Comment of the Day: Scooting on Over for the Future

COMMENT OF THE DAY: SCOOTING ON OVER FOR THE FUTURE Crowded Elevator“In 1860 the population density of NYC was 3,891 people per square mile. Houston today is 3,371. Were there a bunch of people in NYC around 1860 decrying the densification of NY to 11,381 by 1900? I’m not saying that Houston is like NYC but the world is only filling up with more people. In 1940 there were only a little over 2 billion people on the planet . . . today there are over 7 billion people. It is insane to think that the world, especially cities, are not going to change and become much much denser to accommodate this growth. What else are we going to do? Where are all these people going to live? The inner loop of Houston is where all of the action is at . . . demand is driving this. Some cities help mitigate a lot of the growing pains with comprehensive plans . . . I guess Houston has Swamplot and the invisible hand . . .” [Duston, commenting on Trio of Houses Across from Black Hole on Castle Ct. Is Coming Down] Illustration: Lulu

10 Comment

  • World population growth doesn’t really have anything to do with Houston densifying. The vast majority of America is actually less populated than it was in 1900. Drive through rural Texas sometime and tell me how many towns or schools are bursting at the seams, or look at historical county populations in the Texas Almanac. If there were too many people, we could just put them out there. And even U.S. cities for the most part are less dense than they were in 1950 – Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, etc., etc. Hell, look at old aerial views of Houston on Google Earth or… every neighborhood within a few miles of downtown was packed like sardines, and there were actually kids too living in those houses!

  • Maybe Swamplot IS the Invisible Hand…muahahahaha!

  • Mike, sorry but I’d have to disagree on that one. the worlds population increase means america’s relative wealth compared to the rest of the world will continue to be diluted. as such, american population trends will continue to mirror developing countries in that highly skilled/educated persons will have to cluster in dense areas in order to reap the rewards of clustering and the increased wealth creation that comes with it. as such, our rural cities are emptying out an accelerating clip as more and more people are required to be located near large groupings of skilled labor in order to maintain or increase standards of living.
    a more global economy means more competition and that american cities will have to continue to densify, as the trends are showing, in order to remain competitive. you could pretty much say that the mid-20th century was an anomaly in american population trends due to an unsustainable level of wealth.

  • @ Joel: The world’s population increase is decelerating and has already moved beyond the inflection point to an outright decrease in some regions of the world. The Club of Rome alarmists have been decidedly proven wrong about the population boom, and really the only region of the world that needs to be concerned about outright population growth is sub-Saharan Africa; but the world overall will be in fine shape. If there are any acute resource-based crises then they will be contrivances of mankind.

    In the developing world, there is rapid urbanization. They’re still catching up with the industrial revolution, and that means that they’re having to concentrate in urban areas where geography, infrastructure, human talent, and sophisticated governance come together to make big factories possible. However, they’re doing it in concert with broadband internet use and smart phones and iPads. This means that even in the remotest and most unlikely places, office workers are learning that they can telecommute. Americans are also figuring out this telecommuting thing (although American information infrastructure is arguably behind the curve), and I think that that trend is going to occur simultaneously around the world.

    If America really has become a post-industrial economy, then that portends the possibility of the cities emptying out and of people relocating into those parts of the country that are the most beautiful and that have the best climates and that are presently very inexpensive. In fact, it also opens up the entire world to them. Why telecommute from Surfside Beach or from Fredericksburg or from Marfa (whatever your style is) if you can do so from Costa Rica or Thailand at one third of the expense?

    If American cities are to continue growing at any appreciable rate, they must have a reason to be. Otherwise, there’ll be stagnation. And I know that it’s easy to forget when you live in Texas, but a lot of places in the U.S. are very stagnant. There’s plenty of room to grow. And not just up, either…

  • In 1860 New York City was the island of Manhattan, the actual densely populated city did not exist past 59th St. Also this was before the creation of the elevator, the first El wasn’t built till after the civil war, etc… so you walked or used a carriage to even get to Midtown.

    I bet the actual density well exceeded that number in practice, and not just in the Five Points.

  • In my mother’s hometown (rural, central Texas) there were 35 vacant houses for sale last year, just sitting on the market year after year. Small towns have been slowly dying for decades now, while the cities (especially suburbs) continue to boom.

