Holding Back on That Downtown Hotel Push; The Beer Garden, Greenhouse, and Food Court Growing in Prohibition’s Basement

Water Tower and Abandoned Tennis Court, Pasadena, Texas

Photo of Baywood Country Club, Pasadena: David Elizondo via Swamplot Flickr Pool


12 Comment

  • Re: Kotkin sprawl

    If he is a true economist, he will take into consideration all the effects of sprawl, not just the good. These include destruction of wildlife habitat, worse flooding, increased air emissions from cars, lower quality of life from longer commutes, increased cost of infrastructure on local governments, neglect of the urban core, et al.

    Everything in economics is a tradeoff. You always have to give something up to get what you want. Which of those sacrifices we choose is a direct reflection of our values. People certainly do have different values, and this “think tank” sure does prove that point.

  • I think Joel Kotkin is elaborately trolling us.

  • Is “think tank” really the best name for an organization that declares the answer before the organization is established? May I suggest “don’t-think tank” or perhaps, “come-up-with-rationale tank”.

    But then I suppose all think tanks already know the answer.


  • Is the new Galleria Whole Foods doing well? I thought I saw someone report on one of these webpages that they were already laying people off. I have no idea whether that is true or not, but I could see issues with customers not wanting to fight the traffic to go there (I could see the other way as well though).

  • Most people say Blue Album Barbecue is the best, but I think Pinkerton Barbecue is much better.

  • I’ve been to the Galleria Whole Foods once or twice. To answer @htownproud, no, it doesn’t seem to be doing well. I was excited at first, but when I got there it was sleepy and full of old people (from my perspective). If you’re just trying to buy groceries, you’re going to go to the Randall’s down the street, with better traffic, better parking, and better prices.

  • I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of having a beer “garden” and including a greenhouse in a basement. Are we talking massive skylights here?

  • @ Superdave: The externalities from development at any scale can be mitigated by various means. For instance, by requiring impact fees to pay for parks or other public purposes (Houston has this now), by requiring stormwater detention or providing an option to fund off-site capacity (Houston has this now), by requiring developers to create new utility districts inside the city to pay for infrastructure (Houston has this now), or by creating TIRZs and other entities to siphon off cash in order to deal with urban core “neglect” to the extent that it is strategic in scope (Houston has this now, and then some).

    However, where quality of life issues are concerned I would argue that nobody gets to decide what quality is except for the person paying for it. In economics this is called revealed preference. Some people do prefer the suburban landscape (as evidenced in one small part by JohnQ’s comment in praise of a nearby Randall’s over the Whole Foods flagship store). I don’t begrudge them that. What is a problem though is the very mainstream attitude toward assessing the “quality” issue of public schools. That attitude has an enormously costly impact on the economic geography of the Houston area. These attitudes are bipartian. Anybody that questions the underlying assumptions is out on the fringe of politics and even polite society. In spite of that, it is without any doubt the biggest driver of the housing market.

    The pollution issue hasn’t been explained to the public in a very nuanced way. It needs to be considered both in terms of the pollution that suburban inhabitants are exposed to in their neighborhoods (which, if you’re in a mature suburb rather than surrounded by active land development, is actually a very clean place by comparison with the urban core or an edge city). However, this does impose pollution problems on other areas, and perhaps most notably in places where car components and energy for cars are produced, especially overseas where environmental regulations are lax and poorly enforced. It is a local issue with international implications, and policy prescriptions that are both sensible and popular are basically impossible to forge.

    I strongly suspect that Joel Kotkin, Wendell Cox, and Tory Gattis all understand the vexing issues perfectly well. What you tend to hear from them, though, has been crafted to suit their audience. Their audience, like most audiences, does not have an attention span that is suitable and appropriate to the subject matter. And they don’t and should not touch any political third rails.

    (Btw, if one of them is reading this, do understand that I am available for hire on a part-time/project/contract basis. My rates are very reasonable.)

  • Niche, you do raise some good points here, but you’re absolutely wrong to suggest that the perceived (and real) quality of public schools is a “problem” that shouldn’t be considered in urban growth patterns. It is actually something we have to grapple with from an urban standpoint – and I say that as a former neighborhood activist who is about to leave Houston for the suburbs, specifically for the schools.
    Like it or not, schools have a huge effect on property values in built up areas, and on development patterns in suburban areas. Look at Sharpstown versus Meyerland. Property values drop $100,000 the second you cross from the Bellaire High School zone to the Sharpstown High School zone. Look at the areas in Fort Bend ISD. The western portion of the district is growing much faster than the eastern portion, and (surprise surprise) the schools to the west in FBISD outperform those in the east. Unfortunately, nobody seems interested in addressing the issue. Developers and urban planners scoff at it – like you did. Educators day “no, we’ve got too much on our plates already to worry about that.” So, we continue to worsen our problems of sprawl and concentrated poverty. It’s really an awful thing.

