Yes, Houston is a great city. But not entirely for the reasons Kotkin suggests.

by James A. Bacon

Joel Kotkin is at it again. The urban geographer whose life mission seems to be debunking smart growth and creative-class worship, makes many well-founded observations… and manages to totally miss the point.

In a column just published in The Daily Beast, Kotkin argues that the economic trend-setters of the United States are still located, for the most part, in the Sun Belt:

While Gotham and the Windy City have experienced modest growth and significant net domestic out-migration, burgeoning if often disdained urban regions such as Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Charlotte, and Oklahoma City have expanded rapidly. These low-density, car-dominated, heavily suburbanized areas with small central cores likely represent the next wave of great American cities.

One big advantage of these “aspirational cities” is that they have a lower cost of living, particularly of housing, which makes them attractive to creative-class professionals who might have higher priorities than finding hip, cool places to live.

Many of these metropolitan areas are also leading the nation in growing their number of well-educated arrivals. Houston, Charlotte, Raleigh, Las Vegas, Nashville, and San Antonio, for example, experienced increases in the number of college-educated residents of nearly 40 percent or more over the decade, roughly twice the level of growth as in “brain centers” such as Boston, San Francisco, San Jose (Silicon Valley), or Chicago. Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas each have added about 300,000 college grads in the past decade, more than greater Boston’s pickup of 240,000 or San Francisco’s 211,000.

All very good. What Kotkin fails to consider is that there are better explanations for the growth disparities he sees than smart growth. The bigger question is whether regions are located in states that hew to a “blue state” or “red state” governance model. (I recommend that he read the American Legislative Exchange Council’s “2013: Jobs, Innovation, and Opportunity in the States,” for a discussion of the key economic variables.)

New York, Boston and San Francisco are hampered economically not by their compact, cost-efficient human settlement patterns, but by their proclivity for big, activist government, high taxes, public employee unions, draconian environmental policies and a welter of other anti-business policies. The regions that Kotkin touts as paragons of growth tend to have less activist government, lower taxes and a lighter hand of regulation. Those are the factors that have contributed to their economic dynamism, not sprawl.

I will venture a prediction: Sun Belt cities will pay for their profligate growth. The average age of their building stock and infrastructure is much younger than  that of the older, legacy cities. They have not had to grapple with depreciation and replacement costs of the sprawling roads, utilities and other systems they have built heedless of maintenance and replacement costs. When those costs come due, it will be interesting to see how well they hold the line on taxes. Let’s see how fast they grow then.

Smart growth is not the problem. Smart growth in the hands of political progressives working under blue-state governance models is the problem. Forward-looking conservatives need to work on applying smart growth according to small-government, free-market principles. Then they will enjoy the best of both worlds.

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42 responses to “Kotkin Swings… He Misses.”

  1. sounds like it’s time for “Accurate” to weigh in……

  2. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Somehow this sounds like a story I’ve heard before.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    “New York, Boston and San Francisco are hampered economically not by their compact, cost-efficient human settlement patterns, but by their proclivity for big, activist government, high taxes, public employee unions, draconian environmental policies and a welter of other anti-business policies.”>

    All compact, high density American cities have an activist governance model. That’s the only way you will ever get compact, high density cities.

    Jim Bacon is stuck. He wants a Republican, libertarian high density city. Such animals, like unicorns, don’t exist in the real world.

    1. Don said, “All compact, high density American cities have an activist governance model. That’s the only way you will ever get compact, high density cities.”

      Which came first — the compact, high-density cities, or the blue-state governance model?

      Your statement implies that the activist government model created compact, high-density cities. You have your causality exactly reversed. Historically speaking, compact, high-density cities came first, mostly in the 19th century when government was smaller and less activist, and blue-state political machines sprang from them.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        I’m not sure you can compare pre-automobile cities to post-automobile cities.

        The question is why the cities you like so much are all liberal, Democratic, high tax and expensive. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that.

        I honestly think there is a certain collectivist mentality required to live in a place like Manhattan or SanFrancisco. SanFrancisco banned foie gras because it’s mean to geese and ducks. Apparently, the people living there have never seen how chickens are raised. You can’t buy a big soda in New York because kids might get fat, I guess. You can buy bushel sacks of cheeseburgers but not a large coke.

