Kotkin: Lone Star Rising

A publicist for The American, a journal of ideas affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute, passes along an article about Houston ("Lone Star Rising") by Joel Kotkin in the latest issue. Here's an excerpt that captures Kotkin's thrust:

Given these trends, it seems likely that the next great American city will emerge from the ranks of the opportunity cities. The ultimate winner will come from those that keep up with the infrastructure needed to accommodate their growth. They also will have to deal with issues of education, crime, and creating a skilled workforce— issues that are important anywhere, of course, but can be particularly challenging in a rapidly growing metropolis.

Perhaps the key factor that will influence the rise of the next great American city is the ability to fit into the global economy. An opportunity city with only modest links overseas can certainly grow rapidly, but only an urban center with powerful ties to global commerce is likely to achieve greatness.

Opportunity Cities- U.S.This may be where the case for Houston’s emergence is strongest. From its inception, Houston has been oriented to markets outside the country, first through its exports of timber and cotton and later as a major oil port. Trade and the global connections of the energy industry have also paced the development of internationally minded banks, business-service firms, hotels, and specialized shopping areas. An indicator of Houston’s international reach: it now ranks third among U.S. cities, behind Los Angeles and New York, in the number of consulates located there.

Houston's willingness and ability to assimilate all sorts of people -- along with relatively cheap real estate (in real terms, but also in terms of minimally obtrusive development restrictions) that provides plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs (think of southwest Houston's "Chinatown" or the shops that dot Harwin) and international links via the port and a mostly well-managed international airport with plenty of capacity -- are certainly strengths in an age of global economic competition. So, too, is what has long been a prevailing sentiment/ethos against the sorts of restrictions and government heavy-handedness that choke growth and entrepreneurialism.

And over time, Houston has mostly scored well with one of Kotkin's keys: "Keep[ing] up with the infrastructure needed to accommodate... growth." The question is, are we keeping up well enough now? A city that becomes a murder capital because its leaders ignore for too long a manpower shortage in the police department is failing in terms of keeping up with public safety infrastructure. A city that ignores deteriorating public works infrastructure and flood/drainage improvements may be asking for trouble in this geographical area, in a time of growth. And an area that sinks so much of its public revenues into expensive trinkets like at-grade light rail (which transports few people), unnecessary convention hotels, and various sports facilities may find those commitments hinder the ability to fund the sorts of infrastructure improvements that Kotkin says will be needed for future growth.

These are just a few of the interesting questions raised directly or indirectly by Kotkin's piece. Please offer your thoughts in the comments.

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Posted by Kevin Whited @ 03/18/08 09:02 AM | Print |

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