Houston in Perspective

On the day I flew to Houston a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from an old friend, an Oregon elected official who supports the state’s land-use planning program. Responding to my invitation to attend the Preserving the American Dream conference, he said he had been to Houston once before and it was “a living hell.” Then he added (ungraciously, I thought), if I liked it so well, why didn’t I move there?

I suspect that our attitude when we visit a place for the first time has a great deal to do with how we view that place afterwards. I admit that I, raised to believe that no landscape east of the Rockies could be worth visiting, took a long time to warm up to places such as New York and New Jersey (which, as it turns out, both have much beautiful scenery). Plus, I’ve noticed that the first objection many planning advocates have against Houston is its climate: “it’s hot and humid.” Yet I doubt any of them really believe that planners can do anything about local climates.

Kunstler might call this nowheresville, but the photographer called it “suburban bliss.”
Flickr photo by The Other Dan.

In any case, I came to Houston prepared to like it, and I did. This doesn’t prove anything; I may have looked at the city and region through rose-colored glasses. (Actually, I wore my amber ones.) I’ll be the first to admit that Houston isn’t perfect, and due to my ingrained prejudice against flat, I will probably never live there.

Yet no one can deny that Houston has a lot going for it. First of all, as I noted last week, because government is not standing in the way, builders can quickly meet any demand for housing or other developments. This not only means that housing is more affordable than most of the rest of the U.S., but that it is relatively immune from the ups and downs of bubbles.

Second, this also means that Houston offers a huge amount of variety. High rise, low rise, mid rise, granny flats, mixed use, mixed income, and of course plain vanilla single family. There should be and is something for everyone. In many ways, as I tried to suggest last Friday, the city of Houston should be a New Urbanist’s dream.

Third, the many master-planned communities in the Houston area are simply gorgeous and are wonderful places to raise families. I stressed this on Monday because government planning has effectively shut down the possibility of such privately-planned communities in Oregon, Washington, and other states that have growth-management planning. No developer in these states could ever assemble enough vacant land to do such a community because all large parcels of vacant land are outside of urban-growth boundaries or otherwise off limits to development.

Not much congestion for a Friday morning.

Fourth, although Houston has plenty of congestion, it has done more to relieve that congestion than almost any other urban area in America. Between 1982 and 2005, Houston increased its freeway lane miles by almost 80 percent and its arterial lane miles by 66 percent. The average U.S. urban area, and in particular regions such as Los Angeles and Portland, only grew their highway networks by about half that much.

Houston’s highways are also some of the best designed roads in the world, with gentle curves, HOV lanes, lots of frontage roads, and other features to minimize congestion. The Texas Transportation Institute’s annual mobility survey (which ranks Houston as having the seventh-worst congestion in the nation) exaggerates Houston’s traffic because it assumes that a freeway lane in Houston has no more capacity than, say, Connecticut’s Wilbur Cross Parkway, when in fact the former’s capacity may be close to twice that of highways built to standards set in the 1930s.

Houston’s detractors point to its air pollution problems, but most of that pollution is due to industry, not autos. It is also worth noting that reports of Houston’s high driving rates are probably inaccurate. The 2006 Highway Statistics reports 36 miles of daily driving per capita in the Houston urban area, compared with 23 in Los Angeles and 17 in New York. But this is based on an obsolete population of 2.8 million people in the Houston urban area. Using the more realistic Census Bureau number of 4.4 million results in 23 miles driving per capita, about the same as Los Angeles (whose urban area density is more than twice that of Houston’s).

Finally, it really doesn’t matter what I think. The fact that the Houston area is rapidly growing shows that it must be a great place to live. Since 1950, the Houston urbanized area has steadily added almost twice as many people per decade to its population as the entire state of Oregon. Since 2000, for example, the Houston urban area has grown by 88,400 people per year, while Oregon has grown by only 43,300 people per year.

Those who point to Oregon’s popularity as proof that “planning is working” will stumble over those numbers. If “a living hell” — someplace that is hot and humid much of the year and flat the entire year — can attract twice as many new residents each year as Oregon with its temperate climate and incredible scenery, well, just think how well Oregon would do if it adopted some of Houston’s policies. (Of course, some planning advocates would say that, by slowing growth, Oregon’s planning is doing its job, but this is an elitist view that most planners won’t admit to sharing.)

People are not the only thing attracted to Houston. The 2008 Fortune 500 list found that Houston is headquarters to 26 Fortune 500 companies, up from 20 in 2000. That makes it second only to New York City (which is losing headquarters), and Texas as a whole has more headquarters than any other state. People, businesses, and jobs are all attracted to places where property rights are secure and regulation is minimal.

