How much of Houston's population is white
Houston in Texas anticipates a development that will shape the entire United States in thirty years: There is no longer a dominant population group. The city is so successful because it's not trying to tame growth right now.
The catchment area of the Texas metropolis Houston is as large as half of Switzerland. 6.2 million people live here. The region is the nightmare of urban planners and environmentalists. Because the settlements are sprawling unplanned, compact building is a foreign word. The city was built around the car because it allows you to take the air conditioner with you wherever you go, as the locals jokingly say. What may sound unattractive to European ears, embodies the chance for immigrants from Central America, but also for well-educated Americans, to realize their “American dream”. No city in the US is growing as fast as Houston. And if you only associate New York with the “melting pot”, you have to relearn. No city is as ethnically diverse as Houston.
Consequences for love life
The sociologist Stephen Klineberg of Rice University has followed Houston's development since 1982. As luck would have it, Houston fell into a major crisis just as he first conducted a survey on the sensitivities of the population. The price of oil fell from $ 35 per barrel in 1980 to $ 10 within a few years. Every seventh job in Houston was lost. Since 1980 the population has changed more than in any other city in the world. At that time, 63% of the residents of Harris County - the metropolitan center of the area that is home to two-thirds of the population - were white, 20% black, 16% Hispanic. Thirty years later, Hispanics form the largest group with 41%, ahead of whites with 33%, blacks with 18% and Asians with 8%. This transformation does not stop at the love life: 57% of the white residents of Houston between the ages of 18 and 39 have already had a relationship with someone from another ethnic group. For whites over 70 years of age, this proportion is only 13%. Houston anticipates a development that will also shape the USA in thirty years: There will no longer be a dominant population group.
If only Klineberg could do something to increase equal opportunities, he would establish a community-funded preschool for children under five. He points out that when school starts, children from poor families are already two years behind children from better-off backgrounds. A group that also includes the Greater Houston Partnership, the business interest group, is currently collecting 80,000 signatures for an initiative to create more preschool places. In order to remain a magnet for the highly qualified, the city center must become more attractive, argues Klineberg. A lot has happened here in the last few years. You can easily get to the pretty campus of Rice University from the city center using the new tram. And Klineberg raves about the new Discovery Green city park, where he gave a lecture to over a thousand listeners. When visiting on a Sunday afternoon, many families cavort in the park, which was previously a large parking lot. The stadium for Houston's baseball team, the Astros, was also built in the immediate vicinity.
Even so, it remains difficult to revitalize the city center. Most restaurants are only open for lunch. In view of the sultry summer heat, a twelve-kilometer tunnel system connects the high-rise office buildings with one another. Many shops and "food courts" are therefore underground. And these tunnels are also closed after the office closes.
Spatial planning as a foreign word
Texans have only a limited understanding of European ideas about urban planning. Instead, the entrepreneur Tory Gattis prefers to speak of “opportunity urbanism”, which Houston embodies. There is no great planning idea at its center. Rather, a city should put as few obstacles in the way of its residents as possible in their efforts to promote social advancement, says the Houston native. On the one hand, this includes low taxes and little regulation. Both the state of Texas and the city of Houston - unlike the federal government - do not levy income taxes. The city is financed through property and sales taxes. What distinguishes Houston from other cities, however, is that there is no zone planning. The city does not divide its area into residential and commercial zones and does not require that high-rise office buildings only be in the center.
However, that does not mean that you can suddenly set up a refinery on your property. It is common for the owners in a residential area to have a clause in the sales contract that prohibits them from building a commercial property or a high-rise building. Such a restriction applies, for example, to thirty years. After these thirty years, the homeowners decide whether the clause should be renewed or repealed. It is therefore a purely private-sector agreement. This sometimes leads to conflicts when building a multi-storey apartment complex on an unrestricted parcel that is close to a single-family home area. It is also noticeable that residential towers in Houston are isolated from one another. This has to do with the fact that the client wants to give the residents an all-round view, which would not be possible with dense construction in the city center.
It is true that people in New York or Washington earn more than in Houston. At the same time, however, the cost of living in Houston is lower. A typical house (median) cost $ 164,000 at the beginning of 2013, in the catchment area of the capital Washington, at $ 349,000, a good double that. Overall, the cost of living in Houston is 11% lower than the national average, while the price level in New York is 55% and in Washington 36% higher. The money therefore goes further for the typical household in Houston than in many cities on the east and west coasts.