        America is increasingly divided into two camps – a bunch of authoritarians masquerading as liberals who want to enact a LOT of rules that everybody must abide and conservatives masquerading as libertarians who don’t think there should be many rules at all.

        Houston? Few rules. Austin? Nanny state.

        Jim, your favorite places are all brimming over with collectivists. If you want to live cheek to jowl with your neighbors and walk to a brunch of bean curd muffins and chai tea you’d better start reviewing the speeches of Ted Kennedy.

        There ain’t no conservatives in the marina district.

  4. […] Kotkin Swings… He Misses. Bacons Rebellion – April 15, 2013 Bacon’s Rebellion Sets Joel Kotkin Straight on Sprawl as an Economic Generator […]

  5. Government is overhead for its citizens. It is impossible to operate a business or a government without overhead. But when it represents unnecessary layers of costs, the overhead becomes a barrier to the health of the organization and those who depend on it.

  6. mbaldwin Avatar

    As usual, this blog raises important and difficult questions requiring careful balance of governance and free enterprise that neither of our parties well addresses.
    Yes, high density cities developed in the 19th century, but before automobiles caused sprawl; street cars and rail, however, did begin the sprawl made easier by conversion of rail to road (and cars and buses). And it’s true that sprawl control absolutely requires government zoning and other regulation. But it doesn’t require the intense local and state (and sometimes federal) regulation of smallish enterprises in a host of costly ways that really does cripple commercial and employment investment. As a voting Democrat and now small business owner/farmer I don’t believe that party sufficiently understands these impacts and the simple (sometimes simple-minded) validity of property owner/investor needs to be given a far freer rein in how they pursue their business. There’s a fine but critical line to be drawn between essential land use regulation and allowance of creative/free investment. I believe even here in Northern Virginia we’ve gone over that line toward too petty regulation. Hope I’m not being obscure here.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      You are not being obscure at all. I’ve lived in NoVa for 50+ years. It’s definitely becoming more of a collectivist area. Folks around here used to think that government should organize itself for the convenience of the people. The new mentality is that people should organize themselves for the convenience of the government.

      I have a place in rural Maryland. They have a lot of rules there too. People just ignore them. One neighbor built a pergola. Nobody cared except some yahoo sent by Annapolis to check on such things. They wanted the pergola torn down. However, if it’s movable it’s not a pergola. It’s something else. So, wheels were added underneath. One guy wanted to sell a lot with frontage on the Chesapeake Bay. However, there was a stand of shaggy trees and bushes blocking the view of the water. One night vandals came and cut down all the trees. The local police came and had a good laugh at that.

    2. MBaldwin, I argue that “sprawl” is the outcome of extensive federal, state and local government interference in the land-development marketplace. Before enacting new regulations, mandates and subsidies to “fix” the problem — all of which may well have unintended consequences — let’s start by rolling back the policies that created the problems in the first place.

  7. re: Bacon is stuck


    cities believe in governance.

    they have to.

    they also believe in regulation and taxes – again, because both are
    needed in densely settled areas where “rights” need to be not only clear but explicit and public infrastructure and services have to be funded.

    you gotta have police, garbage pickup, fire protection, potable water and sanitary sewers, and public transportation.

    Name a city that does not have these or it has them but they are all private.

    but I’d give Jim a chance to list the top 3 libertarian, “privatized” cities in the world.

    1. I’m sorry, but you and Don are in la-la land. I have never advocated “libertarian cities,” as Don suggests. That’s a total straw man argument and a distraction from the real issues.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Kotkin makes a simple point that you refuse to acknowledge – the high density cities result in housing costs that few can afford. Your theory that high density cities are more cost effective than sprawling cities is observably wrong. Only the elite can afford to live in the densely populated cities you so admire. Therefore, it’s not New York and San Francisco that are growing by leaps and bounds, it’s Oklahoma City and Charlotte.

        Your dense city model results in very rich, very poor and little in-between. The elite that inhabit these cities are authoritarian do gooders. The poor are marginalized. So, Michael Bloomberg tries to keep “those poor wretches” from fattening themselves by refusing to sell large bottles of soda.