  • Two density of New York City was NOT 3,891 people per square mile in 1860. It was much higher. You get that number of you divide the 1860 population of the Big Apple by its present area, but the City covered much less land then. Northern Manhattan (including Harlem) and The Bronx were annexed in 1874. New York City didn’t annex Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island until 1898. New York’s growth in the second half of the 19th century was more analogous to Houston’s growth and annexations in the 1950s – ’80s, than our development today. It was streetcar suburb sprawl and not car sprawl (so it was on a much smaller scale) but the development-annexation pattern was the same.
    If we’re going to compare Houston to some City from the 1860s, perhaps it would be better to compare us to Paris. The 1860s were a time of mass-demolitions and new building in Paris. Baron Haussmann was systematically demolishing affordable housing throughout the City, and replacing it with grand boulevards lined with luxurious flats. The new developments were often five or six stories, where the old had been two or three – so it was much higher density. It’s more in-line with what’s happening to our Inner Loop today. Artists and bohemians were pushed around and made a last stand, of sorts, in Montmartre. Eventually the overbuilding of luxury flats had negative consequences, as a surplus of luxury housing was coupled with a shortage of affordable housing.
    Granted, the comparison to 1860s Paris isn’t perfect. Our development isn’t being controlled by a single Power Broker like Baron Haussmann. But it’s a far better comparison than 1860s New York.

  • Duston

    So according to your source your population density for New York City (Manhattan) in 1860 is actually 37,000 per sq mile, not 3,891.

    Why didn’t you just use the Staten Island numbers?

  • Ok…a lot of you are pointing out some inaccuracies in my analogy or disagreeing with the analogy completly…that is fine but it misses my overall point. I wanted to use a city that most people, on swamplot, would be agreeable to regarding its density. I wanted to illustrate that cities aren’t static and that there must have been a point in NYC’s history where it suddenly went from not very dense to very dense. During that time I was wondering how much of the population was like many of the commentators on swamplot and decry every instance of a single family home being torn down in favor of more dense housing.

    Mike…..I disagree with you……Joel covered a lot of my similar feelings. Certain areas of the country have become less populated and certain areas have become more populated.. To understand the dynamics of Houston’s current densification trend would take a lot of space…. but how about an increasing world population, specifically China, with its 1.3 billion people, using an increasing amount of energy, thus fossil fuels. This increased usage of fossil fuels sends money and jobs flowing into Houston because of the concentration of the petro industrial complex….? This is just conjecture but I feel that if the world population was half of what it is then there would be far fewer petro dollars sloshing around and thus a smaller share for Houston overall…..There are many other arguments about why an increased world pop… leads to Houston density but that is the first one that comes to my mind…. Let me know what you think.

    The Niche…..You are right many places in the world are experiencing a deceleration regarding population. The world population is still expanding at an astounding rate though. Most places will not experience resource problems based on population growth due to new tech and continued exploitation of the natural environment. (I am now going a bit afield of the point of my original comment) You seem to feel that as long as humans have full bellies then there is no problem with the (albeit slower) continued expansion of the human population across the globe. Parts of Texas are less populated today than there used to be but the reverse is also true. The overall trend is upward and this is true in the majority of places across the globe. I do not believe that the ever increasing trend can continue indefinitely. I see the trend as alarming because it comes at the expense of the natural environment. A toad here, a prairie chicken there, a buffalo somewhere else, and finally the interactions of countless species with one another are inferior or considered not valuable compared to humans. Humans are valued simply because they are “humans’ and the others are less valuable because they do not sit atop the pyramid that we have created. Sure, my life or the toad’s, I pick my life…..but this decision compounded billions of times means no more toad….. You say that any resource crisis will be “will be contrivances of mankind”…this might hold a partial truth but I’m not sure that we fully understand the underpinnings holding the systems that we rely on….Sure take a toad out, take a prairie chicken out, take a buffalo out and replace it with a cow and things seem to still work. At some point if you remove enough of the foundation the house will crumble or parts of the house will become unlivable.. You seem to have more confidence than I regarding our knowledge of the foundations of our home..