June 06, 2007
"Just be yourself"

Why does this article about Joel Kotkin's talk to the Greater Houston Partnership give me an after-school special vibe?

Just be yourself, Houston.

That was the essence of the message delivered to the Greater Houston Partnership on Tuesday by urban historian Joel Kotkin, who urged the region's leaders not to be seduced by strategies focused on luring the "creative class" of hip young professionals.

Instead, Kotkin argued, Houston should continue its traditions of low taxes and limited regulations to maintain a favorable business environment and a low cost of living. Local governments, he said, should focus on expanding highway capacity and improving street and drainage systems.

"Downtown Houston will never be Midtown Manhattan," said Kotkin, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, and the author of several books on urban issues.

Just believe in yourself and people will love you for who you are! Who needs therapy, anyway?

OK, I think I've got that out of my system. On a more serious note:

In a report commissioned by the partnership, entitled "Opportunity Urbanism: An Emerging Paradigm for the 21st Century," Kotkin argues that quality-of-life issues such as parks and cultural amenities need not be a top priority of local leaders.

These amenities, he said, develop organically in cities with strong economies that can help lift working-class people into the middle class.

Mayor Bill White said he agrees with Kotkin's description of Houston as an "opportunity city" that's open to new ideas and new residents from diverse backgrounds.

But Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor who has studied Houston for 25 years, said Kotkin's analysis represents a "serious misreading of the new competitive environment facing American cities like Houston in the 21st century."

Kotkin doesn't place enough emphasis on the need to provide a good education to the immigrants and other ethnic minorities who make up most of the Houston area's younger population, said Klineberg, who spoke briefly at the partnership luncheon after Kotkin's speech.

"If Houston is to have anything like the skilled work force we will need in the years ahead," Klineberg said, its leaders must "ensure that all children in Houston, regardless of their parents' incomes, have access to quality health care, to affordable housing and, above all, to truly effective public education from preschool through college."

Kotkin's report is here. He's got some provocative ideas, and it's always good to get an outside perspective, but if we're talking about Houston I'll take Klineberg over Kotkin.

Tory was at the talk but hasn't posted on it yet. I'll be interested to see what he says.

One more thing, on the subject of green space: The article quotes a couple who moved from Connecticut to a master-planned subdivision in Fort Bend. I think it's important to draw a distinction between development like this, where things like green space are included by the builders, and development in denser urban areas, where there is no budget or incentive for park space to be created. New parks are not going to be created "organically" inside the Loop. There has to be some sort of mandate for it to happen. We can argue about what fraction of space in the core city needs to be green, and we can argue about what share of the financing for it should be public, but it's not going to appear as a side effect of townhome/high rise construction.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 06, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

Kotkin has found a way to make money by catering to groups eager to promote a Republican agenda for urban areas. Klineberg was correct in his comments, but he was way too nice to Kotkin. More highways? Has he heard nothing about air quality or the escalating cost of gasoline? No need to worry about parks? What a creep! The Greater Houston Partnership should report the stipend paid to Kotkin as a contribution to the Harris County Republican Party.

Posted by: Temple Houston on June 6, 2007 3:03 PM

"Just believe in yourself and people will love you for who you are! Who needs therapy, anyway?"

You know, it sounds so much more convincing come from you than, say, Stuart Smalley.

Posted by: Brooks on June 7, 2007 12:02 PM

Tory apparently helped with Kotkin's study - so no surprise the report advocates "cheap growth." The Partnership got exactly what it commissioned - permission to keep on doing business as usual - even at the expense of Houston's future. The next report the Partnership commissions should be one on timing - ie when to jump ship - when to take the money and run because the city is unlivable and there are no more natural or human resources to exploit.

Posted by: PMSL on June 12, 2007 8:27 AM