One chart for all you Sprawlistas out there that keep arguing that Houston is some kind of role model for Auckland’s growth:


From Wiki, here. I figure this is self-explanatory. The dispersed spatial pattern of Houston is the single most expensive and inefficient type of urban form possible, but it can function there because of a set of specific local factors, including that Houston is at the centre of a largely flat plain without geographical constraints like, you know, two harbours. But especially because of economic conditions that are pretty unique to Houston compared to other cities in the OECD.

Houston is at the centre of a petro-state. It is energy rich, especially in hydrocarbons; oil and gas, for all that driving. But also, and this may surprise some, Texas is home to the largest concentrations of wind turbines in the US. Something’s got to keep all that aircon running. Solar is growing very fast too, it being both sunny and windy there, and large areas of land are available throughout the state with few other competing uses, especially as increasing droughts threaten the large agriculture business. Texas is energy rich and Houston is the capital of the US energy industry.

From the Houston Wiki page:

Houston is recognized worldwide for its energy industry—particularly for oil and natural gas—as well as for biomedical research and aeronautics. Renewable energy sources—wind and solar—are also growing economic bases in Houston.[79][80] The ship channel is also a large part of Houston’s economic base. Because of these strengths, Houston is designated as a global city by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and Network and by global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.[11]

The Houston area is a leading center for building oilfield equipment.[81] Much of Houston’s success as a petrochemical complex is due to its busy ship channel, the Port of Houston.[82] The port ranks first in the United States in international commerce, and is the tenth-largest port in the world.[12][83] Unlike most places, high oil and gasoline prices are beneficial for Houston’s economy as many of its residents are employed in the energy industry.[84] [my emphasis]

And also:

The predominant form of transportation in Houston is the automobile with 71.7 percent of residents driving alone to work[157] This is facilitated through Houston’s freewaysystem, comprising 739.3 miles (1,189.8 km) of freeways and expressways in a ten-county metropolitan area.[158] However, the Texas Transportation Institute‘s annual Urban Mobility Report found that Houston had the fourth-worst congestion in the country with commuters spending an average of 58 hours in traffic in 2009.[159][my emphasis]

But perhaps there’s some hope because:

Houston has the largest number of bike commuters in Texas with over 160 miles of dedicated bikeways.[163][164] The city is currently in the process of expanding its on and off street bikeway network.[165] A newBicycle sharing system known as Houston B-Cycle currently operates 11 different stations in the downtown area and 7 in other parts of Houston.[166]

But really, Houston’s conditions are so distant from Auckland’s that it is not realistic to point to its urban form as an answer to our situation. Even if we were agreed that Houston’s pattern is is even desirable:

West Houston
West Houston
Suburban Houston
Suburban Houston
Houston HW3 During the evacuation from Hurricane Katrina
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  1. How can anyone ever even talk about Houston in comparison to Auckland? Why the hell would anyone want to live in a city like that?

    1. Well many Americans clearly want to. Houston, Dallas & other ‘sprawling’ cities are growing a lot faster than any of the dense northeastern cities & Auckland for that matter.

    2. I’m no Houston expert, but I think the argument is not that Houston’s sprawl is something that Auckland should necessarily emulate, but that Houston doesn’t suffer from the same land-use restrictions that Jafastan does.

      As a result there is more choice as to where to develop and housing is relatively more affordable. So if people are happy to trade-off being stuck in traffic jams to have a cheap house, they are free to do so

      It’d have to be pretty damn cheap to make me want to live there though

      1. Firstly, I don’t think Houston’s ‘free-market’ system is perfect. They still have some unnecessary rules like Minimum lot sizes, parking requirements etc.

        Regardless I still think the free market system is the best model to follow. Removing all the zoning, limits etc. will mean that Aucklanders will get the housing that Aucklanders want. I don’t think it automatically means sprawl like some of y’all think, it just means people get to have what they want without all the planning rules that push prices up.

        1. Sorry to continue hijacking this thread but I just want to add that Houston has some pretty dense areas. These could be good models for what we’ll see in Auckland.


