Day 2: Sustainable economics for the Texas Triangle

§ October 7th, 2009 § 1 Comment

Christopher Leinberger, Mark Anielski, and Robin Rather discussed sustainable economics and wealth generation in the Texas Triangle. Leinberger focused on the connection between transportation and real estate development, Rather discussed green jobs, and Anielski discussed “genuine wealth,” which includes many typically unmeasured or undervalued qualities.

Video will be posted soon.

Christopher Leinberger, a Visiting Fellow of The Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and president of LOCUS, a group of sustainable real estate developers, said, “Transportation drives development. It dictates what we in real estate can build.” In most areas of the country, he said, it is illegal to build walkable urbanism due to local building regulations.

Development also spreads along “favored quarters” led by limited access highways, he said. Dallas, for example, is spreading to the north, while Houston is sprawling to the west. But under current development incentives, he said that a one percent population increase equates to a 10 to 12 percent increase in land use. “What you’re doing putting that last ring road [the Grand Parkway] around the city is absolutely mad,” he stated.

However, Leinberger said that more Americans are now choosing to live in urban areas. This change is driven largely by demographics: fewer families have children, and many young people are delaying marriage and child-rearing. He noted that driveable suburban households spend about 25% of their income on transportation, while that number is just nine percent in walkable areas.

But walkable urbanism is undersupplied, he said, leading to large price increases that many households cannot afford. He predicted that Houston and Dallas will see their strip retail centers redeveloped into walkable urban areas, but he warned that outlying areas will lose their value. Walkable urbanism, he concluded, requires intense management, and most cities are currently lacking the necessary regional and place-based governance to do so.

Robin Rather on Sustainable Economic Perspectives in the Texas Triangle (.ppt, 1.7 MB)
Robin Rather, who specializes in market research, said that the environmental movement has gone through three phases: conservation in the early 20th century, regulation beginning around the 1970s, and now green investment. Green jobs, she said, are anything that does not damage the environment or have a large carbon footprint.

Texas, she says, is not really competing for green jobs. Instead, the state is merely mediocre. She said that environmental advocates in Texas should emphasize the competitive aspect of the green economy, which will appeal to the Texan spirit. Instead of framing the issue in terms of planning or sustainability, she said that Texans should frame it in terms of winning or losing versus other megaregions and countries.

Mark Anielski, a consultant who measures community well-being and sustainability, asked audience members to shout out activities that made them happy. Most people mentioned hobbies or children, but he noted that no one said “money.” Welfare is not derived from the Gross Domestic Product, he argued, and he said that the Genuine Progress Index – a measure of happiness – has been stable and perhaps falling slightly despite growing economic production.

Wealth includes quality of life, he said, not just material goods. He said that regions must take inventory of what they already have, including factors such as the environment and car crashes that are not included in GDP. “Genuine wealth,” he said, consists of human, financial, social, produced, and natural assets, and the future belongs to those communities that maximize the well-being of their residents.

One Response to “Day 2: Sustainable economics for the Texas Triangle”