As I say, Houston is not without its problems. More could be done to control industrial air pollution. There are inevitable land-use squabbles over such things as high rises on busy streets that happen to be next to neighborhoods of single-family homes. As one property rights advocate pointed out, if you buy a home that is surrounded by other homes that all have deed restrictions, you will pay more than if homes on one or more sides have no restrictions. People who knowingly buy a home next to properties without restrictions in order to save money and then want the government to “protect” (actually boost) their property value by restricting the rights of adjacent property owners are seeking special favors that the government should not hand out.

Some Houston politicians are willing to pander to such people in order to promote more central planning for Houston. Time will tell whether Houston voters are willing to give them that power. I suspect that, so long as developers can step across Houston’s city line to build for the market, the city’s government will continue to keep land-use regulation to a minimum. That will be a good thing for Houston’s economy and a good lesson for other regions.

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48 thoughts on “Houston in Perspective

  1. JimKarlock

    There are inevitable land-use squabbles over such things as high rises on busy streets that happen to be next to neighborhoods of single-family homes.

    JK: Perfectly Planned Portland does not have such squabbles because Portland’s top down zoning MANDATES such things, with no neighborhood input (in some cases.)

    Thanks
    JK

  2. Dan

    Kunstler might call this nowheresville, but the photographer called it “suburban bliss.”

    The photographer should also call it ‘low network connectivity’ and ‘poorly connected’, resulting in ‘auto dependence’, even when making a simple milk run to the future commercial area adjacent to the arterial. This ‘poor connectivity’ reduces agent choices.

    DS

  3. D4P

    Fourth, although Houston has plenty of congestion, it has done more to relieve that congestion than almost any other urban area in America. Between 1982 and 2005, Houston increased its freeway lane miles by almost 80 percent and its arterial lane miles by 66 percent. The average U.S. urban area, and in particular regions such as Los Angeles and Portland, only grew their highway networks by about half that much.

    You tell us that Houston has plenty of congestion, then claim that Houston has done a lot to relieve congestion. That seems inconsistent. If they had relieved congestion, I would expect them not to still have plenty of it. Plus, you don’t really tell us what they’ve done to relieve congestion: you just tell us that they built a lot of freeway miles. As an economist, I would expect you to believe that reducing the cost of highway travel (by expanding highway capacity) should result in more highway traveling, which may mean no reductions in congestion.

    Houston added way more freeway miles than the average urban area, and still has really bad congestion. If planners did something way more than average, and the problem still existed, you wouldn’t hesitate to dub the planners “idiots” and conclude that their methods don’t work.

    Houston’s detractors point to its air pollution problems, but most of that pollution is due to industry, not autos.

    Why not provide a link when making this type of claim? Why not show us the percentage of pollution that is from industry vs. that from autos, and how those percentages compare to other urban areas?

    It is also worth noting that reports of Houston’s high driving rates are probably inaccurate. The 2006 Highway Statistics reports 36 miles of daily driving per capita in the Houston urban area, compared with 23 in Los Angeles and 17 in New York. But this is based on an obsolete population of 2.8 million people in the Houston urban area. Using the more realistic Census Bureau number of 4.4 million results in 23 miles driving per capita, about the same as Los Angeles (whose urban area density is more than twice that of Houston’s).

    On the surface, you make a couple of ostensibly questionable moves here. First, you use a Census Bureau number for Houston to adjust their driving per capita figure, but it’s not clear that you make the same adjustment for LA and NY. Second, it’s not clear how you got the 23 miles per capita figure. I hope that you used an adjusted total mileage and divided it by 4.4 million, rather than using the original total mileage.

    Finally, it really doesn’t matter what I think. The fact that the Houston area is rapidly growing shows that it must be a great place to live. Since 1950, the Houston urbanized area has steadily added almost twice as many people per decade to its population as the entire state of Oregon. Since 2000, for example, the Houston urban area has grown by 88,400 people per year, while Oregon has grown by only 43,300 people per year.

    Meaningless comparison. It’s not uncommon for urban areas to grow faster than entire states. That’s largely what makes them urban areas in the first place. You should be comparing apples to apples (i.e. urban areas with other urban areas). Plus, you don’t tell us anything about the percentage of population growth in Houston that stems from in-migration, procreation, annexation, etc. You just assume that people are moving to Houston from elsewhere. You also ignore previous population growth in Oregon and its cities. I’m guessing you wouldn’t have to go back too far to find a point at which Oregon cities were growing faster than Houston. Like I’ve said before: places get discovered, grow rapidly, become expensive, and then become less attractive, thus inspiring people to discover other places and continue the cycle.

    People, businesses, and jobs are all attracted to places where property rights are secure and regulation is minimal.