          Of course in America gas prices are still about $1 a litre so it’s likely we’ll see more of these types of housing in Auckland if my model is followed. Hopefully that’ll appease y’all. 🙂

        2. “All the planning rules” may (or may not) push prices up, but they’re there to create a balance. Building anything, houses included, always has negative as well as positive effects, which is where rules come in. The land used by sprawl has other existing or potential uses, eg farming, horticulture, forestry, open space, wildlife habitat, water catchment, all of them incompatible (to a greater or lesser extent) with being covered in houses. I want the community as a whole to have a say in this, hence the rules.

        3. You are exactly right in that the planning rules should be about achieving an optimal balance and accounting for the wider impacts of different land uses. In economics jargon, the rules should help ensure that ‘externalities’ (eg pollution, congestion, etc) are fully ‘internalised’ so that whatever development/land use decisions are made take into account all these effects and generate the best possible outcome for the wider community.

          Unfortunately the planning rules as they currently are leave two very important groups without a say. One being those that would like to live in more affordable houses on cheaper land further away from the CBD and don’t mind commuting. These “Sprawlites”, if you will, are blocked by the MUL.

          And two, those who would like to live close to the CBD in smaller dwellings on very small lots, the “Intensificators” you can think of them as. These people are blocked by intensification restrictions such as minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, etc.

          Now this isn’t to say that all planning rules should be completely done away with. Each of these choices can impose negative externalities that would otherwise go unaccounted for. But what it does mean is the planning and development rules should be about alleviating or managing these externalities directly, rather than just a bunch of simplified black and white, Stalinist decrees.

          For instance, if the negative externalities of sprawl include increased congestion and lower economies of scale with respect to utility infrastructure, then by all means introduce road pricing (ie congestion charges) and ensure that development contributions include an amount to reflect the higher infrastructure costs. Sprawl shouldn’t be subsidised, sprawlites should be made to pay the full costs they impose on society of their choices to live on greenfield developments.

          Similarly, if intensification results in, say, more efficient public transport services (eg through greater economies of scale perhaps) then development contributions or consent fees should be adjusted downwards to reflect these wider benefits.

          This approach would seem to me to be more likely to lead to a sensible outcome than blanket bans and arbitrary planning rules which are heavily distorting land prices and making Jafastan one of the least affordable cities on earth for its local population to buy a house.

          But hey, I already own a house inside the city limits. What do I care if the Council wants drive up land and dwelling prices through its chokehold on development (both outwards and upwards). It makes my house worth more…

        4. There are a third group who are also greatly ignored when it comes to ignoring the externalities of pollution. People who don’t like air pollution. Domestic heating policy in NZ (ie allowing woodburners in new and old homes) means that some people can’t live in towns or suburbs. Hence I have to live outside of a town, and I’ve found this year I can’t even go in on a winter’s evening to do my grocery shopping as it stinks so much.

          I think we need some more regulations to effectively control the externalities of suburban woodsmoke pollution.

          Auckland, as in the rest of NZ, badly needs this.

        5. and who wouldn’t want the housing that the richest aucklanders want?

          except the vast majority who aren’t the richest aucklanders

          but they don’t have money so who cares

        6. I assume you mean houses on small sections on the isthmus and close to bus routes as the housing that rich Aucklanders want?

        7. I assume that I meant letting the “free market” dictate the outcome would lead to anything but the deepest pockets shaping the outcome

          which is ultimately what the people shouting “free market” would let happen if they had their way. Libertarianism isn’t much more than code-speak for letting the wealthiest do as they please, which is the opposite of what a civil society should want or allow if it wants to keep calling itself civil society.

        8. Well you don’t understand the free market in that case. Unless you think rich people will develop housing that people don’t want for their own twisted pleasure. I don’t think there is a lot of evidence for that though.

        9. oh of course, it’s always a matter of not understanding it

          fleshing out the consequences is a matter for the plebes who don’t work hard enough to be rich of course

        10. Kurt the main effects of liberalizing land use would be more competition and more choice. Currently we have restricted supply by means on the MUL, minimum lot sizes, density controls etc. This all adds up to the development that does happen tending to the upper end of the market. You won’t find many affordable homes out at the long bay development for example. With less restrictions you will get developers catering to more market segments (like what happens in most other industries where there are fewer supply restrictions. E.g. Food, cars, clothing, entertainment etc).

