In 1946, the American author John Gunther described Houston as “mostly ugly and barren, without a single good restaurant and hotels with cockroaches”. The only reasons to live in the city, he claimed, were financial; it was a place “where few people think about anything but money”.
This view was widespread at the time, and has lingered well into the 21st century. Forget Houston. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles are the cities most frequently associated with the urban American dream.
Fast forward to today, however, and a new urban renaissance is taking shape — and this time, it’s in the heart of Texas. Never before in American history have two metros in one state — Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth — been in the nation’s five largest. So much for its cockroaches; at its current rate of growth, Houston could replace Chicago as the nation’s third largest municipality by 2030.
What’s driving this Texan resurgence? Traditionally, American cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis all tried to copy the model set by New York and, to a lesser extent, Chicago, with high-rise offices crowded into central business districts. But Texas urbanism is different. They may wear cowboy boots, drive pickup trucks, and attend rodeos, but Texans have created a new model of American urbanity rooted in the demands of the consumer market — an idea deeply offensive to many planners and retro-urbanists.
Some observers lament the fact that the vast majority of Texas’s metropolitan growth — nearly 100% — has taken place in the suburbs and exurbs. But this has its benefits, not least the fact that its cities haven’t been turned into rabbit warrens that only provide high living standards to the rich. Over the past decade, Texas has built three times as much housing as California. This has allowed its cities, despite massive demographic and economic growth, to keep housing prices significantly lower than in coastal Californian cities such as San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego and Los Angeles.
But while affordability has been the secret sauce for Texan cities, its urbanism also thrives by embracing the realities of the marketplace. Over the past decade, Austin and Dallas have created jobs two to three times faster than New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. And this growth is not all at the low end of the job market, as some like the New York Times’s Paul Krugman suggest. Over the past five years, for instance, Austin has displaced San Francisco as the fastest growing tech market. Indeed, Austin is now arguably the strongest rival to Silicon Valley, home to the headquarters of Tesla, and Oracle, as well as Apple’s engineering division and Meta’s latest expansion, 33 floors downtown.
But the most significant expansion has been in professional and business services, the core of the new urban economy. Over the past five years, Austin and Dallas-Ft. Worth have created more than twice as many new business service jobs as San Jose; all four big Texas cities have grown this sector many times the rate of New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. The Dallas metroplex is now home to 24 Fortune 500 company headquarters, trailing only New York and Chicago by a small number; 40 years ago, the region had fewer than five.
Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.