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Texas is the future California can't compete with a new American Dream

Better than Brooklyn (Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Better than Brooklyn (Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)


April 12, 2022   4 mins

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.

Perhaps the most important consequence has been in demographics, particularly critical in this era of persistent labour shortages. The media insists on portraying millennials as desperate to settle in places such as Brooklyn, but in reality they have been fleeing these neighbourhoods — heading instead to Texan cities, where they can more readily afford homes or spacious rental apartments. During the tech boom of the late Nineties, more people moved from Texas to the Bay Area than vice versa; today, however, the pattern is reversed, with Austin, Houston, and Dallas — and their lower costs of living — all among the leading gainers.

Texan metros, notably Houston and Austin, also are among the nation’s leading destinations for minorities and immigrants, the drivers of America’s demographic future. As Patrick Jankowski, chief economist for the Greater Houston Economic Partnership, has noted, the area added more than one million people over the past decade, the majority of them Hispanic, and barely one-tenth Anglo.

It’s not hard to see why. Cities such as Houston are no longer defined by the decades-old, often troubled relationship between African American, Latino, and white populations. Instead, Houston is now widely considered the most diverse major metropolitan area in the country. In 1960, Harris County, which includes Houston and many of its suburbs, was 70% white and 20% African American. Today, the county’s total population is 31% white, 42% Hispanic, 19% black and 8% Asian. As one researcher in Austin recently put it: “Driving down any major road in Southwest Houston
 it is impossible to miss the signs for African grocers, churches with names of Nigerian pastors and restaurants, interspersed with shop signs in Spanish, Indian grocers, and Pakistani tailors, along with signs advertising lawyers and accountants from these countries.”

All this is hardly surprising when you consider that Latinos and African-Americans are far more likely to be home owners in Texas cities than in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, or San Francisco. Meanwhile, in a 2016 measurement of best cities for Latino entrepreneurs, Texas accounted for more than one third of the top 50 cities out of 150. In another measurement, San Antonio and Houston boasted far larger shares of Latino-owned businesses than Los Angeles, which also has a strong Latino presence.

Crucially, this Texan boom doesn’t look to be slowing down. While many of America’s cities have been devastated by the pandemic, Texas’s model has proved resilient. New working-from-home policies may have devastated central business districts in New York and San Francisco. But only 5% of Houston employment and 2% of Dallas’s is in the CBD , compared to 20% in New York, and 16% in San Francisco. And as city centres stagnated and saw their residents leave — a phenomenon that also hit the densest parts of Texas cities — rapid growth in the suburbs and exurbs more than made up for the losses. In fact, Dallas was the largest gainer last year due to rapid growth on the periphery.

Of course, some aspects of small-town Texas life — with its evangelical leanings and sometimes neo-confederate sympathies — hint at the less attractive remnants of the Lone Star State’s past. But the success of its cities proves that the region is now defined by something else. Texans no longer need to look to New York, San Francisco, Chicago, or Los Angeles as a model for their cities — quite the opposite. When it comes to the new American urban dream, Texas is the future.


Joel Kotkin is the Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class (Encounter)

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M. Gatt
M. Gatt
2 years ago

Texas does face the prospect of having woke folk who dont like taxes, but love progressive politics, move in on masse and ruin another great state.

Addie Schogger
Addie Schogger
2 years ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

it’s a danger but from what I read isn’t happening.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

Cannot the Governor simply ban people from moving to Texas from California, NY etc.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

Many of us were worried that that would happen in Tennessee but it seems that it hasn’t. The CA, MA, IL, NY, NJ transplants have brought their bad habits and manners to the places that were already leaning left. But mostly, the wokesters seem to know their place.

Last edited 2 years ago by Mikey Mike
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  M. Gatt

I am going to be optimistic on this one. Firstly, they won’t outvote the Texans, and in any case their ‘woke’ virtue signalling is largely hypocritical and skin deep in any case. The US is, for all its flaws, a truly federal system and its not at all likely that far Left Democrats are going to take power any time soon.

