The "Darth Vader" house in West University

Our Double Black Swan, Density vs. Pandemic, and More

Mix of items this week, including one very bad one to balance out the good news last week:

  • NYT: It Calls Itself the Energy Capital. Now It Faces 2 ‘Horrifying’ Crises.Houston has been reeling from oil-market chaos on top of a coronavirus shutdown. Job losses could reach 300,000.”  Excerpt:”In Houston, no one has become more intimately familiar with the details of the oil market woes than Chris B. Brown, the city’s chief financial officer and a fourth-generation Houstonian. Rare, severe and unforeseen events are known as “black swans,” a theory that comes from a 2007 book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” Mr. Brown has taken to calling Houston’s situation a “double black swan.” About 40 percent of the city’s economy is tied to the price of oil, Mr. Brown said. That means that when other cities are recovering from the economic damage of the coronavirus shutdown, Houston will still be lagging.”
  • Just an amazing demo of fully autonomous driving by Zoox. It smoothly handles the craziest streets in SF better than I think I could! Well worth watching (26m, not an hour because they play at double speed). They’re coming sooner than you think…
  • NYT: America Shouldn’t Have to Play by New York Rules:

“Even now, it is stunning to contemplate the extent to which the country’s Covid-19 crisis is a New York crisis — by which I mean the city itself along with its wider metropolitan area.

As of Friday, there have been more Covid-19 fatalities on Long Island’s Nassau County (population 1.4 million) than in all of California (population 40 million). There have been more fatalities in Westchester County (989) than in Texas (611). The number of Covid deaths per 100,000 residents in New York City (132) is more than 16 times what is in America’s next largest city, Los Angeles (8). If New York City proper were a state, it would have suffered more fatalities than 41 other states combined.

It isn’t hard to guess why. New York has, by far, the highest population density in the U.S. among cities of 100,000 or more. Commuters crowd trains, office workers crowd elevators, diners crowd restaurants. No other American city has the same kind of jammed pedestrian life as New York — Times Square alone gets 40 million visitors a year — or as many residents packed into high-rises.

Right now, there’s a lot of commentary coming from talking heads (many of them in New York) about the danger of lifting lockdowns in places like Tennessee. Perhaps the commentary needs to move in the opposite direction. Tennesseeans are within their rights to return to a semblance of normal life while demanding longer restrictions on New Yorkers.

I write this from New York, so it’s an argument against my personal interest. But I don’t see why people living in a Nashville suburb should not be allowed to return to their jobs because people like me choose to live, travel and work in urban sardine cans.”

Finally, ending on a lighter note: 50 Of The Most Evil-Looking Buildings In The World, with #28 in Houston.  But somehow they missed the Darth Vader house in West University… ;-D

This piece first appeared on Houston Strategies Blogspot.

Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Center for Opportunity Urbanism and co-authored the original study with noted urbanist Joel Kotkin and others, creating a city philosophy around upward social mobility for all citizens as an alternative to the popular smart growth, new urbanism, and creative class movements. He is also an editor of the Houston Strategies blog.