    Thus, the air pollution you mentioned before. Yippee.

    so long as developers can step across Houston’s city line to build for the market, the city’s government will continue to keep land-use regulation to a minimum. That will be a good thing for Houston’s economy and a good lesson for other regions.

    Will it be good for Houston’s environment?

  4. craig

    DS Said

    The photographer should also call it ‘low network connectivity’ and ‘poorly connected’, resulting in ‘auto dependence’, even when making a simple milk run to the future commercial area adjacent to the arterial. This ‘poor connectivity’ reduces agent choices.

    DS

    ———————–

    I talked to a Houston developer about all his cul-de-sac’s and he told me the customers love them and they buy them as fast as he can build them.

    I think people know what they want, and many of them want cul-de-sac’s.

  5. craig

    D4P said:

    Plus, you don’t tell us anything about the percentage of population growth in Houston that stems from in-migration, procreation, annexation, etc. You just assume that people are moving to Houston from elsewhere. You also ignore previous population growth in Oregon and its cities. I’m guessing you wouldn’t have to go back too far to find a point at which Oregon cities were growing faster than Houston.

    ——————

    Are you talking about when Portland annexed into east county ( in the 1980’s) and then tried to tell everyone that the population of Portland was growing by leaps and bounds but forgot to tell how the new arrivals were already living there.

    Most of the growth of Portland was annexed. Now the families are moving away from the core to cul-de-sac’s and family friendly neighborhoods in the burbs.

  6. D4P

    Are you talking about when Portland annexed into east county ( in the 1980’s) and then tried to tell everyone that the population of Portland was growing by leaps and bounds but forgot to tell how the new arrivals were already living there.

    Not specifically, but yes: The Antiplanner could very well be making this kind of mistake. He just assumes that Houston’s population growth means that people are moving there from elsewhere. It’s the kind of Junk Scientist assumption he criticizes planners for making.

  7. craig

    D4P said
    Not specifically, but yes: The Antiplanner could very well be making this kind of mistake. He just assumes that Houston’s population growth means that people are moving there from elsewhere. It’s the kind of Junk Scientist assumption he criticizes planners for making.

    —————–

    D4P aren’t you just assuming the antiplanner is wrong?

  8. craig

    D4P said:

    What did I say that makes you think that?
    ————

    D4P said
    Not specifically, but yes: The Antiplanner could very well be making this kind of mistake. He just assumes that Houston’s population growth means that people are moving there from elsewhere. It’s the kind of Junk Scientist assumption he criticizes planners for making.
    —————-

    I assume this is a assumption

  9. D4P

    If you look at what I said above, you’ll find this:

    “Plus, you don’t tell us anything about the percentage of population growth in Houston that stems from in-migration, procreation, annexation, etc. You just assume that people are moving to Houston from elsewhere.”

    In the absence of any info regarding where the population growth is coming from, the Antiplanner’s readers are left to conclude that he is assuming that people are moving from elsewhere. This conclusion is bolstered by his proclamation that “The fact that the Houston area is rapidly growing shows that it must be a great place to live.” He certainly wouldn’t have made this claim if he were thinking about population growth stemming from babies being born or Houston annexing adjacent residents. He clearly has “people moving to Houston” in mind.

  10. Dan

    I talked to a Houston developer about all his cul-de-sac’s and he told me the customers love them and they buy them as fast as he can build them. I think people know what they want, and many of them want cul-de-sac’s.

    Yes. And the consequence of many culs de sac is low network connectivity, which creates congestion on adjacent connectors and arterials, and results in increased auto dependence when the block lengths are long and combined with low network connectivity, as is the case in the photo above.

    Such land use patterns reduce choice. Or, some can argue, that such land use patterns reinforce fewer choices; I find this latter argument common here. That is: it’s good that people have fewer choices.

    DS

  11. D4P

    But aren’t you assuming the anti planner is wrong?

    Not at all. I’m saying that he doesn’t provide us any data that allows us to determine whether he’s right or wrong. He may very well have the data to show that he’s right, but he doesn’t provide it. As a result, the reader can’t rule out the possibility that he’s making an assumption, which may or may not be a correct one.

  12. craig

    If people choose a cul-de-sac, that is a choice.

    Don’t you want to get rid of that choice Dan, because you don’t want people choosing a cul-de-sac?

    Choice is when the people choose not the planners. When the planners choose that is a mandate.

  13. craig

    D4P said:

    Not at all. I’m saying that he doesn’t provide us any data that allows us to determine whether he’s right or wrong. He may very well have the data to show that he’s right, but he doesn’t provide it. As a result, the reader can’t rule out the possibility that he’s making an assumption, which may or may not be a correct one.
    ————

    You are not providing any data that the antiplanner is wrong

  14. Dan

    Randal tries unsuccessfully to muddle the perspective:

    It is also worth noting that reports of Houston’s high driving rates are probably inaccurate.

