Joel Kotkin’s Ideological Stubbornness

Greetings!  I’ve missed you!  I have a moment and considering I just read this, there is something to say. So here I am.

What I read was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the five cities that are successful through innovation.  The real head-scratcher though Houston.  Not that Houston isn’t innovative; it’s the reasons suggested and by whom they were suggested.

Joel Kotkin is not a friend of this blog.  Not because I disagree with him.  There are smart people I disagree with.  He’s just wrong.  His books are junk.  And he recites the same nonsense over and over again.

To wit, he was asked about innovative cities for this article and presumably he flipped a coin.  Heads is Houston, tails is Dallas-Fort Worth.  The coin flip must’ve come up heads, because these are the only two cities he EVER cites.  And his reasons are bunk.  “People are moving there, ergo they must be doing something right.”  Deep thoughts, by Joel Kotkin.

The word “innovative” suggests new policies, correct?  Something a city is trying out, to reverse course and to enact positive change.  When it works, they get into these kinds of stories.  Kotkin talks about Houston as if deregulation and lack of zoning is a new thing that has led to Houston’s growth and therefore Houston’s success.  Because, remember, population growth equals success.  Just ask Dhaka, or Kinshasa, or Lagos.  These places are UTOPIAS.  I mean, I assume.  I’m just applying Kotkin’s logic to what will be the largest cities in the world in due time.

So, let’s completely forget the fact that 1) Dallas-Fort Worth (his other pet metro) has zoning.  Except that doesn’t work to promote his ideology (and those of his benefactors  — you don’t publish books with his limited intellect without an armature of people with political and financial motivations).  So Houston it is.  And it’s succeeding RIGHT NOW because of their lack of zoning that has been the case forever.

Except, a few problems there.  His view of Houston is so predictably antiquated.  First, Houston has crashed in the past two years, due to energy prices. Its job growth has collapsed to below national levels. Its rents are falling. Its construction has stopped.  Dallas and DFW haven’t because North Texas diversified from the ’80s collapse, but ALSO for some of the reasons Michael points out, we’ve continued to heavily subsidize physical expansion, namely Prop 1 by taking oil drilling fees from the state’s rainy day fund and shifting to highways, and Prop 7, which takes from gas and motor vehicle sales taxes and dedicates to highways rather than general fund (or education).  Houston may not have zoning in the traditional sense, but it does have strict minimum parking standards which drives up construction costs, rents, and encourages driving as you all know.  That seems like a regulation to me.

On the other hand, where Houston (and its strong mayor system — unlike Dallas) has been truly innovative at a state and national level is local transportation, transit, and place-making policies and actions.  See: Buffalo Bayou, Frequent Bus Network overhaul, and protected bike lanes (which nationally is now passe, but in Texas it’s far easier said than done.  In other words, Kotkin is wrong about everything, and even when he finds a nut, his rationality is illogical and ideologically driven. And willfully deceitful.
For more on my responses to Kotkin, see my six post series where I reviewed his last book that I read in a two-hour sitting in the former Borders books on McKinney because there is no way I’m spending money on his words.


  • Larry Brautigam

    Its NOT “it’s” for posession. Job growth, rents…

  • Joel Kotkin also loves Cleveland, apparently. That one is even harder to understand, except in keeping with his identity-based disdain for lefty coastal cities, which is really his whole thing, IMO.