        Once you create a city that the middle class must leave all sensibility leaves with them.

        1. Don, you focus on part of what I say and ignore the rest. Do I really need to repeat myself?

          I maintain that there is a large unmet demand for compact, higher-density, walkable, transit-oriented development. That does NOT mean, nor have I ever implied, that ALL development should be compact, higher-density, transit-oriented development. I do NOT think that all new growth should look like Manhattan or San Francisco. The market should determine what kind of growth occurs in response to market demand.

          Often, the market will demand low-density housing in the suburbs. And that’s fine — as long as everyone pays their location-variable costs. Otherwise, a lot of communities will build sprawl and find themselves unable to maintain it after a generation or two.

          The other problem is that a vast array of zoning codes, regulations and subsidies ensure that more low-density occurs and less high-density occurs than the market demands. We need to create a level playing field. If people still want sprawl-like housing under those conditions, that’s fine with me.

          1. DJRippert Avatar

            As Ronald Reagan once said, “There you go again.”.

            1. The market does decide what kind of growth occurs and it is what you call sprawl. The only places that don’t sprawl are the ones that zone against sprawl.

            2. There is demand for AFFORDABLE higher-density, walkable, transit oriented development. America doesn’t seem able to produce this kind of housing. If it is higher-density, walkable and transit oriented then it is not affordable.

            3. Zoning codes, regulations and subsidies are what prevents sprawl. Which has more sprawl – Houston or Boston? Which one has more zoning?

            4. You (nor anybody else on this blog) has ever demonstrated any correlation between density and paying for location variable costs.

            5. Median wages in the US have been stagnant since the late 1970s (in real terms). Gasoline and automotive costs have risen sharply during that time. Yet, sprawl continues. Why? Because the City of Richmond prevents compact development while Short Pump encourages it?

            The only way to limit sprawl is to zone, regulate and legislate against it.

            You claim that free enterprise will reduce sprawl but the least regulated housing markets (e.g. Houston) have far more sprawl than the most regulated markets (e.g. Boston).

  8. mbaldwin Avatar

    Jame Bacon, I’ll stay open to your argument, which I suppose includes the federal tax benefits of home ownership etc. But my sense is that we’ve not experienced the sensible land use of German towns and cities, for example, with effective barriers between town and country, and accept sprawl. I believe we lack the right kind of regulations and have brought on sprawl in part because, via the courts, we’ve expanded that “just compensation” and “takings” Constitutional hurdle beyond good reason!

    So, while we’ve allowed sprawl to get out of the bag, strangely we accept the pesky, petty regulations on land use that simply cost time and money. Local government adopts these and, strangely, HOAs , with their often inane requirements, illustrate people’s apparent acceptance of that kind of regulation. We simply aren’t rational, which is, of course, no surprise.

  9. DJRippert Avatar

    One of the articles that Kotkin “links to” is from Virginia Postrel. Here is a key section:

    “As I have argued elsewhere, there are two competing models of successful American cities. One encourages a growing population, fosters a middle-class, family-centered lifestyle, and liberally permits new housing. It used to be the norm nationally, and it still predominates in the South and Southwest. The other favors long-term residents, attracts highly productive, work-driven people, focuses on aesthetic amenities, and makes it difficult to build. It prevails on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in picturesque cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first model spurs income convergence, the second spurs economic segregation. Both create cities that people find desirable to live in, but they attract different sorts of residents.”.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Jim talks about New York and San Francisco as “non sprawl” cities. These cities make it difficult to build and foster income inequality. As I say, the income inequality makes liberalism inevitable. High taxes and expensive housing affect middle class people more than wealthy people. Which is why the rich people don’t move out of New York, San Francisco, etc. Instead, it is the middle class that moves away. What is left is very rich, very guilty liberals and very poor, very entitlement-oriented poor people.