        11. >With less restrictions you will get developers catering to more market segments

          if we didn’t suppose a gigantic gap between “what people want” and “what people will take given little alternative” this might be the case. unfortunately, as the sub-par housing situation in Auckland readily demonstrates, people are quite ready to accept all manner of horrid conditions in order to live in or near the city. whether that is out of necessity or not is less important than the fact that it happens.

          given that situation it is far from evident that “more choice” and “less regulation” is a solution; what prevents these same developers from maximizing their own return by doing what already does the job? by definition anyone who didn’t would be cutting into their own profits, which is hardly a smart business move. removing regulation rarely does anything but help the status quo.

          I guess if you’re fine putting blame on people “not working hard enough” despite obvious situational contexts that shape the outcomes, this is a good idea. to anyone else, it is not.

        12. When on earth was I blaming people for not working hard enough? The sort of liberalization I would propose would be a radical change from the status quo. It’s all about helping those who want more than they can get at the moment.

          If people can’t at the moment get the housing they want, isn’t choice exactly what is required?

        13. >isn’t choice exactly what is required?

          in ideal terms. but as I have said it is far from clear that removing regulations or chanting “free market! free market!” will bring that about, rather than solidify the position of the established interests who hold all the cards.

        14. Developers aim for profit. They will make more out of dense developments in hubs, ergo more of those will be built until the market returns to its natural balance.

          Not that I want full free market (insulation etc)

  2. I don’t exactly see what the problem is. They may use a lot of gasoline their but it is compensated by many other factors which are very cheap (housing especially). Look in the end, the economy in the large Texas cities are doing well, wages are high, people are moving there in droves so they clearly are doing something right.

    1. Yes they are but that doesn’t include the urban form; it does include being sunny, and having a lot of jobs going as energy repricing this century has lead to huge investment in this sector. It is false attribution to say: ‘Houston is growing therefore it must be because sprawl is great.’ Detroit is sprawlly too you know… why isn’t Detroit used as an argument for sprawl? Because it’s shrinking spectacularly, and failing…. if anything Detroit is even more of a sprawl town.

      1. I don’t think I’ve ever said sprawl is ‘great’, as I said above I think that removing pretty much all the planning rules is the best option.

        Houston is the best example of a free market housing city and its worked pretty well for them. Homes are affordable & unlike many other cities it managed to avoid the worst of the housing crash.

        Lastly I agree with you that their urban form especially in inner areas isn’t particularly great, fortunately Auckland already has that in many of its isthmus areas.

        1. If that is indeed the case, there is a moment of truth. Nearly five years on from the GFC kicking in ths cannot all be unsold speculative new stock. Therefore the possibility must be contemplated that many people in Houston are struggling to hold onto their homes. Seems to suggest Houston may not be all that affordable, whatever abstract economic measure might be used.

        2. Matt have you got a link for that figure?

          I did read that the subprime foreclosures went through the new suburbs of Phoenix like a tornado, but then Phoenix doesn’t have Houston’s economic base.

        3. Here’s some Phoenix foreclosure info including visualisation of the 100k+ foreclosures by geographic distribution:

          “The collapse started in new-housing areas on the fringes and then swept inward, hitting more established areas as the unemployment rate climbed.”

          Read more:

        4. Home building in Las Vegas stopped dead with the GFC. The first signs of getting underway again are happening now.

    2. Exactly. The fact that millions of people who could reasonably easily move elsewhere choose to live there and commute tells you something.

      As does the fact that thousands of Jafas are prepared to spend so much time sitting in traffic everyday in order to live out in outer Auckland suburbs. If they detested commuting so much, they could always move to New Plymouth

      1. it tells you that people go where there are jobs and cheap houses

        any added causality is a fiction added by those with a need to prove their commitment to Saint Mises and who are glad to have an example besides Somalia for once

      1. I’ve been there. Hated every minute of the two weeks I was there. A truly depressing, ugly city. I really couldn;t understand why someone would chose to live there.

  3. Wow. 18 lane freeway just in 1 direction and it is still a traffic jam!!!

    I had a week in LA last week, which is supposedly at the better end of that graph and it was a week of driving on freeways. Got on one freeway (the 210) just before exit 85 and got off at exit 7. That’s 124km away, and it is suburbs all the way. On some days it was hard to see the mountains behind Pasadena from a couple miles away.