    No.

    Any** way you slice it, the mean travel time to work in the Houston area is higher than the national average.

    Apparently road building to relieve congestion isn’t working.

    And I suggest looking at the Houston area nativity and economic data. There is indeed substantial in-migration, but for what kinds of jobs, and who goes for those jobs? That is: are these knowledge jobs or lower-wage jobs?

    DS

    **http://tinyurl.com/49snj5

  15. Dan

    14:

    No, they are not choosing. There is no choice unless you think a choice of an auto-dependent suburb with beefy trim & a 30-minute drive time and an auto-dependent suburb without beefy trim & a 31-minute drive time is a choice. See, the planners & some politicians are trying to widen choices by broadening housing mix, implementing CSS, etc.

    You can choose to deny it if you wish. I, personally, don’t care if you wish to deny it, as the facts on the ground are clear and more and more municipalities are choosing to widen choices, not keep them narrow to validate small-minority ideologies.

    DS

  16. D4P

    The Antiplanner tries to get us to believe that Houston has cheap housing because of weak land use regulations. I don’t recall him pointing out these tidbits:

    Median family income, 1999:
    Houston: 40,443
    US: 50,046

    Families below poverty level:
    Houston: 16.0%
    US: 9.2%

    Mean travel time to work:
    Houston: 27.4 minutes
    US: 25.5 minutes

    High school grad or higher:
    Houston: 70.4%
    US: 80.4%

    Percent white race:
    Houston: 49.3%
    US: 75.1%

    So: Houston residents are relatively poor, have to travel relatively far to work, are relatively uneducated, and are relatively un-white. Tell me again why I shouldn’t expect their housing to be relatively cheap…

  17. Builder

    I believe D4P’s response reveals a lot about the true planning agenda. Yes, a lot of relatively poor people and ethnic minorities live in Houston. Why is this? Because Houston is a place that they can afford to live and begin the process of pulling themselves up the economic ladder. I hardly think this is bad. However, many planning advocates don’t want “that kind of people” living in their communities. It is true that these people won’t come to a community if we “plan” it so they can’t build a life there but they don’t go away. There will always be people on the lower economic rungs and these people will often be racial minorities. The question is, are we going to allow these people to be part of our society and strive to better themselves or are we going to consider ourselves to good to have anything to do with them. I feel the latter attitude reflects the values of the old South Africa more than the United States.

  18. D4P

    Because Houston is a place that they can afford to live and begin the process of pulling themselves up the economic ladder. I hardly think this is bad.

    Where did someone say that this is “bad”…?

  19. rationalitate

    First of all, as I noted last week, because government is not standing in the way, builders can quickly meet any demand for housing or other developments

    And as I stated every goddamn time you posted the fallacy that no traditional zoning means no land use regulation, Houston does indeed have regulations that skew the building decisions of developers. Furthermore, the proactive enforcement of deed restrictions by the government amounts to a sort of zoning. Whereas in traditional property law the state is disinterested in contract violations unless one party brings suit, in Houston, the state actively seeks to enforce these contracts, even if neither party is interested in enforcing them. (And, as the Antiplanner mentioned earlier, these deed restrictions are voted on by the neighborhood, so it’s possible that the person they affect will disagree with them.)

    There should be and is something for everyone

    Except for people who don’t want 1.25 parking spaces per bedroom, or people who don’t want 5,000 sq. ft. on their single-family plot, or who don’t want streets massively bigger than those in other municipalities.

    There are inevitable land-use squabbles over such things as high rises on busy streets that happen to be next to neighborhoods of single-family homes

    I’m amazed that you acknowledge this, and heartened, but disappointed by the fact that you haven’t sought to quantify, or even really investigate, the extent to which NIMBY forces hamper high-density growth. The reason that you gave for brushing it off – that Houston has to compete with other municipalities so it’ll stay minimally-regulated – is an unpersuasive one, considering that could be said about any municipality. Furthermore, your own Portland is just a stone’s throw away from Washington state, and yet you don’t seem to be prepared to brush aside Portland’s planning due to its proximity to a place where the Tiebout model could take effect.

  20. Dan

    However, many planning advocates don’t want “that kind of people” living in their communities.

    No.

    You confuse responses – this is a NIMBY response, not a planning response (look at any comprehensive plan for ‘housing equity’).

    HTH.

    ———–

    Next, let’s look at actual data, rather than Randal-massaged data, to wit:

    It is also worth noting that reports of Houston’s high driving rates are probably inaccurate…

    o Most ACS releases show HOU-area pop at ~3.8M for 2005* . This is with the mi^2 at 1,905 not 1,476, as any basic data analysis would find (again, impressive “analysis” skills, Randal).

