Texas Pumpjack

The Oil Crash Solution, Sprawl vs. COVID-19, and More

Just a few items this week, but good excerpts:

  • Scott Beyer at Market Urbanism Report: Why Houston is morphing into America’s next dense cityHouston shows how lighter regulations lead to more density. “There’s a quality about Houston, though, that transcends its built pattern: affordability. For decades, Houston has been the nation’s leading example of an “opportunity city”.  It has, like coastal cities, high demand—aka fast growing job opportunities and population growth. But unlike those metros, it builds lots of housing, thus stabilizing prices. The median home price is $190,000, which is just 4/5ths the national average, according to Zillow. Midtown’s median home prices are $309,000, extremely low for a centrally-located urban neighborhood. This affordability has made Houston a refuge for expats from expensive states, and for immigrants—it is now the nation’s most diverse city. The affordability can be tied to both Houston’s density and sprawl. Rather than one being good and the other bad, both forms of growth have helped stabilize prices. But the multi-family infill housing is the most organic outcome to be found in the Houston model. If America had a more market-oriented urban approach, those aspects of Houston—the density and affordability—would be the ones most likely replicated. For this reason, “getting a bunch of Houstons” should be an urbanist goal.
  • This is pretty much the perfect solution to Houston – and the country’s – energy woes.  And it should please both the right (nationalism and the economy) and the left (increasing the cost of carbon).  Coincidentally, I went to Rice with this guy! “A farsighted leader, argued Andy Karsner, a former U.S. assistant energy secretary, “could have imposed a variable U.S. tariff or fee on imported oil, which would be easily absorbed while prices are now slumping.” Such an import fee “could dynamically and automatically kick in incrementally if prices fell below an agreed floor, say $40 to $50 a barrel — the price that U.S. producers need to stay in business and supply America. The fee would disappear if prices jump above the agreed level. Brent crude is now around $31. “If we guaranteed U.S. oil producers a predictable price floor to enable the least indebted and most productive of them to survive, Karsner told me, it would pay multiple benefits: “It would raise money for us to invest in infrastructure; prevent job losses for skilled engineers and multibillion-dollar bailouts for U.S. oil companies; keep manageably low gasoline prices for U.S. consumers; and strengthen our energy security from predatory efforts by Russia and Saudi Arabia to wipe out our domestic oil industry. “But, most important, it would accelerate our clean energy transition, by shielding our electric car industry from foreign-manipulated gasoline prices and our wind and solar industries from temporarily suppressed natural gas prices.”
  • The NYTimes analyzes why California’s infection and death rate has been so low from Covid-19, including one in particular that applies to Houston and Texas more generally:”Several experts are advancing another explanation, too: Features that have long been viewed as liabilities — the state’s solitary car culture and traffic-jammed freeways, a dearth of public transportation and sprawling suburban neighborhoods — may have been protective.“Life in California is much more spread out,” said Eleazar Eskin, chair of the department of computational medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Single-family homes compared with apartment buildings, work spaces that are less packed and even seating in restaurants that is more spacious.”Many scientific studies have found a correlation between population density and the spread of flu and other infectious diseases, something that may exist for the coronavirus as well.”
  • I’m not sure if that was the intent, but this NYT op-ed put together a very comprehensive list of reasons *not* to live in NYC. Save this one for your kids when they think about going there for or after college…
  • Antiplanner makes a devastating case: The Induced-Demand Con. One great excerpt:”Imagine Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile discovered that, no matter how much they expanded their cell-phone networks, people kept buying new smart phones and using those networks. Would they decide to stop expanding their services for fear of turning too many people into smart-phone junkies? Of course not; so long as revenues covered their costs, they would happily expand to meet the demand.The point is that almost anyone would consider that an investment leading to increased use to be a sign of success. Yet Transportation for America sees it as a sign of failure. Would T4A have us stop building libraries, hospitals, and schools because the ones we build get used by readers, patients, and students?

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.

Photo credit: “West Texas Pumpjack” by Eric Kounce TexasRaiser – Located south of Midland, Texas. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.