    LA had some cool things, but as for driving around in a rental car, why bother with LA? The trip before with day passes on the Metro was a way better way to enjoy the city. Conversations in the car were like “Why has the traffic stopped?”, “I think it’s gone down to 5 lanes in each direction”.

    Came back to New Zealand and drove from Welly to Paraparaumu on a Monday night at 7pm and there was not another car in either direction on the whole straight at Mackay’s Crossing. “Why are we going to build the new motorways?” was the thought that came to mind.

    LA and Houston aren’t places to aspire to.

    1. No that’s a two way high way but from memory this photo is from a hurricane evacuation so everyone is driving in the same direction. In all other respects it’s not much different to the 13 lanes through St Mary’s Bay.

    2. The photo is somewhat misleading. It looks like both directions are being used for an evacuation of some sort. That being said, 18 lanes is still ridiculously wide.

      1. This whole blog is often misleading. I agree with it’s sentiment, but pulling stupid tricks doesn’t make it credible. At least Huston has a decent motorway to evacuate millions of people

        1. Auckland has more than enough motorway to evacuate its population by road, provided that vehicle use restrictions were enforced (ie: people required to carry their car’s maximum occupancy). A single lane can carry 2,000vph. We’ve got a minimum of four lanes (using both sides) all the way to Te Kauwhata and Puhoi, which at an average occupancy of 5 passengers per vehicle is 40k people per hour. The entirety of Auckland could be evacuated by car in just over two days, and that’s if everyone was only going in one direction. It’s pretty much unforeseeable that Auckland would need to be turned into an utterly empty ghost town in such a short space of time.

        2. Well, unless there’s a volcanic eruption or zombie apocalypse. One thing is for sure, if there was a city wide evacuation you wouldn’t be able to control the occupancy of any vehicle leaving the city.

        3. Even a volcanic eruption won’t require total evacuation in such a short space of time. One that develops in less than a week from rumbles to explosion will destroy most of the city, and ones that develop over several weeks will only cause serious damage over about a 2km radius.

          As for controlling vehicle occupancy, that’s what a state of emergency with armed police and soldiers manning road blocks is for.

        4. Well I don’t agree with your 2km radius damage prediction, not sure how anyone could make a call like that. But in any case, if I people have more than 15 minutes to evacuate, i can guarantee their cars are going to be full to the brim with food, water, clothes, bedding and other valuables. So unless they happen to have 4-5 people in their household and only one car, then there will definitely be a large percentage of cars that only have 1 or 2 passengers.

      2. Its contra-flow that was implemented in the evacuations for Hurricane Rita, by no means a normal day for traffic, so yes it is very misleading

  4. WIth the freeways so wide they take up a lot of acreage (and their noise cones degrade even more area). Houston could probably build nice townhouses of medium density and fit a couple million people into the land used up by freeways.

    In the US the surface grid is slow to use because of both the number of traffic lights, and the slow cycles they have. In Australia, and in NZ, where the traffic lights cycle quicker there is less need for freeways or motorways as it is not as frustratingly slow to go on the main arterials.

  5. Those photos of Houston don’t really look much different to Auckland. The freeways are around 6 lanes in each direction so basically the same as what has been built in St Mary’s Bay and what the North Western is being expanded to. The interchange may look nicer and more symmetrical but it’s certainly no smaller than the CMJ in Auckland. To be honest I don’t find Auckland is really any different than Houston and we’re certainly repeating all of their mistakes whilst not doing any of the things they are doing to try and get themselves out of the mess such as investing heavily in cycleways or expanding their tram system.

    And the suburban sprawl, you could have told me it was Flat Bush as it’s basically the exact same auto-dependent rubbish that Auckland is building now and will be building a HUGE amount more of over the next few years.

  6. I lived there about a decade ago and although I was in the suburbs I lived close enough to work to walk. I never once in a year saw anyone else doing it and frequently got offered a ride, as obviously anyone on foot must have broken down…

  7. I have been to Houston and I can say that there were a lot of streets with no footpaths and a lot of that casual ugliness and neglect the Americans seem to do so well

    but they do have bus and HOV lanes down the centre of many of their freeways, with massive P&R lots at the outskirts, where you can catch a bus to the CBD or form a car pool

    Houston did introduce me to cajun food for which I am grateful, but live there? not me

  8. I’ve been to LA and for my taste was a total shithole. Mostly horizon to horizon bungalows, mostly characterless, a few centres with high-rises.

