Texas cities are places many urbanists love to hate. I worked in Houston several years ago and it wasn’t my personal cup of tea. I much prefer living in a higher density, traditional urban pattern.
But because I prefer that kind of environment, does that mean everyone does – or should? I think not.
It’s very difficult for us to really appreciate other people’s choices when they appear to so contradict our own. We tend to try to come up with external reasons why people made the decisions they did. We dismiss choices for Texas or the suburbs as simply not real choices at all. They are the result of “subsidies” to the suburbs, or artificially constrained housing supply in San Francisco.
No doubt these factors contribute somewhat to the growth of Texas cities or the suburbs. But from what I’ve seen, most people who live in the suburbs love it there. And almost universally the people I know who moved to Texas cities love them – they are often in fact blown away by how much they love them.
It’s important for us to evaluate places like Texas cities on their own terms and merits, not just relative to our own personal preferences.
That’s the subject of a new report from the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, a Houston-based think tank headed by Joel Kotkin, called The Texas Way of Urbanism. This report, to which I contributed some editing, takes a look at the four major metros of Texas – Austin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, and San Antonio – in a manner similar to my own survey story in City Journal, but in considerably more depth.
Any way you slice it, these cities have had a remarkable run since 2000 and are now a force to be reckoned with in American urbanism. They include two of America’s top five metro areas, 18 million people, 53 Fortune 500 headquarters, the center of the American energy industry, one of the world’s largest and busiest airports, the country’s largest medical center, a major technology hub, America’s only major Latino-majority metro area, and much more.
Does this mean these cities will stay on this trajectory forever? Of course not. Places like LA, Chicago, and Detroit previously had their runs, then matured. The same will happen in Texas. But just as those cities justly celebrate their great growth eras, Texas cities can feel good about what they’ve accomplished recently.
Other cities could also learn from them. It may well be that Texas cities don’t have much to teach New York. But most of the country’s metro areas look much more like Dallas than they do San Francisco. They could probably learn a thing or two from what Texas cities have accomplished.
Aaron M. Renn is a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an opinion-leading urban analyst, writer, and speaker on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.
This article was first published 11/27/16 at Urbanophile.com