    So Randal is adjusting the population upward to the entire urban area, but not all the other data points (gosh, I wonder why…I wonder why…) Let’s do that to help out Randal’s “analysis”.

    o Let us look at arterial miles traveled, rather than freeway miles (which better reflect local traffic and eliminate some through-traffic [note the growth in freeway traffic is greater than arterial traffic – this means some combination of outside commuters and through traffic is causing the increase in freeway traffic]).

    º Simply using arterial traffic gives us 28.45 mpd,
    ºº although this is the entire population, many of whom do not travel daily (8.2% of pop under 5 years old); peak travelers are 2.2M.

    But this is still far greater than Randal’s “analysis”.

    I hope this helps folks contextualize the quality of Randal’s “analysis”.

    DS

    * http://www.epodunk.com/cgi-bin/popInfo.php?locIndex=22676

  21. rationalitate

    I believe D4P’s response reveals a lot about the true planning agenda

    The “true planning agenda,” at least the American one, is to mandate low-density. Have you ever read a book about zoning, where the author blithely states that mandatory low-density is more common than mandatory high-density, and then doesn’t give a citation? You know why that is? Because it’s so blindly obvious – it’s accepted as indisputable fact. It would be like citing the date of Pearl Harbor.

  22. Francis King

    “The photographer should also call it ‘low network connectivity’ and ‘poorly connected’, resulting in ‘auto dependence’, even when making a simple milk run to the future commercial area adjacent to the arterial. This ‘poor connectivity’ reduces agent choices.”

    The best approach appears to be a ‘broken grid’. The housing is planned on a grid pattern, and then some of the connecting roads are then blocked to traffic (but not pedestrians) by more housing to create cul-de-sacs. After bending the grid to fit the site area and alignment – voila! – a development perfect for cars and pedestrians.

    In the climate of Houston, they’ve dropped the pedestrian access, but may not have lost much by doing so. Pedestrian access is difficult in areas with hot (and humid) climates.

  23. Francis King

    “Third, the many master-planned communities in the Houston area are simply gorgeous and are wonderful places to raise families.”

    I’m glad that Antiplanner appreciates the work of my fellow planners.

  24. Ettinger

    A question: If I were a developer in Houston and wanted to build a new subdivision which included many appartment buildings on an otherwise undeveloped plot of land, what regulatory impediments would I face?

  25. MJ

    Most ACS releases show HOU-area pop at ~3.8M for 2005.”

    Actually, the Houston area includes neighboring counties such as Fort Bend, Brazoria and Galveston. That is why the population figure is over 4 million, rather than 3.8.

  26. Dan

    Francis King points out:

    “Third, the many master-planned communities in the Houston area are simply gorgeous and are wonderful places to raise families.”

    Families with kids under 18 comprise only 55.2% of all households in Harris County.

    Let us hope that regular readers here are not advocating overall policies for everyone based on a population that is just over half of all households.

    That sort of policy would distort the market, and the market can’t have that.

    ———-

    The best approach appears to be a ‘broken grid’…After bending the grid to fit the site area and alignment – voila! – a development perfect for cars and pedestrians…In the climate of Houston, they’ve dropped the pedestrian access, but may not have lost much by doing so. Pedestrian access is difficult in areas with hot (and humid) climates.

    I agree to the broken grid, as my latest master plan has one, tilted 23.5º NE from the equator to facilitate winter road melting (~Spanish Grid).

    Wrt hot climates, I lived in Sacramento, CA, also very hot but not all year, and not all hours of the day. A comparatively large bike commuter population too, despite the heat and NOx and SOx emissions from cars causing the toxic air soup.

    IOW: on bad days, there are still times its possible to exist and get around by means other than inside a climate-controlled box.

    DS

  27. Dan

    If I were a developer in Houston and wanted to build a new subdivision which included many appartment buildings on an otherwise undeveloped plot of land, what regulatory impediments would I face?

    The City of Houston is proposing amendments to Chapter 42 that address:

    II. average lot sizes in the Urban Area (inside Loop 610)

    A public hearing is scheduled for the April 24th Planning Commission meeting, 2:30 p.m., City Hall Annex Chambers, 900 Bagby. The following provides a description of the issues and changes proposed.

    These amendments do not change, alter or affect any of the special/minimum lot size and building line provisions of Chapter 42.

    Note also how the regs govern building coverage and type of minimum lot size.

    Nonetheless, here is the answer, sort of (you have to create an account to look at the Development Review applications for procedures, but here’s the Director’s Letter to get started):

    The Department of Planning and Development regulates land development in Houston and within its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). Since Houston is not a zoned city, development is governed by codes that address how property can be subdivided, but city codes do not speak to the land use.

    The Department’s primary function in this role is to review plats for compliance with development codes and recommend action on the plats to the City’s Planning Commission. Plats are submitted to the city every two weeks for consideration by the Commission the following week.

    The Department checks subdivision plats for the proper subdivision of land and for adequate street or right-of-way, building lines and for compliance with Chapter 42, the City’s land development ordinance. Development site plans are checked for compliance with regulations that include parking, tree and shrub requirements, setbacks, and access. [emphases added]

    On the planning forms page, there is a list of required forms, with development standards, landscape standards, plat requirements, site plan review requirements, recordation requirements, etc.

    DS

  28. Dan

    Actually, the Houston area includes neighboring counties such as Fort Bend, Brazoria and Galveston. That is why the population figure is over 4 million, rather than 3.8.

    Ah. Thank you. That explains all those extra freeway miles.

    My VMT numbers and analysis wrt Randal’s fudging do not change, however.

    Plus, Randal’s 4.4M figure nevertheless still won’t work for VMT, as the .xls he used in his “analysis” for this entry doesn’t have mi^2 included for those counties.

    DS

  29. bennett

    “Then he added (ungraciously, I thought), if I liked it so well, why didn’t I move there?”

    Here in Austin most of the people (developers) who oppose land use regulation live in Westlake hills. This has come up in many public hearings. Ironically Westlake is the most regulated neighborhood in Austin. It seems this way for a lot of the A.P types. They oppose land use regulation but prefer to reside in the places that are regulated the most because of the predictability a stable development environment. They know that no vertical mixed use will be going up next to their McMansion. These also happen to be the places where the affluent live and housing prices are high. Does Randal fit into this category? He lives in Portland yet touts how great Houston is? Maybe you friend was right no matter how ungracious he was.

  30. lgrattan

    Attended San Jose’s New General Plan Hearing last night. Home prices $800,000 +- controled by Urban Growth Boundary – no change proposed. Transportation – All are to live in transit corridors in dense housing and ride light-rail. The Cities problems today are housing costs and road congestion which there is no proposed solution. Presented an expert who gave the figures of population and jobs in 2040. I suggested as housing costs arrive at one million and roads come to a complete stop growth might also stop. But the planners have the answers???

  31. D4P

    Is this supposed to show that there is a useless highway in Houston?

    Good point. Why does the Antiplanner criticize trains and buses when they’re not full, but get excited about uncongested roads?

  32. Dan

    lgrattan’s rants are fascinating.

    Let’s get a proposal that works on the ground.

    Say, lg, what is:

    o your proposal for building more housing in City Limits?
    o how will you do this?
    o how will you reduce NIMBY opposition to increasing density in the SFD
    neighborhoods?

    o the acreage of vacant land suitable for home building (LT 10% slope) in your proposal?

    o the density of DUs on this land, translated to DU numbers?
    o how much multi-fam?

    o the resultant reduction in home prices with this addition of your proposal?

    o the number of eminent domain cases necessary in SJC to take houses to widen roads to relieve congestion as a result of enacting your proposal?

    o the amount of increased taxation required in your proposal to provide services due to the jobs-housing imbalance worsening (worse than it is now, or do you have a job creation proposal too)?

    Thank you in advance for sharing your proposals, lg.

    DS

  33. Ettinger

    San Jose’s woes (vs. Houston)…
    Much of San Jose’s housing crunch would be resolved by simply removing the Urban Growth Boundary.

    The 800k price (for a house that is already smaller than the US average) is the major impediment to new job creation as the new jobs must pay so much more than the national average to attract applicants facing astronomical housing prices.

    It is the major reason why companies limit their growth in Silicon Valley. Absent the high housing costs, Silicon Valley would be growing 10 times faster than it does. It would give the opportunity to the many people across the US who want to move to San Jose to do so. But NIMBY Silicon Valley residents, want to keep newcomers out. They largely do achieve that goal, but pay dearly for it any time they move to a new house and also their children will pay even more for it. It is just as simple as that.

    High housing costs were the major reason why every new addition to our research lab was built outside Silicon Valley and only left a minimal presence in the Bay Area. We’ve added 8 new positions to our company in the last 3 years. Only 1 in the Bay Area. Why? Simply because employees ask for too much money to move into an area where they need 800K to buy a house. How complicated can this reasoning be?

    For any newcomers, the San Jose planner – NIMBY coalition now promote replacing the unpleasantness of paying 800K for a house with the unpleasantness of living in appartments, as a growth policy. The residents are the only ones that can vote on the issue, they can do it, and so they do it. All this is done primarily at the expense of everybody else in the US who now has one less possible nice place to move to.