      1. Don, you actually make some interesting points here. Let me summarize the train of logic, as I see it.

        (1) In regions where there’s the greatest wealth creation, there’s also the greatest wealth inequality.
        (2) Wealth inequality upsets liberals.
        (3) Upset liberals enact laws and regulations to address that inequality.
        (4) The laws and regulations enacted by liberals have unintended consequences that often make inequality even worse.
        (5) Rather than understand the negative impact of their actions, liberals conclude that more activism and intervention is called for.
        (6) The situation gets progressively worse.

        Have I overstated the case?

        1. 1 – got data – it might be true… can you show it?

          2. – wrong. what upsets liberals is the CONDITIONS under which some people can get wealthy and others can never. I do not speak for liberals – as a liberal despite your labeling though – I am to your right on many fiscal issues as you know.

          3. – what tripe! this IS RWEC crapola. you show me the creation of regulations under liberal Congress and POTUS vs conservative Congress and POTUS and then at least you’ll have some weak semblance of an argument beyond right wing blather.

          4. you forget guy – it takes BOTH houses of Congress AND the POTUS AND the SCOTUS to approve regulations. That’s a LOT of players guy. Do you know under what POTUS the EPA was created?
          want some more examples?

          5. you’re are more hopelessly drinking the RWEC kool-aid that I initially thought.

          Liberals are not your problem. The Right is. You have to GOVERN. You cannot get elected on false pretences then proceed to unilaterally dismantle what you don’t agree with if you can’t then gridlock.

          I think your problem is that about 3/4 of the country does not agree with what the right really wants to do – and the “defense” they use is that 75% of the country are “liberals” and that govt has to be conducted in some way – IN SPITE OF THEM.

          that’s not how the country works.

          6. it gets worse only if your goal is not supported by 75% of the country.

          have you overstated the case? Not if it is coming from the right wing echo chamber. It’s dead on in that case but it’s basically an anti-govt, anti-democracy, anti- how our country was set up – attitude.

          regulations ALSO come from the right guy. Regulations come about because someone believes that property rights are being taken by one group from another.

          but look.. if you want to back up your argument to be more than right wing pablum… do a literature survey or do a short analysis and compare a Dem administration to a GOP administration in terms of regulations.

          that’s would be a lot better than just belching out fairy tales.

        2. DJRippert Avatar

          You are on the right track although I am less anti-liberal. I once spent almost two years working on a project in Manhattan. I’d fly up from NoVa, work all week and fly home. People from all around the country had been sent to that project. Everybody was very well educated. Many were engineers from top schools.

          The people from outside New York fell into two camps – they either hated living in New York or they loved it. Nobody was in-between.

          The people from outside New York who liked living in Manhattan were almost all politically liberal. The people who hated living in New York were almost all politically conservative.

          I personally believe that living in a high density area (and liking it) requires something of a collectivist outlook. Now, collectivism benefits two classes of people – the wealthy who have so much money that giving away another 5% of their income in taxes doesn’t even make them blink and the poor who benefit from collectivist benevolence.

          The middle class gets squeezed out and wealth disparity is guaranteed.

          In truth, the wealthy liberals could give a rat’s ass about the poor. They don’t live among the poor, they don’t associate with the poor. They will gather among themselves to hold a benefit for the poor but one thing is for sure – poor people are not welcome at the benefit.

          If you don’t believe me – go to tony Lincoln Park in Chicago. Find the housing project Cabrini Green. It’s …. gone! Once upon a time (not long ago) 15,000 people lived in the housing project called Cabrini Green in Lincoln Park. Not anymore.

          Speaking of Chicago – go to Bucktown. Walk down say Wabansia Ave. Look at the houses. There are two types of houses – those which have been gentrified and those which will be sold and gentrified soon. It’s your kind of walkable community, Jim. And … it’s no longer affordable to the middle class. The yuppies who have moved in are all very liberal minded. They don’t mind bad schools (their kids all go private), high taxes or Rahm Emanuel. But ask them where the working class in Chicago are supposed to live now that affordable housing is gone. They stare at you with that special blank expression that only northern liberals can pull off. They really don’t care at all.