    Bakersfield, an hour or so north of LA, was pretty bad too – no pavements through a good part of the city. My sister and I had to jaywalk from the place we were dropped off over to the library and back.

    To catch the train LA to SF we had to take a bus for 90 minutes from LA central railway station, change to our train in Bakersfield, then disembark at Oakland and catch another bus over into LA. Having lived several years in Europe by that time, I was apalled at the state of their transit.

  9. “I don’t think it automatically means sprawl like some of y’all think”

    I don’t think that any of us think that, rather the opposite. If you want to have Houston’s model of having to pay really high rates to a private company for 30 years to pay off infrastructure then I am more than welcome to live under that model. My apartment is gonna be pretty damned cheap.

    Also I would beg to differ that their housing is that cheap. Property of a comparable distance from the city centre in each city costs the same when you add in the rates cost.

  10. Houston is not a good example for full open market at all. Their HIRBs and minimum parkings are ridiculous, and minimum lot sizes plus massive subsidies to auto are ridiculous.

  11. I am no great fan of Houston (although I have never been there so can’t really comment). The only reason I would cite Houston is because it has liberal housing policies and cheap housing. There are very few large cities with liberal land use policies. If there were more I am sure they would be cited.

    The reason why Houston uses so much petrol is not because of its lack of zoning, it is because driving is heavily subsidised and roads aren’t properly priced, and because Houston does have minimum lot sizes.

    So one front Houston has liberal land use but on another it is just as bad or worse than elsewhere. Ideally I’d like Auckland to have the best of all worlds.

  12. I think the point of this post may have been missed in some of the comments about who’s been to Houston and whether that qualifies them to have an opinion on whether they want to live there.. I haven’t and I don’t, for what it’s worth. Isn’t the intent to reflect on energy use as well as land use?
    The chart presents a striking correlation between the two.. and it is just astonishing how inefficient energy use is in Houston. 30% worse than Phoenix?! (I have been there.. in fact I’ve probably been to all the dots except Perth and Detroit but who cares?)
    Stop and consider the numbers for a minute: 80 GJ / year equates to 2,200 litres of petrol at 36 MJ / litre, if Wikipedia is to be believed. As an aside, if your average Houstonian car manages 10 km / litre, that means your average Houstonian is travelling 22,000 km / year by car. What a waste of time!! But I digress again..
    What would be the cost if we replicated that here. At NZD 2 / litre that means spending $ 4,400 per year or $ 370 / month just on fuel. Whereas in Copenhagen, they are eking out their existence on 275 litres of petrol per year. $ 550 / year or just $ 46 / month. Sure, they may be spending more on trains and buses, though equally as we all know a considerable number of kms will be travelled by bike.
    Now consider what happens if petrol is $ 5 / litre. Houston $ 11 k / year v Copenhagen $ 1.3 k / year.
    Or what if petrol supplies are interrupted and temporarily unavailable.. surely not an altogether remote possibility given the situation in the Middle East? How would the alternatives stack up in Houston v Copenhagen? Can I suggest that one of those two would continue to function as a “world city” relatively unimpeded, but the other would be completely and utterly unable to function.
    Now.. which model would we like to follow here in Auckland? Leaving aside the fact that our geography doesn’t permit us to follow the Houston model even if we wanted to. The two harbours, the Waitakeres, the Hunuas.. plus the fabulously productive Franklin farmland that we would be throwing away for ever if we concrete over it. When people talk about it not mattering in a NZ context if we increase AK’s footprint from 1% to 2-3% of the landmass, that’s what they’re talking about.. all of the above gone forever, for housing and roads.
    Besides, who could afford to live out there (presumably the jobs will remain where they are, if not become more concentrated in the CBD and surrounds, in line with global trends)? You can still get petrol in Houston for USD 3 / US gallon, which is NZD 1.26 / litre. So even if we ignore the energy use, the oil dependency (and its climate change implications) we would need a 40% cut in petrol prices to get a level playing field. Is that going to happen?
    Anyone seriously wanting Houston over here, even if they love the place over there, is simply a fantasist, and a dangerous, disingenuous one at that.

