Houston's Future

Urban historian Joel Kotkin is an admirer of Houston's friendly approach to business. His new study says successful cities provide broad-based opportunities for the masses rather than just try to attract a class of well-educated young professionals. Houston Public Radio's Ed Mayberry reports.

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Houston joins Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and Charlotte in offering the most compelling models for urban greatness, according to Joel Kotkin, a senior fellow at the Washington-based New America Foundation think tank. Kotkin says the study provides a counterpoint to the current assumptions that luring affluent, well-educated "creative elites" as the key to a successful urban strategy.

"And what we found as we did the research many of the cities that had been held as being the hip, cool cities were losing population, losing jobs were relatively stagnant, even through the recovery, and that they were actually losing educated people. At the other hand, places like Houston, Phoeniz, Atlanta were gaining, quite strongly."

Kotkin says cities that foster job growth, offer affordable housing and create entrepreneurial opportunities are the most vibrant.

"I think that what we're doing is we're re-establishing the notion that cities are something other than an urban glamour zone. And that has been the predominant urban strategy for 50 years. The great exceptions to that have been these burgeoning cities like Houston, like Dallas, that have taken a different path."

The report, commissioned by the Greater Houston Partnership, concludes that Houston should continue its traditions of low taxes and limited regulations. The Partnership sees Kotkin's report as a blueprint for Houston's growth.

"I think that there's something really going on, and I think if Houston continues to improve its appearances, plants trees, helps with its parks, and continues to grow it economy in the way it has been doing, I think it's going to be very attractive to young people coming down the road, and for older people who have said, 'well, you know I worked 30 years in San Jose and I've got this skill, and if I transfer that skill to Houston, I can actually buy a house, I can live much better, my kids can go to good schools." Ed: "So it's down to jobs and economy and dollars andξcents and quality of life, I mean..." "Well, and I use the term 'affordable quality of life.' A lot of us would like to live in one of those amazing houses in San Francisco and Pacific Heights. But those things are not even things that we could consider--even the affluent can't consider, only the super-affluent can. So we begin to think about what type of quality we can have. Now for most people, quality refers to schools, refers to safety, refers to the size of their house, the amount of privacy, the basic ability to get to work relatively easily, compared to some other places--a whole series of more mundane things that often don't get counted when people say these are the best places."

Kotkin says as a result of being an opportunity region, other problems will have to be solved, such as finding ways to absorb less-educated migrations that will also be attracted to jobs and opportunity. But Kotkin's theory is that one of the primary historic roles of cities has been to nurture and grow a middle class, in order to be an engine of upward social mobility. Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

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