  34. Dan

    The conflation of planners and NIMBYs reveals your deep, profound ignorance on the subject, E. The planners are trying to increase housing and density. In addition:

    o San Jose proper is surrounded by other cities. Removing the SJC UGB would do little to increase housing in the city unless we want to increase density dramatically.

    o San Jose’s density is already over 5,000 mi^2, so increasing housing supply in the city means solutions such as what lg decries, as there is little vacant land there. The housing stock being relatively young means it is not ready for redev, so someone please share how to overcome the NIMBYs and private property rights folks.

    o The low crime rate, proximity to high-wage knowledge jobs and copious amenities contribute to the high rents via equilibrium pricing.

    That is: it is not merely supply that drives rents, although the concerted effort here to ignore this utterly basic fact would lead one to believe so if this site were the only source of information on The Internets. Fortunately, everyone else on the planet understands and acknowledges this.

    o Removing the UGB surrounding other communities would require them giving up their sovereignty and creating additional planning to ameliorate effects, including:
    > increasing eminent domain cases to take property for increasing roadway widths, as the Bay Area is already on average at least 50-60% denser than Houston, with far fewer roads per capita than Houston as well.
    > increasing transit to ensure O3 non-attainment days don’t increase and spillovers into the Sacto-SJ valleys don’t increase their non-attainment days as well.
    > finding adequate land for building residential to reduce prices like the crowd here thinks can happen. This means paving over parks, preserves, wetlands, building on slopes, repurchasing lands purchased for parks, open space, etc.
    > increasing taxes to expand sewer and water capacity.
    >> increasing taxes to secure additional water, in addition to retiring ag water rights and the resultant increase in prices.
    > increasing taxes to expand life safety services (jobs-housing gap issues).
    > increasing taxes to ameliorate eutrophication of the bay systems and inflow basins.

    Hope this helps everyone understand how simple solutions are only simple when one doesn’t understand the issues.

    DS

  35. the highwayman

    Even with dead end streets there can still be pedestrian links from one side to an other, some times they can even be wide enough to permit the passage of a fire truck or an ambulance during an emergency.

  36. Ettinger

    Sorry Dan, but in my view, you are trying to diffuse simple obvious facts with smoke and mirror technicalities.

    In case you have not been to San Jose, to see how much undeveloped land surrounds the area, just go on Google Earth and draw a 20-mile radius circle around Bay Area cities including San Jose (and that assumes that every resident had to work in the city which is clearly not the case). You will then see what great “scarcity” of land there is in Silicon Valley. Some of this undeveloped land has been purchased and set aside by multi-decade continual efforts aimed at conservation (that is, primarily aimed at keeping outsiders out, the way I see it). Some of these efforts are even financed by mandatory assessments on property. Whatever land is then left in private hands, outside the UGB, is zoned 160 acre minimum, or similar, for subdivision purposes. Is this the high density sought by planners?

    If removing the UGB would have little effect then why have it in the first place?

    If I saw planners campaigning for high density subdivisions in new (that is currently undeveloped) areas then I may become more sympathetic to their high density calls.

    But, essentially, while planners do have significant sway on what is planned, they are also largely constrained by the preferences of the majority of area voters. In turn, majority public opinion is largely affected by:

    o NIMBYs
    o Pure environmental ideologues who hate any type of development,
    o Enviro-NIMBY hybrids
    o Planners themselves
    o People with significant holdings in existing real estate (I confess I used to be one of them but have since diversified into other areas).

    This combination of factors leads residents to support policies that not only spoil the opportunity of several million outsiders from moving into the area (something the rest of the US ought to be mad about), but also creates a situation which (when all the pros and cons are tallied up) is not that great for the residents themselves either.

    I used to live in the Bay Area, next to large parcels of private undeveloped land situated within 15 minutes from big name corporations, such as Cisco. Their owners often made futile attempts to be allowed to develop them. But planners and my NIMBY neighbors had other desires.

    I hope readers will not miss the forest for the trees and understand how some planners attempt to diffuse the main issue with technicalities (and how dare we apply common sense to a situation with so many technical details). The main issue being: building restrictions. How we are arrive at these restrictions may be interesting but secondary. I think that the macro-dynamics are pretty obvious. The excuses are in the details.

  37. Dan

    some planners attempt to diffuse the main issue with technicalities

    Translation: don’t bother me with details, because the infrastructure fairy, the roadbuilding fairy, the runoff cleaning fairy, the water acquisition fairy, the wastewater treatment fairy, the buy-back-already-purchased-by-the-market open space fairy, and other fairies will take care of all the issues associated with my proposal!!!! *heart!*.