    1. Yes thank you BW that is the point of the post, but there is another subsequent point that is also essential. Although petrol is cheaper in general in the US than most countries due to lower duties they have not been exempt from the recent global repricing of energy caused by this century’s supply/demand crunch. And this has greatly affected the viability and indeed popularity of many of the more auto-dependant parts of that great nation. But significantly some places, most obviously net oil exporting nations like the Gulf States, and the petro-state parts of the former Soviet Union, have also been beneficiaries of this repricing.

      This is also true to certain parts of the US and Canada. Alberta because of the Oil Sands resource there, and North Dakota and Texas because of the current Shale Oil boom. While ND’s Bakken resource is more commonly mentioned in the media, there is also an important shale resource in Texas called the Eagle Ford Shale. Add this to the continuing but declining conventional oil and gas industry in Texas, Gulf of Mexico, and the fact that Houston is the global headquarters of the oil and gas servicing industry and you can see how Houston is much less affected by increased costs of auto-dependancy than other areas that are not benefiting from the huge boom in energy business. Put simply; a lot of Houstonians are earning a lot more money so the rise in pump prices are inconsequential. So far.

      As I quote from Wiki:

      “Unlike most places, high oil and gasoline prices are beneficial for Houston’s economy as many of its residents are employed in the energy industry.[84]”

      By comparison Auckland does not enjoy this up-side to the high costs of auto-dependancy and basically cannot afford Houston’s spatial order and private car based transport system. Even if we wanted it.

      1. Furthermore I don’t believe that even Houston will be able to sustain this spatial order and transport balance for too much longer, making it an even more absurd model to follow.
        Below is chart of actual and projected production form the Bakken Shale Oil resource in North Dakota showing the extremely high decline rates of frackked shale oil systems. We can assume that Eagle Ford will show a similar trend [from here: :

        This is what is know as the ‘Red Queen’ phenomenon; where increasing numbers of wells need to be drilled and frakked just in order to replace the production from the high decline rates of existing wells [running hard to stand still; Lewis Carrol]. Unlike conventional fields where a relatively small number of straws can be poked into the reservoir and once ramped up a constant rate of production can go on for years or even decades for the super giants like the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia.

        This means that the cost to retrieve this ‘unconventional oil’ is very high which is why it is only being done now with near USD100 oil, but also it means these is huge amounts of work on the ground for roughnecks, rig suppliers, and drill service companies. So while the margin is tight for the oil majors themselves it is boom time on the ground in ND and Texas. Hugely affecting the local economies. Classic boom/ bust resource effect that the history of the US is full of; gold, coal, oil, now Shale Oil.

    2. Thanks Patrick for bringing this up.
      Commenters who say “well yes, Houston’s ‘burbs are a long way away, but petrol’s cheap, so it’s all OK” are only looking at the economics of the individual, not of society, or the world.
      A dollar saved on housing by spending 50 cents on fuel might make personal economic sense, but it doesn’t make sense for the planet.
      As a society we can’t afford (in both an economic, and environmental and a moral sense) to live like they live in Houston. They can’t afford it either- they just don’t know it yet.
      Alex Steffen points out that in the next three decades there’s going to be as much new built environment as there has been built in the history of the world. Once in a planet’s lifetime opportunity to do it right or do it wrong. I’m not optimistic.

      1. More importantly they are building a city for current prices, not future. Houston’s mentality seems to be CHEAP NOW!

  13. Houston has lower average gasoline prices than even the rest of Texas, too, and Texas is quite a lot lower than the US average. As I type, Houston Gas Prices is reporting –
    US average: USD3.620/gal
    Texas average: USD3.391/gal
    Houston average: USD3.367/gal.

    That means Houston’s average is only 93% of the US average, and the US average equates to NZD4.49; more than double the current average price for 91 petrol on NZ’s main islands.

    1. A US gallon is 3.3 litres. So It isn’t $4.49 a litre Matt. It is NZ$1.36 a litre. Signifcantly less than double the average price for 91.

      The commonest form over there is 87, not 91 too.