  • I didn’t say that perceived quality should not be considered in urban growth patterns. There is clearly an effect. It’d be nonsensical to claim otherwise.

    The issue is how society by and large perceives quality regarding an education, the friends our children keep, and their perceived safety on a day to day basis vis-a-vis their outcomes later in life. These perceptions aren’t real, but rather are socially constructed. Nothing at all is “real” about this subject. Education is a man-made poverty trap. Our expectations are systematically biased and the reality that we create is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t think that it has to be this way…although it is this way, and its so completely overwhelmingly this way that I can’t say that there’s any data to support my hypothesis. (An underlying issue is how most parents tend to value their children’s universe of potential life outcomes. What makes a successful parent? Start asking that question and it becomes quickly apparent that socioeconomic segregation is not merely a phenomenon limited to those who can afford it. It’s thoroughly layered and nearly everybody participates. You almost can’t even help it, except to begin to become self-aware of your own nature.)

    ^ To me, this is a really fascinating discussion for myriad reasons. Not the least of which is that otherwise intelligent people are perfectly capable of formulating a Ptolemaic rationalization of an applied social science. Although inelegant — being so very very expensive to themselves — they hew closely to that understanding because it seems to work. Nobody bothers to second-guess the reasons why because the existing model’s predictive capabilities are apparent. When a Galileo comes along and explains the true nature of thing, the elegant mechanics that govern how things turn out, oh well now that’s just a heresy ain’t it? Its disruptive. And yet, this is a social system and not a natural science. Galileo himself submitted to the Church under threat of torture, but a contemporary parallel may find that the existing system is so completely insane in every manner that he has no real alternative except to participate in it. And how to change the thing? That’s the difficulty. Our society and our system of governance proves so much more confounding than a literalist’s interpretation of scripture.

  • @Niche: You do not escape smog in Houston by moving to the burbs. In the summer, Houston has a circular wind pattern that takes ship channel pollutants for a ride out to the suburbs. Go to http://www.houstoncleanairnetwork.com and set the animation for Aug. 6, 2012. You will see a big area of ozone form over the ship channel that gets blown out to Pearland, then Sugar Land and spends the late afternoon in Cinco Ranch and just east of Katy before starting to drift back east. The worst of the smog slides south of the City and never really gets north of I-10 inside the loop. Ship channel industries account for about 2/3rds of the smog. The rest is motor vehicle emissions. Ship channel industries have made significant progress in reducing and controlling emissions. But more sprawl and more traffic threaten to offset the progress made on the ship channel. Thus, the smog issue is a very real consequence of sprawl that is not escaped by sprawl either.

  • @ Old School: I was going to ask whether that pattern is typical or whether you cherry-picked it, but I watched and re-watched Aug. 6, 2012 and my map is covered in green all day long. The site does seem to work because on the following day there is a pale yellow shade that creeps over central Houston, so maybe that was not the day that you intended. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

    Leaving that aside, though…I’ll take you at your word that there are some really horrible days for ozone. There’s really no disputing it except to point out the difference between a weather event and climate.

    Here’s the thing, though, and its exactly as I was saying about how we aren’t having a very nuanced discussion about pollution: Smog is one kind of pollution. Its not harmless, but its also far from the most harmful there is. To be sure, vehicle emissions have an impact, but catalytic converters have reduced that tremendously. The news is so good on that front, in fact, that lawnmowers now have a much greater impact. Diesel engines are the other thing that hurts, and that’s mostly related to commerce. Ship channel emissions are entirely related to commerce. The commercial stuff is not likely to go away, but it is concentrated and somewhat predictable. The weather is another precondition for the formation of smog, but considering how many smog-forming emissions Houston cranks out, actually our weather patterns and geography are ordinarily quite good about dispersing them.

    Particulate pollution is a different matter. That is very dangerous. Its highest concentrations are near industry, near highways, and near active land development. Mature suburbs tend to be well-insulated from the effects. The cocktail of conditions that give rise to cancer risk tends to follow a similar geographic pattern, mostly emphasizing highways and industry as risk factors.