Comment of the Day: The Jobs Will Go Wherever The Wind Blows Them

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE JOBS WILL GO WHEREVER THE WIND BLOWS THEM Refineries“I think it has less to do with the location of high-paying jobs, and more [to do with] proximity to the Ship Channel and its pollution. If you look at wind pattern maps, all the historically least-desirable areas are where prevailing winds off the coast end up tending to blow pollution originating from the Ship Channel. The high-income jobs are located west of downtown because that’s where the high-income people wanted to live, not the other way around. This isn’t specific to Houston, either – the west side of most North American cities tends to be the more desirable side, owing to prevailing winds and the location of dirty industrial areas. Chicago is an excellent example — the south side being less desirable owing to its location downwind (south and east) of the massive stockyards that existed there a century ago.” [TMR, commenting on Comment of the Day: Breaking the Cyclical Expansion of the Donut of DespairIllustration: Lulu

8 Comment

  • I think this is true to a point. As much as I like to tout the east end there’s definitely an upper limit there which will be defined by this. But I think it’s only true to a point. River Oaks, Montrose and the Heights are not THAT far from the east side and both demand massive prices. It’s not like moving farther west has even more of a price gain. It’s a diminishing return. The biggest increases in the “price ceiling” of a neighborhood are going to be found moving from an area like Galena Park/Baytown to Eastwood. After that the increases rapidly die off.
    Also, I think there’s a real need for some Petshop boys right about now. Go West, where the sky’s are blue.

  • It’s common knowledge that there is a cloud of Benzene permanently parked over Eastwood while people in Montrose (which is a hop jump and a skip away and where prices are ~3x that of Eastwood) are breathing country air!

  • On average, 22% of the time during a given year the wind is blowing out of the south. 16% from the southeast.
    only 12% of the time is it blowing from the east, which is when the chems from industry might affect someone in the east end. but then, most industry is far enough out 225 that if I’m going to be affected, then so are people in the heights, and montrose. and as the wind is from the southeast more often than the east, you’d think the heights would be at a higher risk, being in the path a little more often.
    anyway, neither here, nor there. My mom grew up in the east end. She’s 75 and still has lots of years left to go. My aunt lived in the east end for most of her life, she lived to be 92. My grandmother lived in the east end for most of her life and lived to be 88. my granddad died pretty young at 79, and he lived with my grandmother.
    I paid 1/4 the price for the same exact house I’d get in the heights, I’ll take my chances on the east side.

  • I disagree. There are more complex factors at play here. Around the 1920’s, at a time when the Ship Channel resembled nothing of its current grandiosity, nice new suburbs were popping up on all sides of town. Magnolia Park on the east (right on the bayou), Riverside Terrace and Shadyside on the south (which also included some of the super-wealthy), and River Oaks on the west. Between all of these and downtown, there were neighborhoods already several decades old (the old “Wards”), so the sprawl followed the vacant land. I highly doubt that people back then were worried about industrial pollution and prevailing wind patterns (the latter only being a factor in placing windows for better ventilation in the pre-HVAC era). Instead, they were following cheap land. Later, as giant chemical plants and refineries started to gobble up 1,000 acres at a time on the east side, and to employ legions of lifetime employees, and as part of the then-corporate responsibility mandate, plant worker housing became the dominant form of development on the east side. This meant a lot of lower class people, highly concentrated in areas – flooding schools, churches, parks, etc. with a lower class of people that the upper classes shied away from, and exacerbated the trend of the rich living on the west side. It was not until the 1960’s and beyond that environmental pollution and its effects on human health entered the public conscience.

  • @Superdave people shied away from the industrial pollution because it was dirty, sooty and it smelled bad, not because of the same level of environmental awareness there is nowadays. It would have been even worse in the pre-’60s non-abatement era, and worse still in the pre-war manufactured gas era. You’d want to live where it wasn’t stinky and you didn’t have soot from factories and steamers coming into your house, and that was dictated by the prevailing winds.
    I don’t think this is the primary driver of settlement patterns today. However, it had been the driver a century ago, and that laid the foundation for our present settlement patterns. The western close-in suburbs are prestigious today, for a large part, because they were built up nicely with good infrastructure and amenities in that older era. They weren’t built further out because there weren’t freeways yet.

  • @TMR – I stated that I disagree, and why. You came back and restated your original point, with which I still disagree. Not sure what you mean by “the pre-war manufactured gas era,” and you did not acknowledge my point about the non-existence of 99% of today’s industry back when these developments were first being put in. See my previous comment above.

  • Let’s also not forget that if you visit historic aerials, you can see that clearly there was as much industry along washington (indeed it’s still there). It hasn’t grown like the industry along the ship channel, but in the 50s it was about as much industry along the rail line there as there was along the ship channel.

  • @ Superdave: No, you’ve got a lot of history wrong. The East End was never a very affluent area and only ever boasted pockets of middle-class *south* of Harrisburg Road which was not only a dividing line in terms of industry but also was a political demarcation between 2nd and 3rd Wards. Magnolia Park started out as an enclave for dockworkers, with large shares of immigrants from Germany, Italy, Ireland, and Mexico. Explaining Magnolia Park’s existence by way of the same factors that drove the development of River Oaks and Riverside Terrace is absolutely not appropriate! Industry that had been established along the early ship channel was mostly to serve the compressing, warehousing, and transshipment of cotton coming into Houston by a coal-fired steam-driven locomotive and leaving it by way of a coal-fired steam-driven boat. Most of that history has been erased from the landscape with a scant few exceptions, but the importance of cotton transshipment to Houston’s deep history cannot possibly be understated. Up until about 1920, everything going on at the port was just ridiculously labor-intensive, and after WW1, things got really capital-intensive and energy-intensive…meaning in that era that it was dirty as all hell. There was other industry around, too, and the sheer rate of growth largely offset job losses from mechanization and productivity gains (the Great Depression notwithstanding).
    Look at the following map from 1935. Industry is easy to spot, its easy to see how the pattern of development had yanked Houston eastward, but its also easy to infer who might have lived west of downtown near the big hospitals (which were not just randomly placed without clean air in mind) and the white collar jobs in downtown. Houston’s westerly-oriented affluence is a century-old paradigm! Yes, there was the Washington Avenue corridor and it was industrial in character. You notice that most of the nice older housing was built further north or further south from there. Likewise the rail corridor to the north of downtown defined another industrial corridor and the northeastern wedge between there and the Ship Channel sort of cut off and defined the economic trajectory of 5th Ward.
    TMR & Toasty’s observations about prevailing winds are a little bit valid, but the very worst pollution is not in any particular direction from the point source at any significant distance, its right next to them or in-between them…especially when the winds are not blowing. When the wind isn’t blowing then the amount of pollution in the air decreases geometrically with distance from a point source! When it is blowing then there’s enough atmospheric turbulence to sweep it into a large volume of air so that isn’t not so bad. People were already very very acutely aware of this in the 19th century and if you had any money at all then you put some distance between your house and heavy industry. Folks back then had a visual reference on pollution. It was black. They could see it. They could feel it on and inside their bodies. It was a visceral threat to health. But it also wasn’t until after WW2 where cars really became ubiquitous and so wherever the jobs were there was going to be housing in close proximity.
    The refineries began to creep in during the 1920’s, but were and are further east. The importance of refineries as employers or as polluters to Houston’s East End (as most people discuss its boundaries in 2016) has always been much more limited than people seem to think. Manchester is the only neighborhood that is even a little bit compatible with your history.