  14. One assumption I have observed from pro-sprawl advocates is that they will show pictures of high rises in Hong Kong and state that people are basically trapped in these apartments with no choice.

    However, if someone moves to Houston and lives in a McMansion 40kms from the city centre, pro-sprawl advocates assume that can only be a completely free choice and a triumph of the free market.

    Yet Hong Kong is a thriving city and many people, including most of China, would be happy to live there for the quality of life and high salaries. Houston is also a thriving city with low salaries but a low cost of living.

    What people really want is a lovely big house surrounded by green, close to the city centre. In other words they want to be wealthy. What a surprise.

    1. Yes exactly. Sometimes it seems that one of the drivers [sorry] for the sprawl promoters is to justify the urge to build those motorways…. it’s all a crazy circle; gotta sprawl to prove the need for the motorways we want to build; gotta build the motorways to reach all those people that *want* to live way out on the edge….. never mind that it is the single most expensive spatial order all tolled.

  15. Houston the new Angkor,
    Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world with an urban sprawl of 1,150 square miles. Lasted about 300 years

  16. This article demonstrates in some detail that Houston is far from a free market or free of zoning:

    Amazing that the Houston City Council has been given the power to enforce private restrictive deeds at the cost of the tax payer. Also, a 51% majority of residents can request that the Council puts in place zoning restrictions where no private deed exists or has expired. Apparently these private deeds cover 75% of the Houston area.

  17. Patrick, I like you man, I like you. But may I label this a troll post? You specify that the point of this post regards efficient vs inefficient accessibility (land-use/transport infrastructure) in an urban area but your first line is an attack on ‘sprawlistas’. Now, perhaps you could clarify the group you deem to be ‘sprawlistas’ but the group I’m thinking of who are sprawlistas do not argue what is energy efficient urban form or not. Their main point is that housing has been permitted to locate wherever, and this has resulted in an incredible amount of social and economic growth in the Houston area (affordable housing). Bear in mind, taken the absurd amount of land dedicated to automobiles suggests that it is still town planners — completely disconnected from the social cost of that commodity — who acquired and distributed that land as road. I feel like this post was set up to set off the ol’ left vs right bollocks, with the right pretending to be free market whilst the left pretending they know what the meaning of social justice is based upon their life experiences and what their granddaddy always told them to value as a child growing up.

    Secondly, may I question how you know whether this is energy efficient or not? You slap up some graph specifying that the density is extremely low in Houston and that this correlates with extremely high gasoline consumption. But how do you know that individuals in Houston are not off-setting other more costly energy uses with gasoline? Perhaps the social cost of getting 250 labourers consuming their meat pies all day long and farting up a hugely gaseous concrete apartment block is less than a smaller home. Perhaps these off-set costs from cheaper housing can go towards solar panels, or organic farming in some poor country like NZ? Basically, I have no freakn idea as this calculation is committed by millions of individuals acting based on their values, but my point is that this post certainly does not lead me to understanding this ‘calculation’ any better. Rather invokes shallow discussions of individual utopias torn between left and right socialists.

    PS I realise that you are extremely passionate and that it takes a huge amount of effort to put up posts etc. I just want you to do better, as you often teach me a lot.

    Your favourite libertarian.

    1. Well if you think you have good evidence that highly dispersed auto-dependant urban form isn’t hugely wasteful of energy, and in particular precious liquid fuels, then I suggest you bring it, but speculating on whether more pies are eaten by apartment builders over house builders seems rather a poor effort compared to the data I’ve collated, don’t you think?

      Furthermore do you deny that petrol costs half as much in Houston as in Auckland currently and that Houston’s economy benefits enormously from the growth is the increasingly desperate search for ever more liquid fuels to burn and the subsequent new high price of energy [again, especially liquid fuels]? So much so that that this critical difference between the two cities, ignored by yes, the Sprawlistas; Brash, Basset, Pavelich, and all the rest, therefore making Houston, the city they all namecheck, a very poor comparison for Auckland.

      So no I do not think it is trolling to point out that it is naive or mischievous to discuss urban form in isolation from transport and energy cost.

      And although I am not really interested in generalisations I do generally feel that Libertarianism is essentially either founded on naiveté or [worse] a more knowing mischief. And this is one example; isolating one part of the story and jumping up and down and saying; ‘look over there, we must do that, it’s a perfect expression of our religion of the pure market’.