  10. re: “libertarian” cities. that was tongue in check for sure but don’t you find it odd that most cities if not all seem to operate similarly and if the world is a natural lab for different kinds and patterns of growth – none have done what you advocate?

    this is the same old argument about other things like health care and other things that have evolved a particular way – wordlwide – and yet you support “theory”.

    tsk tsk

    1. That’s a really interesting argument, Larry. I bet it would have worked well back in the early 1960s when African-Americans were arguing for an end to segregation. Well, segregation is found pretty much everywhere…. worldwide. France, England, the rest of Europe, anywhere with whites and blacks. No one has practiced this crazy “integration” idea. Name me one place in the world that has adopted it. Clearly, it’s just a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Nothing will ever come of it.

      1. not sure how segregation got into this guy. but you’re arguing theory in the face of over 200 countries that have evolved over a thousand or more years and none ended up on the path that your theory advocates.

        why is that?

        theories that have no real world analogs are difficult critters especially when you have a couple hundred “labs” and none produce what you say is theoretically possible.

  11. re: ” New York, Boston and San Francisco are hampered economically not by their compact, cost-efficient human settlement patterns, but by their proclivity for big, activist government, high taxes, public employee unions, draconian environmental policies and a welter of other anti-business policies. The regions that Kotkin touts as paragons of growth tend to have less activist government, lower taxes and a lighter hand of regulation. Those are the factors that have contributed to their economic dynamism, not sprawl.”

    this sounds like the typical right wing echo chamber tripe that pollutes the internet these days.

    As the Wonkmaster of BR, how about putting together a reputable and convincing spreadsheet with the relevant categories you tout as the reasons for “good” and “bad” cities? Make your case instead of parroting the echo chamber.

    I’d say this – TODAY – in a given location where there is a core city and the surrounding beltway locales – WHERE does private investment take place?

    make that calculation for the newer sun-belt states in particular.

    then I have a question: what does a core city have – in the way of advantages over sprawl type development ?

    1. Am I really parroting the right-wing echo chamber?” That’s an easy out. You don’t even have to dismiss the facts — just call it a right-wing echo chamber and you can dismiss the ideas without even engaging them. Very clever.

      Unfortunately, Larry, I believe that you are “parroting” the left-wing echo chamber. Therefore, I get to dismiss your ideas just as summarily.

      As for putting together a “convincing spreadsheet,” I shall do so — just as soon as I have time to complete a Ph.D. dissertation-length project.

      Perhaps you could put together a “convincing spreadsheet” to demonstrate otherwise.

      1. well you’re treading very close to the standard anti-govt, govt is inherently wasteful and bad… right wing echo chamber narrative.

        and actually I do NOT dismiss it, I call for you to put something behind the echo chamber rhetoric… flesh on the bones..

        my “spreadsheet” that demonstrates otherwise is …. the way the world is right now… every country and city and county and other jurisdiction has a boundary and a govt. some have very strong govt, some weak but listening to you – ALL of them are fundamentally flawed because they are “public” and not “private”.

        I’d actually like to see a list of the “best” cities that have the least regulation, the lowest taxes, and the most involvement of the private sector that provide infrastructure and services that are provided by govt in other places.

        I’m asking for something more than just the rhetoric because you can argue theory until the cows come home but it don’t prove that govt is the wrong path at all.. just that govt.. like the private sector and like us as individuals – don’t function exactly the way we’d like them to.

  12. accurate Avatar

    Well, the only reason I’m commenting is because Larry (more or less) expects me to, AND because Houston is mentioned.

    Aside from that my views haven’t changed a lot, if anything they have become a bit more entrenched. Smart Growth is rarely what the name implies, rather it’s the opposite. It limits what options are available (in land and land use) and thus creates an artificial economy regarding land and land use. In turn, this typically means that land values will inflate and the cost of doing business or of living also gets inflated; in many cases beyond what an ‘ordinary’ person can afford.

