Thursday, November 17th, 2011
Tory Gattis is an ex-McKinsey consultant and Houston civic advocate who writes the blog Houston Strategies. As you might infer, he’s heavily aligned with the Houston model of civic development. I know that’s something that isn’t very popular in some circles, but it seems to be working for them at least.
Tory recently spoke at TEDxHouston on a variety of topics related to urban development and Houston. The video is below, followed by some commentary. (If the video doesn’t display, click here).
Here are a few of the takeaways in case you aren’t up for watching the video.
1. Size Matters. City size is important. City-regions benefit hugely from scale economics. For example, a football stadium costs the same if you have a few people to pay for it or a lot of people to pay for it. People are also more productive and make more money in bigger cities. Gattis cites a variety of statistics on this, which should be familiar to anyone who has been reading about the research of Geoffrey West.
2. Income/Cost. The importance of cost adjusted personal income. Looking only at income provides an incomplete view since regions vary widely in costs, particularly housing cost. Per Gattis, Houston metro ranks #1 in the country in personal income adjusted for cost of living.
3. Business Climate Houston has no zoning and is just generally a pro-business environment, making it an attractive place for entrepreneurs and established businesses alike.
4. Mobility. Personal mobility, especially highways, is critical to expanding the “opportunity zone.” In fact, Gattis claims good auto mobility reduces sprawl. Houston is approaching the limit on freeway expansion, however, and transit options are needed. But given the highly dispersed nature of the region’s origins and destinations, bus would be far preferable to rail.
5. Organization. This is a bit of a non-sequitor in the the video, but the limits of hierarchy in the modern age is very apropos of urban redevelopment. Many cities seek redevelopment via a strong “top down” model. That’s still the best way to get things like stadiums and transit systems done. Unfortunately, things like reviving the urban core require an equally vibrant bottom up culture.
I don’t expect this video to convince many folks, but it is always good to hear divergent points of view.