      Anyway; true Libertarians would not be aligned with comfortable NIMBYS fighting to have growth only happen elsewhere through the extension of market distorting planning rules like building height limits, parking minimums, zoning laws and all the rest. This is why those that only fight for liberalisation on greenfields sites are more properly called promoters of sprawl, Sprawlistas, and not true freemarketeers.

      Thanks for your comment and if you are concerned about the term Sprawlista feel free to call me an Urbanista if that helps.

      Or perhaps you would prefer Sprawlitarian? Ha!

      PS better be quiet about the ‘favourite Libertarian’ tag; Swan might be jealous

      1. “Wasteful” use of energy? If someone is happy to pay for extra fuel to allow them to live further out in their affordable suburban castle and drive to work then it’s not being wasted. It’s being used productively.

        As to whether all that fuel use is generating nasty externalities, the costs of which other people end up incurring, well that’s another story

        1. Ok I guess I’ll have to do a post on energy efficiency for all you ‘invisible handers’

        2. Haha or if you haven’t already perhaps a post “Is sprawl subsidised?”

          Because of a lack of road pricing it certainly is. Similarly, to the extent that development contributions do not include the lost economies of scale for PT and utility infrastructure that intensification would bring, the full costs of sprawl are not properly accounted for either. Any environmental impacts of increased housing and road footprint are probably not internalised. All of these would effectively subsidise more sprawl.

          However, with the ETS and fuel excise duties, fuel/emissions externalities are already internalilsed, so I’m not sure the fuel cost argument the strongest one for urbanistas to run.

  18. Here from CNN biz:

    Fastest growing states
    1. North Dakota: low base, Shale Oil boom
    2. Texas: Shale boom, energy industry services
    Then Oregon and Washington (state) both hydro electricity rich, liberal urbanising states attracting the big tech companies. Boeing too in Washington.

    I know which of those pairs of states NZ is more like and more able to take a lead or two from. We are rich in electrons and poor in hydrocarbons. To be pursuing the urban from of the petro-states is exactly the wrong and unaffordable direction for a net oil importing nation awash with renewable electricity like NZ.

    1. Checking out the comments from the link, this encapsulates my view on that article on the US –

      ‘Interesting to note that ND and Texas, conservative states, are growing with the oil boom and the residents are taking note of some of the destructive consequences. These states are attracting laborers looking for jobs.

      Washington, Oregon, and Minnesota are growing because of their highly educated work forces and focus on technology. These states are attracting visionaries looking for ways to improve the world.’

      Unfortunately, though the tone of the comments also illustrates the situation in the USA, that climate change, economic growth and the whole discussion of a sustainable future has well and truly descended into party politics. Two sides shouting at each other above the crowds while trying to feed the MSM with 2 second soundbites to persuade that crowd to shift the crucial few percentage points to give their respective side the upper hand.

      Unfortunately one can sense that this trend is also happening here. Which is why it is so important that this site continues to do the great job it is doing which is encouraging some great robust discussions between the right and the left, or if you like, the urbanistas versus the sprawlistas!

      1. Yes I agree and I really don’t think there is much light thrown on these conversations by using the old tired left/right binary brands. For example I think we should invest more cleverly, work to our strengths and natural advantages, and husband our resources. That is basically a classically conservative programme. Remember Conservative and conservation have the same root. Of course to keep the best of what we have will require doing things differently to deal with new challenges, so in practice, I end up advocating things that get labelled, meaninglessly in a different colour.

        Anyway for what it’s worth I don’t this century’s debate is between right and left; blue and red. But between old thinking and new thinking; between grey and green.

        ‘The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, – Keynes.

        1. Wise words Patrick, You should start thinking about changing your word ordering, so indistinguishable from Yoda you’d become.

  19. Concur. Of course the reason it has become right vs left is that the right in NZ are adhering to policies best left in the 50’s. We need to move on – quickly. Vancouver, Oregon, Seattle, SF. These places are and, if we want to keep bright young things in NZ, we must move faster. That means cancelling the RoNS and pouring cash into PT, active travel, low carbon energy, education, hi tech (incl manufacturing) and the environment.

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