June 13, 2007
Kotkin v. Falkenberg

I mentioned before the talk Joel Kotkin gave to the Greater Houston Partnership recently, and wondered when we'd hear more about it from Tory Gattis. That answer came in Sunday's op-ed pages, where Tory wrote one of the longer submitted pieces I can recall seeing. He's reproduced it here. As I said, I haven't spent too much time studying this (it's the whole only-24-hours-in-the-day problem), but I know Kotkin raises some interesting points, so it is worthwhile reading.

Meanwhile, the Chron's Lisa Falkenberg has a critique.

"It may not be glamorous," Kotkin ends his paper. "But Opportunity Urbanism offers a growing America the most promising path to creating successful and sustainable 21st century cities."

Yeah, but if the place is dirty, boring and smothered in concrete, who the heck would want to live here?

Kotkin's argument seems regressive, or digressive, from the progress members of the Partnership have made in recent years to balance business concerns with concern about quality-of-life issues such as air quality, congestion and green space. This past session, the Partnership helped the mayor lobby for a bill to improve Houston's air. It failed because of politics, not because of complacency.

Kotkin argues that he's not advocating business-as-usual. Rice University sociology professor Stephen Klineberg agrees, but he says it's easy to get confused.

"It's a misreading of Kotkin to see it as a celebration of the status quo," Klineberg said. "But it's a misreading that he brought on himself."

The problem is that Kotkin spends so much time building up the city in his paper that he waits until the last chapter to mention the daunting challenges, like education and diversifying the old-energy economy. And even then, he doesn't discuss air quality and offers few potential solutions.

"It's going to strengthen those forces in Houston that say 'to hell with quality-of-life issues. What matters is private enterprise success,' " Klineberg said.

It's increasingly clear, however, that you can't have one without the other.

Also good reading. Check 'em both out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 13, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston