Houston, My Kind of City II

Houston, Texas

A reader, who knows of Marathon Girl and my fondness for Houston, forwarded me a great article from The New York Sun that compares New York City to Houston.

New Yorkers are rightly proud of their city's renaissance over the last two decades, but when it comes to growth, Gotham pales beside Houston. Between 2000 and 2007, the New York region grew by just 2.7%, while greater Houston — the country's sixth-largest metropolitan area — grew by 19.4%, expanding to 5.6 million people from 4.7 million.

To East Coast urbanites, Houston's appeal must be mysterious: The city isn't all that economically productive — earnings per employee in Manhattan are almost double those in Houston — and its climate is unpleasant, with stultifying humidity and more days with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees than any other large American city. Since these two major factors in urban growth don't explain Houston's success, what does?

Houston's great advantage, it turns out, is its ability to provide affordable living for middle-income Americans, something that is increasingly hard to achieve in the Big Apple. That Houston is a middle-class city is mirrored in the nature of its economy. Both greater Houston and Manhattan have about 2 million employees.

When Marathon Girl and I visited four years ago, we were surprised at how inexpensive the city was yet still provided all the amenities and services that we’d want if we lived there. It was the last thing we expected from such a big city, but our time in Houston and the surrounding area was enough to make us seriously consider living there. (Honestly, it’s just a matter of time until we end up moving there.)

We were especially floored by the low housing prices. The reason for the low housing prices are addressed in the article

Houston… has always been gung ho about development. Houston's builders have managed — better than in any other American city — to make the case to the public that restrictions on development will make the city less affordable to the less successful.

Of course, Houston's development isn't costless. Like most growing places, it must struggle with water issues, sanitation, and congestion. For environmentalists who worry about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, Houston's rapid growth is particularly worrisome, since Houstonians are among the biggest carbon emitters in the country — all those humid 90-degree days mean a lot of electricity to cool off, and all that driving gobbles plenty of gas.

But Houston's success shows that a relatively deregulated free-market city, with a powerful urban growth machine, can do a much better job of taking care of middle-income Americans than the more "progressive" big governments of the Northeast and the West Coast.

Taking the cost of living, salaries (they’re much higher in NYC), taxes, etc. residents of Houston come out with more money in their pockets and a higher quality of life. That’s not to say that the city’s perfect. Houston does have hot, muggy weather most of the year and higher property taxes than NYC (and Utah, for that matter). But overall, it’s impressive that a city as big as Houston can be such a middle class magnet and a good place to raise a family.

Since I’ve been more vocal about my desire to live there, it’s amazing how many friends, co-workers, and acquaintances have family members who have relocated from Utah to the Houston area in the last five years. All say that the friends/family who moved there really like it.

(It should be noted that I have about a half-dozen regular blog readers who live there or have lived there at some point and have nothing but positive things to say about the city and living there.)

Yeah, I think relocating to Houston is simply a matter of time.