John
John
2 years ago

Lovely article until the author throws in the barb about evangelical leanings being a less attractive part.
In the UK, evangelical groups provide >700 million hours of voluntary work including Food distribution, Parents and toddlers groups, children’s clubs – up to age 11 (apart from church children’s ministry), Caring for elderly (apart from church members), Debt counselling, Youth work – 12-18 (apart from church youth ministry) and Marriage counselling/courses.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  John

I absolutely agree with you about what you say about evangelicals in the UK, but the, admittedly few, US evangelicals that I have met were rather different, and a little scary even for this practicing Christian. I’m open to those who say that I have not met the typical US evangelical, but I’m just pointing out my experience.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

They can be a little eager to share their enthusiasm sometimes, but at least it is pretty safe to say they won’t decapitate you if you refuse to get baptized the day they meet you.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

That is true, unless your a doctor who is involved in providing abortions.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  John

Amen to that! I can’t recall the last time a gang of savage evangelicals burned down a police station, courthouse or city blocks of businesses. But we can read thousands of stories about charitable acts and service at the local food banks in local town newspapers, not the national rags.

Dylan Regan
Dylan Regan
2 years ago

“In 1960, Harris County, which includes Houston and many of its suburbs, was 70% white and 20% African American. Today, the county’s total population is 31% white”- yet the great replacement is just a crazy conspiracy theory

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago
Reply to  Dylan Regan

Latinos ARE white. They’re only classed separately because of the manipulations of the leftists to try to cobble together some kind of coalition of supposedly “oppressed” peoples. Many Latinos, and an increasing number of blacks, just aren’t buying it anymore. That’s why Trump scored so well among them.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

Once enough of them are prosperous, they will get the same treatment from the left that the Jews, Indians and Chinese did. Oh! You believe in studying and working hard! That’s white! see: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/08/an-immigrants-plea-dont-turn-our-america-white/615646/

Matt M
Matt M
2 years ago

I thought that.
In 1960 it was 70% white, 20% black (and presumably 10% other – maybe Asian).
Today: 73% white, 19% black, 8% Asian.
So no change except for the categories used by statisticians.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt M
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Should it matter anyway if they’re all loyal Americans.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
2 years ago

Well said, Linda – we are all the same colour, anyhow:just different shades

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
2 years ago

No, it shouldn’t. That’s kind of the point. The problem is cultural, not ethnic.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

But if you are white you are tainted with the original sin of being white an when the President endorses the sentiment it must be so.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt M

Blacks comprise 13% of the overall U.S. population, so they must be over represented in Houston, TX. Go figure.
Perhaps some are from Chicago, as blacks are leaving here by the carload because they can’t stand the crime that is allowed to fester in their neighborhoods.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

just aren’t buying it anymore
For now that is

Howard Ahmanson
Howard Ahmanson
2 years ago

They are actually largely Native American in ancestry, especially in Mexico and Guatemala.

Elizabeth dSJ
Elizabeth dSJ
2 years ago

Very dishonest. Some of them are white. Saying Indios are white is nonsense.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

Ok, but to be pedantic, ‘white’ and ‘black’ don’t really have any robust biological meaning in any case, but are superficial variations within humanity. Africa has more human genetic variation than the rest of the world put together, which is less surprising when you consider that the world was populated from small bands of (East?) Africans crossing from the Horns of Africa a couple of hundred thousand years ago. Which means that the original modern humans were black.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Dylan Regan

Well if you are positing a conscious conspiracy to replace the white population, that indeed IS a ‘crazy conspiracy theory’!

Free people setting up home wherever they feel they and their families have the best chance of success, lower crime rates, perhaps good non-political schools. What is wrong with that? Are blacks producing more children than whites? Maybe. And no doubt like most people communities have a largely unconscious slight preference to gather in groups of people similar to themselves, and contrariwise the minority community in that area start to feel slightly uncomfortable and begin to move to other areas, a phenomenon well documented.

All those are likely phenomena, but what do you think the government should do about them?

Unless of course the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy started with the slave trade itself, with the eventual aim of replacing the white population. If they had told the slaves in the holds that, perhaps there would have been less desperation, fewer rebellions, and the promise of eventual victory over the oppressor!

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago

I almost enjoyed the article. Why does Joel Kotkin always lose control of his intellectual bowels when confronted with the possibility that 21st century rural southerners might just be regular people?

Of course, some aspects of small-town Texas life — with its evangelical leanings and sometimes neo-confederate sympathies — hint at the less attractive remnants of the Lone Star State’s past.

