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Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Tory Gattis on Social Systems Architecture and Why It Matters

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.

5 Comments
Topics: Economic Development, Public Policy, Urban Culture
Cities: Houston

5 Responses to “Tory Gattis on Social Systems Architecture and Why It Matters”

  1. Chris Barnett says:

    “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.”

    Any economist worth his salt would tell you this. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have written this very thing on this very blog before. :)

    It’s not the income, it’s the lifestyle the income buys.

  2. a skeptic says:

    social systems architecture: nice euphemism. another example of the soft fascism of urban planning, building better pyramids in the increasingly neutered new world where people dont particularly mind being objects. masses of hyper specialized contented cogs are easier to manipulate than willful, autonomous and fully skilled human beings.

  3. Tory says:

    To skeptic: I agree with your sentiments, which is why I chose Social Systems Architecture over Social Engineering. Engineering implies control. Architecture is about creating spaces where autonomous people do great things individually and collectively. If you get a chance to check out my blog, you’ll see I’m not much of a fan of most urban planning. In fact, here’s probably my key post on that:

    Planning: Panacea, Poison Pill, or just Purgatory?
    http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2007/01/planning-panacea-poison-pill-or-just.html

  4. Hobbs says:

    This guy is blind if he thinks the future of cities is all about expanding transportation and highway links even further out, in a place like Houston. Zero consideration that energy, especially oil/gas is NOT going to remain at prices that sustain Houston now… the future is a combination of local scale and telecommutes, not an hour one way freeway or bus ride.

  5. Tory says:

    I think when you stop expanding your highways, your core is eventually doomed to stagnation and decline as the jobs will move to the newer suburbs with better and more affordable housing and schools. I think the personal vehicle is a permanent part of our society – the gas-fueled internal combustion engine may give way to hybrids, batteries, fuel cells, biofuels, natural gas, or whatever depending on what oil prices do – but we’re not giving up our cars. I’m a big supporter of telecommuting and wish companies would do more, but there seems to be a natural market resistance, at least to full-time. People want to interact directly with other people at work. We are also in a two-income household society, and that means somebody in the house is probably commuting some distance – either that or sacrificing their career/job options to stay close. Mobility directly correlates to opportunity.

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