    ———-

    But we’re far OT. Let’s recap what we’ve learned in this thread, shall we?

    o Randal purposely fudged numbers to make Houston’s traffic look better*

    o People are only attracted to Houston/low regalayshun, the crowding problems in the Bay Area notwithstanding.

    o Houston has a lot of land-use regulations. Despite this, Houston is held up as an exemplar on development in no regulation.

    o Some folks complain about proposals, but can’t offer anything better as a solution (pretty much like everywhere).

    DS

    * Gosh, he’s an “economist”, right? He, like, publishes stuff, right? He knows how to work with numbers, right?

  38. Ettinger

    …the infrastructure fairy, the roadbuilding fairy, the runoff cleaning fairy, the water acquisition fairy, the wastewater treatment fairy,….

    Oh yes. I forgot, only the government fairy has these magical powers…

    Non government fairies apparently exist and seem to be doing their job in places with much less regulation, like Houston. These fairies include developers and other profit motivated entities who, with much less regulation, manage to provide good housing in Houston for $200K. But in San Jose, the fairies are forbidden from even attempting to find a solution. The solution itself (development) has been deemed largely undesirable.

    the buy-back-already-purchased-by-the-market open space fairy.

    That is the fairy that convinced San Jose voters, that taxing themselves to buy land and set it aside so that they can make housing for their children 200-500K more expensive was actually a good idea. Well, I think that fairy is really more like the wicked witch of the West…

    The more I hear from insiders about the way government planners think, the more I agree with Randall’s main thesis about the wisdom of government planning.

  39. Dan

    I shouldn’t be so blunt, but maybe the good folk of the Bay Area are tired of all the newcomers moving there.

    Maybe they don’t want any more adherents of small-minority ideologies who wield simplistic solutions to complex problems telling them what to do.

    There’s stress on the environment, and they’ve sacrificed goats to the wastewater treatment fairy, the water acquisition fairy, the congestion fairy, the clean air fairy, but the ecosystems were too stressed & the simplistic solution fairies moved on to greener hills, ones not overridden with European grasses and forbs.

    Plus, those offering increased housing choices in city limits, amazingly, are belittled in misunderstanding-the-issue rants like your buddy lg did upthread in 34.

    No wonder they don’t want certain small-minority ideology’s solutions.

    DS

    [BTW, I’ve ridden thousands of miles around the peninsula, & King’s Mountain is my favorite climb on that side, and Tunitas Creek on the other & I’ve bought scores of sandwiches from the sandwich shop in La Honda then took them out to the lighthouse in Pescadero].

  40. Haunchie

    Dan, your words: “Such land use patterns reduce choice.” If people chose to live in a certain area, is that not their decision to do so? As in they’ve made the choice to do so?

    I for one live outside a city, but go there quite often in my car. In a metro area where I live, Milwaukee, there a PLENTY of housing choices for people throughout the metro area.

    I find the criticisms here from the banal urbanists who feel the need to tell everyone that the way they live is so awful, to be dogmatic and annoying quite honestly. It’s not refreshing at all and smacks of a provincialism that people time and time again reject out of hand.

  41. TexanOkie

    Houstonians are not relatively poor, given the cost of living. They’re not necessarily rich, either; they are fairly average. A salary of $40,000/year in Houston (metro population ≈ 5 million) has the purchasing power of the following comparable salaries in other areas of the country:

    Portland, OR (metro pop. ≈ 2 million): $52,048
    Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, AZ (metro pop. ≈ 4.1 million): $50,120
    Los Angeles/Long Beach/Santa Ana, CA (metro pop. ≈ 12.9 million): $72,771
    San Francisco Bay Area, CA (metro pop. ≈ 7.2 million): $82,410
    Denver/Aurora/Boulder, CO (metro pop. ≈ 3 million): $49,147
    Washington, DC/N. VA/S. MD (metro pop ≈ 5.3 million): $64,096
    South Florida (metro pop. ≈ 5.4 million): $59,759
    Atlanta, GA (metro pop. ≈ 5.1 million): $44,819
    Chicagoland, IL/IN/WI (metro pop. ≈ 9.5 million): $54,458
    Greater New England (metro pop. ≈ 5 million): $60,723
    New York Metro, NY/NJ/CT (metro pop. ≈ 19 million): $70,361
    both Columbus, OH (metro pop. ≈ 2 million) and Cleveland, OH metro pop. ≈ 3 million):$41,446
    Seattle/Tacoma, WA (metro pop. ≈ 4 million): $58,795

    And, for comparison to other Texas metros:
    Dallas-Fort Worth (metro pop. ≈ 6.1 million): $40,964
    Austin (metro pop. ≈ 1.6 million): $43,855
    El Paso (metro pop. ≈ 0.8 million): $38,554
    San Antonio (metro pop. ≈ 2 million): $37,108

  42. Pingback: Is Houston really unplanned? | Market Urbanism

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