    Coming from an area that continues to ‘experiment’ (a failed experiment in my opinion) with land use/land restrictions; and coming to an area that is pretty much restriction free – the differences between the two areas is striking. One of the most noticeable differences is the cost of housing, the house I now live in in Houston would have cost a minimum of 3 times what I paid up in the Portland area. Yes, Houston has sprawl – because we (the buying public) accept it and embrace it. My job location has changed (not by choice), I am now driving 43 miles one way to my job (a situation that I’m trying to change via changing jobs within the city) but in many ways it’s a cheaper and better alternative to moving. Oh and for JB, for a while (3 years ago) things were reversed and I tried ‘mass transit’ (the bus) to make the 40 plus mile trip. My travel time went from one hour to two and a half hours, let alone putting up with other people’s music, smells, attitudes and ravings; PLEASE don’t tell me that mass transit is good.

    As my wife said, in Portland, we traveled very short distances at a very slow speed and ended up late. In Houston, we travel very long distances at a very high rate of speed and end up … late. Some things are just hard to change. I’ve now lived in a fairly tightly regulated growth area (Portland Oregon) and I’m living in a fairly loosely regulated growth area (Houston Texas) – for this individual, I’ll take loose any day of the week.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Fascinating discussion going on here from top to bottom.

      Regarding only one of many good comments, Accurate obviously enjoys a keen sensibility concerning both extremes of how things go wrong, happening from both ends – Portland and Houston. His characterizations of both are on the mark. But I wonder how long the current “Houston Advantage” will hold. Likely shorter than we think. Both cities (and their ilk) are dead end streets.

    2. DJRippert Avatar


      Please read Accurate’s comment. Low regulation Houston encourages sprawl. Your thesis that regulations cause sprawl is wrong. Regulations prevent sprawl. However, those same regulations cause skyrocketing housing prices which shut out the middle class.

      So, Jim – which do you prefer: compact, walkable cities composed of the very rich and the very poor living in isolation of one another or … free enterprise sprawl where the middle class can still afford to live?

      1. Houston is “low regulation” in the sense that it does not have zoning. There are definite advantages to that system. As Accurate rightly observes, it is far easier to develop new land (and re-develop already-developed land) than elsewhere, which makes Houston far more responsive to market conditions.

        But to assume “no zoning” equals “fee market” is a huge error. Texas subsidizes sprawl through its transportation policies, and the federal government subsidizes it through its intervention in the housing markets. And I would wager that a close examination would show that state- and local-level public policies favor sprawl in other ways.

        In Houston, the cost to develop land is cheaper, and the cost of housing is cheaper. That’s a good thing. What that analysis excludes is the cost of transportation. What is the cost of owning and operating an automobile under sprawl conditions, and to what extent does that nullify the cheaper housing prices? Perhaps Accurate can illuminate that question.

        What’s interesting about Houston is the extent to which affluent Houstonians are moving back into the urban core. I would refer you to the book, “The Great Inversion,” by Alan Ehrenhalt, who wrote a chapter on Houston. As a consequence of changing preferences, Houston is gentrifying rapidly.

        “Among the changes that can occur faster in Houston is demographic inversion. The demand of the affluent to move closer to the center can be met quickly, through the construction of individual townhouses or condominiums without regard to any overall master plan for the site or the surrounding area. Small developers can do fill-ins without having to worry about the legality of a nonconforming use.”

        That’s a big advantage of the no-zoning approach. If Houston could get its residents to pay their full location-variable costs, it could well become the most affordable, livable city in the country.

        My big question is this: What happens when the cost of replacing all that highway infrastructure comes due? Who will pay, and how much?

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          Excellent points – Houston’s core will likely succeed. Its explosive outward growth will likely cannibalize itself. And, if Houston’s exurbs die of massive overdoses of steroidal overbuilding sprawl that eats itself, Portland’s core with likely die of the reverse, an inner constipation that choke off its future, leaving it with a massive under building of housing in its core. In so doing it is creating a stratified society build on wealth whose rigidity was last seen in French and English medieval times.

        2. DJRippert Avatar

          I’d love to hear how Texas subsidizes sprawl through its transportation policies – especially if you think those subsidies are bigger than NY, MA or CA. Beyond that, I’d like to hear how Virginia subsidizes sprawl through its transportation policies.

          I’d also like to know how the federal government subsidizes sprawl through intervention in the housing market. By making mortgage deductions tax deductible?

          So, we have in the world according to Bacon:


          Zoning – None.
          State subsidy for transportation – yes.
          Federal subsidy for housing – yes.

