Monday, January 10, 2011

Coming to Richardson: A New York State of Mind

Paul Krugman -- Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist (I don't know which of those makes him more suspect to Texas readers) -- has been looking into the conventional wisdom that the Texas economy has been a great success in this recession. He compiles a telling graph showing unemployment trends for Texas and New York for the last decade. I challenge you to tell which state is which without looking at the legend. Krugman suggests that "the miraculous Texas immunity to the recession is mythical."

After the jump, Krugman's explanation for why Texas, for a long time, has had faster-growing employment and population than the Northeast.

According to Krugman:

"it's not so much the weather (Houston, yuk), nor low taxes creating opportunity (per capita income and wages are not so hot), it's land-use policies that have kept housing cheap. I'm all for changes in the land-use regime in the Northeast, especially to make denser housing possible."

Feel free to debate Krugman on the weather and wages, but I doubt he'll get much argument from Texans on the availability of affordable housing in Texas, especially compared to, say, California or New York. And that's what turns my mind to what's going on in Richardson.

There are 140 acres of vacant land at the intersection of US 75 and the Bush Turnpike which the owners are ready to develop. Largely built-out inner suburb. Huge parcel of vacant land. Owners with plans for "development of a vibrant, mixed-use project that will offer high-end office, retail, and residential components for the enjoyment of Richardson residents, employees and visitors." This is the kind of opportunity that Texans used to salivate over.

Do they still? There is a very vocal anti-growth, anti-development minority of residents of Richardson who are seeking to stifle this opportunity. These are people whom I can imagine feeling right at home with the more restrictive land-use policies and zoning in the Northeast that Krugman mentions. Ironically, in their desire to preserve what they see as their way of life, they risk destroying the economic dynamic that created their way of life in the first place. Their attitude threatens to kill the one big advantage Texas has over the Northeast. But although they are vocal, they appear to be in the minority. The future prosperity of Richardson and Texas is the beneficiary.

P.S. Could it be that at least some of the anti-development sentiment is rooted in racism? Comment by a reader on a local anti-development blog: "Keep the zoo on the south side of Dallas, please." Yikes!

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