 are in America.


Driving speed shrinks distance. One fashionable concept among urban planners these days is the “15-minute city”, the goal of building neighbourhoods that let people get to work, school and recreation within 15 minutes by foot or bike. Many Americans may simply fail to see the need for this innovation, for they already live in 15-minute cities, so long, that is, as they get around by car. Most of the essentials—groceries, school, restaurants, parks, doctors and more—are a quick drive away for suburbanites.

The car’s ubiquity has another rarely appreciated benefit. A recent study by Lucas Conwell of Yale University and colleagues examined urban regions in America and Europe. They calculated “accessibility zones”, defined as the area from which city centres can be readily reached. Although European cities have better public transport, American cities are on the whole more accessible. Consider the size of accessibility zones 15-30 minutes from city centres. If using public transport, the average is 34 square kilometres in America versus 63 square kilometres in Europe. If using private cars, the difference is much starker: 1,160 square kilometres in America versus 430 square kilometres in Europe. is precisely such accessibility that has put larger homes and quieter streets within reach for a remarkably wide cross-section of the country. In his analysis of the census from 2020, William Frey of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, showed that suburbia has become far more diverse over the years. In 1990 roughly 20% of suburbanites were non-white. That rose to 30% in 2000 and 45% in 2020.

Not that cars are a panacea. Owning or renting one costs plenty of money, and is an especially big burden for the working poor. It is therefore common to hear laments in American cities about the sorry state of mass transit. Yet this general perception, though widespread, is not entirely accurate. Even if primarily built for private cars, roads are a shared resource and can be viewed as the “tracks” for buses. In their study Mr Conwell and his colleagues conclude that bus-based transportation in America is surprisingly effective: public-transit options between distant suburbia and city centres are roughly comparable in America and Europe. Although America could do more to improve its bus services within its urban cores, the crucial point is that cities designed for cars can also support mass transit.

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