          SF, Chicago, Boston, NY:

          Zoning – yes.
          State subsidy for transportation – yes.
          Federal subsidy for housing – yes.

          But Houston has more sprawl and is more affordable.

    3. Hey Accurate! ALWAYS good to hear from you! seriously!

      ya’ll don’t have traditional zoning but I understand you do have regulations and restrictions.

      can you educate us a little or how Texas does “land”?

  13. mbaldwin Avatar

    I’m maybe too late into this dialogue, but I’m bothered by what I see as a simplistic and thought-stopping assumptions of what a “liberal” believes. Did FDR despise the wealthy? Maybe Henry Wallace did. The “liberal” concern today is our increasing disparity since 1970 or so between rich and poor, which is a condition emulated by developing countries. “Conservatives” ought to worry about this, as Bismarke and Disraeli did. “Liberals” have concern for conserving our environment, which every “conservative” ought to understand. Burke certainly would have. What I enjoy about this blog is its avoidance of labels, unlike our local and virtually always-intemperate Too Conservative.

    And a side point. Why is the experience of European cities in containing sprawl, with substantial governmental controls, considered irrelevant? Not that we should emulate those examples, but why not learn from them?

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      mbaldwin asks: “Why is the experience of European cities in containing sprawl, with substantial governmental controls, considered irrelevant?”

      You’re find an excellent series of articles here this subject arising from a Bacon Expedition to Barcelona a short while back. Try searching “Barcelona.” You find perhaps 4 to 6 articles.

      Mbaldwin says: “What I enjoy about this blog is its avoidance of labels, unlike our local and virtually always-intemperate Too Conservative.”

      I could not agree more.

  14. accurate Avatar

    Houston (in my opinion) is NOT rapidly gentrifying, no, like many cities that don’t have government over-regulating (not that they wouldn’t like to) there are areas where gentrification is happening and there are areas that developers TRY to gentrify but the public isn’t buying it. Areas like the Montrose district and the museum district would make JB heart swoon. Then I could take him to areas where the developers tried (like around the Astrodome) to gentrify and the public hasn’t bite on the bait. As for the ‘rich’ flooding back to the core area? Um, not really so much. We have one area (gasp, its in the suburbs) that is private, very secure and many very wealthy people live there. Trust me, these are ALL single family homes and are ALL very big. From there I can point at numerous people who are rich that HATE downtown and only go there when they have to. They MUCH prefer to live on thier own 200 – 2000 acre ranches with large houses, yes the stereotype of the Texas rancher is alive and very well here. Yes, there is a segment of folks with money who do like to live ‘downtown’ but compared to the other two groups that I just mentioned, they comprise of about 10% of the wealthy here in Houston.

    As for JB’s question of “What happens when the cost of replacing all that highway infrastructure comes due?” Indeed that problem/issue is facing Houston (as it is in many, many other cities) as it is also facing the entire state of Texas. One of the ‘solutions’ is what I see regularly down here, we learn to live with it and deal with it. In MANY areas of Houston the roads absolutely SUCK; but I’d have no problem showing you the same problems in various areas of Portland. Now if Obama would just make policies that would help us drill for the oil that we have here in the states which would/could make the cost of oil less and … wait, I got off on an Obama rant, easy to do.

    For mbaldwin – you ask “Why is the experience of European cities in containing sprawl, with substantial governmental controls, considered irrelevant?” In some areas, it’s not. Portland would LOVE to pattern thier city after european cities, I decry pretty much ALL of europe and have absolutely NO DESIRE to EVER live like they do. Yes, the contain sprawl BUT (as you pointed out) they do it at the cost (to the public) of (in many cases) draconian governmental controls.

    Finally, to JB – you asked “What is the cost of owning and operating an automobile under sprawl conditions, and to what extent does that nullify the cheaper housing prices? ” Actually the costs (to me) are cheaper down here. Gas is cheaper than what it was in Portland, insurance is cheaper than what it was in Portland, everything else is about the same. So to me, living in every aspect is cheaper for me here in Houston than what it was in Portland.

