Promoting the Houston model in South Africa, Morocco, and California

I’m back! Apologies for the sporadic posts in October – it was quite the travel month for me: two smart cities workshops (Johannesburg, South Africa and Marrakesh, Morocco), another workshop on the California affordable housing crisis with this guy (Irvine, CA), work in Connecticut, and fill-in mini-vacations in Cape Town and Barcelona (and I highly recommend both!). Whew. Way too much time on airplanes. But now I’m back in H-town and ready to be settled at home for a while.

Some items of interest from the trips:

  • In Johannesburg, I presented the MetroNext 2040 plan and how it had evolved politically, especially from light rail to BRT. It got a ton of interest in the small group breakouts/Q&A. A lot of curiosity about BRT and MaX Lanes. Glad to see the plan passed strongly. Congrats, Metro. Now can we execute quickly on the plan while staying under budget? 😉
  • In Marrakesh, I presented the Houston model of opportunity urbanism and no-zoning, which definitely sparked a spicy debate from the smart-growthers in the room! The workshop focus was Middle Eastern/North African cities, and I got the impression their representatives were much more receptive to a model that focuses on affordability and opportunity.
  • In California… well, to be frank, California is pretty screwed. Their housing is completely unaffordable and getting worse, as demand far outpaces new supply. Their CEQA environmental law makes it easy for any anonymous party to sue to stop any development anywhere, which has basically killed development. Both the environmental and labor movements – which essentially control the California government – acknowledge the flaws, but aren’t willing to give up the leverage it gives them. My solution pitch was MaX Lanes to connect remote suburban housing markets to vibrant coastal job centers with high-speed autonomous buses.

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Now finishing this post with a couple of pictures from the trip:

Meeting the Mayor in the Johannesburg city council chambers, which are quite impressive, but I can’t imagine trying to run a city government with that many different representatives (at least a 100+). Glad Houston keeps it a more manageable number, even if our council chambers aren’t as impressive.

The “Houston, we have a problem” meme has even made it to Barcelona bus shelters, lol 🙄  Well, at least we’re known globally, right?

Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Center for Opportunity Urbanism and co-authored the original study with noted urbanist Joel Kotkin and others, creating a city philosophy around upward social mobility for all citizens as an alternative to the popular smart growth, new urbanism, and creative class movements. He is also an editor of the Houston Strategies blog.