Let’s not forget that the phrases “evangelical leanings” and “neo-confederate sympathies” would only come out of the mouth of the coastal academic who invented them. But let’s be honest, they don’t really make sense. Do southern evangelical Christians really make bad neighbors (they do not) and if so, how in the heck would Joel Kotkin know? Also, the complicated relationship southerners have with the American Civil War is something – sort of like the minimum wage or gender biology – that liberals from California will never understand.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
2 years ago
Reply to  Mikey Mike

Thank you. The most racist people I met at my top southern university were from Jersey and the Midwest, yet they invariably looked their noses down on those “rebels” and “racists” from the south.
I’ve always wondered, what if the “rebels” were a collection of abolitionist states and the “union” instead was maintaining slavery? The older I’ve gotten, the more legit I’ve seen the claim that the confederate states, which had entered into a union some 85 years before w/ the understanding they could freely leave, shouldn’t have been invaded by an army forcing them to stay in that union at point of death. If the causes had been reversed and it had been the abolitionists (w/ whom naturally we all now agree, except for some who wanted to ship slaves back to Africa) who seceded, would the carnage (of 700k dead and southern cities decimated) to force states to remain in the union still be described as the moral choice, and the secessionists “traitors?”

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

Of course the victors won and thereby to some extent determined the way history was written (though there were British and other historians who were sympathetic to the Confederacy). The Confederates fired the first shots at Fort Sumter; by then the United States of America had been a recognised state in the international order for decades. So, yes, they were rebels.

Wars are hell but unfortunately if there is a cause you think of is enough importance, if you don’t fight and the other side is willing to, then you lose. Perhaps the Ukrainians should simply surrender now.

It isn’t a point of minor detail that the causes were NOT reversed! Although the Civil War wasn’t originally about the slavery as such, for the South the maintenance of that institution was the be-all and end-all of their war aims, not the preservation of the perfect mint julep. All the Acts of Secession, and other contemporaneous writings clearly demonstrate this.

I’m pleased at any rate that the outcome meant that the US was not the last nation on the (western) world to abolish slavery, as otherwise it might well have been!

And the people you are talking about may be disdainful snobs, but they can’t be ‘racists’ can they if dissing people of their own race?

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Jairus OMalley
Jairus OMalley
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Lifelong Texan. Went to college up in the northeast US. I was appalled at the racist stuff people would start saying about black folks to me up there and they always assumed that I would be on board with it cause I’m a white guy from the South…..

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

This was already happening when I lived in Austin for a while in the late 70s.

Arguably the first tech boom – doesn’t the author remember Texas Instruments?

A lot of my friends were Summer of Love veterans of 1967 who then got out of San Francisco.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brendan O'Leary
Kerie Receveur
Kerie Receveur
2 years ago

The University of Texas at Austin seems to be a beacon of sanity in the gloom, too – more power to Niall Ferguson’s elbow.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Kerie Receveur

UT at Austin is the established one.

“University of Austin in Texas” is Niall’s one.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

Town planning in Texas cities is also driven by geography. Dallas Ft. Worth and Houston, for example, are surrounded by flat land. Planners just build outwards and expand the diameter of the circle. You can’t do that in NY city or San Francisco.
The great disadvantage to many Texan cities, however, is climate. It’s very hot, and often humid, during the summer months. As a state, Texas also has to improve its infrastructure. The massive power outages last year can’t be allowed to happen again if Texas wants to market itself as a viable alternative to major coastal cities, although having written that I recall the rolling blackouts now suffered by Californians each summer in the name of fire suppression.
Still, I think the author is right that many people, especially younger folk looking for affordable housing, are moving out of traditional metropolitan centers like Chicago or NY. Despite the loss of Tesla and other businesses I still marvel at the amount of tech business that remains in California, especially around the Bay Area, despite the increasingly anti-business climate in that state. So long as they remain the California tax base will be strong and there will be no meaningful limit to progressive policies.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