    And though I do stop by this blog now and then, I’ve remained in the background as many of the recent articles have been Virginia specific, which I understand. Since I don’t live there, I’m not well qualified to comment.

  15. DJRippert Avatar

    The Commonwealth Transportation fund budget for 2013 is $4.7B.

    Virginia’s biennial budget is $87B or $43.5B per year.

    Transportation consumes 10.8% of the state budget.

    JLARC studies state tax preferences for specific companies and individuals. There is no sunset provision for Clown Show awarded tax preferences. In fact, JLARC admits that many of the preferences may not be achieving their goals. Nobody knows. “The investigators found nearly 200 tax preferences that collectively reduced taxpayers’ liability by $12.5 billion in 2008 – almost as much as the $14.3 billion the state collected from the taxes studied.”.

    The $12.5B reduction from 2008 is about triple the annual transportation budget.

    Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mt Vernon) put forth a “baby step” bill to simply identify the companies and individuals receiving these tax preferences.

    ‘”This is a sunshine bill,” he told a House subcommittee. Granting a tax credit is equivalent to writing a check on the state’s bank account, he said. “Taxpayers have a right to know where their money’s going.”

    To the astonishment of the liberal Surovell, two tea party representatives rose to endorse his proposal.

    “Hell has not frozen over,” one of the tea partyers reassured the panel.

    Nevertheless, Surovell’s measure turned out to be a bridge too far for his fellow lawmakers.’.

    Our transportation funding problems in Virginia are not the result of zoning, regulation or subsidies. They are the result of a crooked and incompetent Clown Show in Richmond legislating secret payoffs for their cronies.

    Our state legislature is a disgrace.

  16. DJRippert Avatar

    The good people of Hampton Roads are heading into revolt against the Richmond-based oligopoly which runs Virginia through the puppets in the Clown Show.

    It is not NoVa vs RoVa. It is everywhere vs the Richmond-based oligopoly.

  17. re: Texas and roads.

    my understanding is that Texas is getting into Toll roads in a big way.

    I notice that Accurate does not mention them so I wonder what his opinion is on that.

    Keep in mind also, as we chew on the road issue that there are only 4 states where the DOT is responsible for ALL roads – Virginia and Texas are two of the four.

    and I’m curious, off thread, about how Texas funds schools which I understand is very different from Va.

    Finally, I would ENCOURAGE ACCURATE to continue to participate. I don’t always agree but I think comparing and contrasting how Texas does business with Virginia is valuable and useful.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      “Finally, I would ENCOURAGE ACCURATE to continue to participate. ”

      I hope so too.

  18. accurate Avatar

    Larry –
    regarding Texas and toll roads. Texas is getting into them big time? Well, we’re Texas, we do everything big down here. Coming from Oregon where there are no toll roads, it took some getting use to. You can ALWAYS find a way to get to your destination without using them. BUT, the amount of time you save is typically worth the extra cash (in my world). I also recognize that it helps to define/drive a wedge between those who can afford to use the toll roads and those who can not. Is Texas getting into it in a big way? I’ve only been here for four years so I haven’t seen a big change from when I moved here. Houston certainly has it’s fair share of them, but then again, Houston is also the 4th largest city in the USA. To be honest, I’ve grown to like them – a lot, and my wife likes them more than I do. They are typically in MUCH better shape than the non-toll roads and typically (90% of the time) traffic is flowing much faster and smoother than non-toll roads.

    I’m not really sure how to answer the funding of schools. I don’t have any children in school so I don’t really get into it much. Just like in Oregon, they slap a nasty huge assessment on your property tax bill, you pay it and the schools are funded. Just like in Oregon (where I did NOT send my kids to public school) any time I get the chance to vote against a school funding bill … I do.

    One last item of note – my wife gets upset that (with a 30 year mortgage) our escrow costs are higher than the monthly payment on the house. The property tax AND the insurance taxes down here are high, the value of the house is low, so the payment is doable (remember in Texas we have no income tax so all revenues come from property taxes and sales tax). In Oregon (which has no sales tax so all revenues are property taxes and income tax), while the tax rate on property might be a bit lower, the valuation of the house is MUCH higher, thus making the monthly payment very expensive.

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