Tory Gattis not only speaks of “opportunity urbanism”, but is also currently launching a startup that breathes its spirit. Together with a partner, he wants to set up a network for coached schooling. A coach organizes a group of 30 children between the ages of 10 and 18. The focus is on individual work and e-learning. It is planned that the coaches, who are self-employed, rent rooms from churches. In this way, the costs for administration and the building can be minimized. "Coached schooling" is to be offered for $ 2,500 per year and is aimed at middle-class families who are dissatisfied with the public school. The central question that Gattis will be testing “in the field” from autumn is whether a coach can look after 30 children. He received the start-up capital from a libertarian businessman from California.
The companies move to the country
The economist Robert Gilmer, who worked for the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas for many years, also touches on zone planning, or rather, its absence. The greater Houston area has huge land reserves. A contractor can start a new greenfield water and sanitation district in Houston. In other cities, growth is controlled by the need to connect these services to the existing network. In Houston, by contrast, virtually any large parcel of land can become a new suburb. Planned single-family housing estates with 50,000 to 100,000 inhabitants are being created. Corporations are now increasingly settling where the employees live. The oil company Exxon Mobil is currently building a campus for 10,000 employees in the Woodlands community, founded in 1974, 50 km north of downtown. The greater Houston region is thus a patchwork quilt with many centers that are connected to one another by highways. Only about 7% of all jobs are located in downtown. Planners would probably speak of a “slurry of settlements”. But according to Gilmer, this “libertarian” policy has played a decisive role in preventing a real estate bubble from building up in Houston. Rather, the supply adapts to demand rather flexibly.
Since 2003, 425,000 net jobs have been created in the greater Houston area. This has to do with the rising energy demand from the emerging countries, which has increased the price per barrel of oil to over $ 100. As long as the price per barrel exceeds $ 70, Houston will be fine, because then the development of deposits in the deep sea or in claystones will be worthwhile, says Gilmer. And in contrast to the 1980s, when Houston's companies were still fixated on the USA, they are now active globally, planning and building a refinery in Nigeria, for example, explains Patrick Jankowski from the Greater Houston Partnership, which is committed to a thriving business climate begins. The global setup has thus reduced susceptibility to crises. It fits in with the fact that Jankowski's son, a geologist, is evaluating the reserves of crude oil and natural gas in Bolivia for the state-owned energy company.
Efficiency versus Justice
The local baseball team is not called “Oilers”, but “Astros”, expressing an aspiration of the city that has been disappointed: manned space travel. “Houston, we have a problem”, uttered during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, became a popular expression. However, the future of manned space travel is uncertain. The Johnson Space Center still employs 13,000 people. Many fired engineers have found refuge in the oil industry, says Jankowski. For example, oil production in the deep sea under extreme conditions places similar demands on the material as exploration in space, with key roles in robotics.
The city of Houston, with the Democrat Annise Parker as mayor, has little regulation like the state in which it is located. In any case, it is no coincidence that Texas allows the exploitation of shale gas deposits, while there is a moratorium in New York (see addendum). In addition, the social safety net in Texas is very wide-meshed. Nobody has to go hungry, and if someone becomes seriously ill, no hospital can turn them away. But you can't expect more. At the same time, however, more jobs have been created in the Houston region in ten years than the entire city of Zurich currently has. According to the sociologist Klineberg, 90% of the residents say that life here is better than in other big city regions. Given a poverty rate of 24% (2011) and the fact that 29% are without health insurance, this is a high percentage.
Ultimately, this is likely due to the fact that Houston opens up opportunities for immigrants of all skill levels. An immigrant may start out in a low-paying service job. But Houston is also a major industrial location with its refineries and chemical plants. There are many jobs for academics at the corporate headquarters of the petroleum industry or at the Texas Medical Center, the largest such complex in the United States, where 100,000 people work alone. The city may seem faceless to a stranger at first sight. But this is the result of a stupendous dynamic: Every thirty years or so Houston seems to reinvent itself. Houston is not fooling anyone. The city's motto could therefore be: Be, not appear.
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