For every Texan suffering July and August in their spacious affordable home, there are several northerners suffering a bitter winter in January and February and wishing they lived elsewhere if they could afford it.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Good point. And when it gets to be 95 degrees with 80% humidity in NYC or Chicago, it’s just as uncomfortable.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Lived in Dallas for almost a year and the summer humidity and heat is unpleasant. Houston humidity is much higher (worse) than Dallas. On the other hand, you might sit outside for breakfast in December. But there is occasional extreme weather (ice storms, torrential rain). Texas weather is far more extreme than in the UK.
Dallas always struck me as a place people moved to for work. A lot of people did and always have. But as a location on its own merits it’s nothing special – it’s a long distance to anywhere different (sea, mountains, even hills).
In around 1990, Dallas had around 1 million people living inside the 635 (“LBJ”) orbital road. For comparison, London has around 10 million inside the M25. Both are the same radius from the centre.
If your aircon fails in the summer you’re in trouble.
Go to northern New Mexico if you want a better climate. Much drier.
Dallas also had “dry” districts in those days. Looks like that’s gone now.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter B

All valid I am sure, but I think a lot of people want to escape the performance and actual outcomes of far Left ‘woke’ politics in their own states. I just note that New Mexico is Democrat and – simply an anecdote – a couple of years ago met some of the most appalling, conceited and virtue signalling wealthy people who lived there! They were very up on buying Native American bric a brac…

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Jairus OMalley
Jairus OMalley
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

We didn’t have power outages until we had loads of wind and solar power added to the grid in Texas. Someday we will all have to face up to the fact that nuclear power is the only reliable & scalable ‘low-carbon’ power source

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Paul Krugman, really? How many times must a “journalist” be wrong before other journalists stop referring to them?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

Krugman got a Nobel prize for some good work (apparently, I’m not a generous judge of The Dismal Science) he did on “explaining the patterns of international trade and the geographic distribution of economic activity, by examining the effects of economies of scale and of consumer preferences for diverse goods and services”
Clearly an intelligent man but intelligent men can be wrong, just more articulately. He’s still trying to Krugsplain away his praise for Venezuela under Chavez and Maduro.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brendan O'Leary
James Volk
James Volk
2 years ago

I was a lifelong Californian and moved from California to Houston 20 years ago. Culture shock! When people were told about the move the inevitable question was “Why?” as if I had said I was moving to Iraq. Now many of those same people and/or their children have joined me.
But the cockroaches? My gawd, the size of small dogs, virtually unkillable, and they fly.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago

Nice to hear some good news from the US of A at last. Perhaps there is a future after all

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
2 years ago

From my aspect as a Brit Texas has become a haven for people and Companies that cannot afford the Woke policies of California with high taxes as such that people cannot afford to rent. Strange there was no reference to this.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 years ago

Texas has also preserved the only example of a 1914-18 ‘Dreadnought’ type Battleship, the magnificent USS Texas.
Would that we in the UK had done the same, but MoD pensions had priority no doubt.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
2 years ago

Imagine the writer saying, of any culture “…its Islamic leanings… hint at the less attractive remnants of its past” – or “…its Jewish leanings hint at the less attractive remnants of…”. But of course “evangelical” is an acceptable pejorative.
The trees that make up the attractive Texan forest are too easily overlooked.ï»ż

Last edited 2 years ago by Richard Ross
David P
David P
2 years ago

The jab at Texas’ “less attractive remnants” of evangelical leanings and neo-confederate sympathies is disappointing in an otherwise informative article. Texans aren’t fleeing their evangelicalism to the utopia of Californian progressivism, are they?
I grew up in Texas and lived in 2 of those 4 large cities at some point (Houston and San Antonio). My home state is changing (I no longer live there) and there is concern that the transplants will ruin things. So far it doesn’t seem to be happening but the jury’s still out.

Douglas H
Douglas H
2 years ago

Thanks, really interesting and fits with whet my US-based colleagues at work tell me

Jairus OMalley
Jairus OMalley
2 years ago

This article misses a couple fairly important points. First off, much of Texas’s economic growth over the past decade has been fueled by a truly massive oil boom. Sure, there some tech folks and other corporations around – the main economic engine of Texas is still oil & gas. Oil & gas as a driver of economic growth appears to have a limited run remaining in front of it (global warming & electrification of the future). Second, the new residents of Texas are dramatically shifting the political leanings of the state. We are on the precipice of becoming yet another liberal hellhole. Austin is now completely despised by us traditional Texans, with Houston and Dallas shifting towards the same.
Of course, the author shows his true colors by demonizing ‘evangelical leanings’ in his final paragraph, so perhaps he thinks becoming a liberal blue state is a good thing.