Saturday, April 24, 2010

Making the case....

ChronBlog Houston is up in arms over reports that the newly-merged United/Continental Airlines would be based in Chicago. In times such as these a town historically would look to it's bastions of media to make the case for the City and lead the rally that would save a major jobs-creator vital to the regional economy.


(The business deal could end up being a raw deal, Loren Steffy, ChronBlog)
Lots of big cities, of course, don't have an airline, but Houston isn't just any city.
This is Space City.
The very nickname invokes all that is modern and vibrant, and airlines, for all our passenger complaints and frustrations, still capture our collective imagination as something futuristic. Like trains and muscle cars, they have a romance that transcends basic transportation.

Uh Oh....

(Keeping Continental, CCTT, ChronBlog)
Continental is a Fortune 500 company, one of 25 that make their headquarters in Houston. That's three more than Chicago can claim, but who's counting? Since the Chicago advocates are, we will, too.
Continental's success, a true rise out of the ashes of years of mismanagement, is first and last a Houston story. It was built on the efforts — and willingness to sacrifice by taking significant salary cuts — of thousands of hardworking Houstonians.
The CCTT goes on to talk about Houston's "world class" status as a "gateway to Lain America" among other emotional appeals. What's unfortunate, for Houstonians, is that there's nothing signature we can point to and say "we're better than them" (Chicago, that is).

Transportation? Chicago has the El and Houston is stuck with a piddling transit organization that's been more worried with building speculative streetcar lines that do more for development than it they do for mobility.

Infrastructure? No again. Chicago has a robust public works program, Houston's is crumbling before our very eyes due to chronic mismanagement by previous administrations. (To be fair, the Parker administration is working to turn this around, but it could be too little too late.

Quality of life? Negative. Sure, Houston's bell-cow in this argument is that we don't have snow, but Chicago is the cultural and social gem of the Mid West. While Chicago has been investing in their police department and cultural venues Houston has been too busily pursuing expensive boondoggles of limited use such as pro sports stadiums and the like.

Tax burden? This one is a push. Yes, Texas has no income tax but it's tax system is designed to put the entirety of the tax burden on the landowner, a relic that has survived from the former frontier days.

One thing Houston does have going for it is low real-estate costs, something that Smart Growth proponents are trying their hardest to bring to an end.

Don't get me wrong (although many will) I love the Houston region, I love Texas, but the fact is our political leaders have made some bone-headed decisions in recent years that have not allowed us to keep our competitive advantage in the jobs market. Many partisans will say that the answer to this is to vote in new leadership, one that will further stick it to business and further increase the burden of society to those with. People like the executives of Continental and United who are huge jobs-drivers for the region.

Living in the Houston region is, for the most part, a joy. If you have to ask why, go outside today in your shorts and feel how nice the weather is, go to Hermann Park and see all of the people enjoying the great outdoors, see the zoo and take in a free show at Miller outdoor. If you live in the suburbs go out to your local County Park and take in some nature, make a day trip to Brenham and see the wildflowers in bloom.

Then, on Monday, take some time to contact your local officials and tell them to get on the stick, fix the infrastructure, work on the pension mess, fix the issues within the emergency responder organizations and work on building a truly world class transit system that takes advantage of our structural capacity for buses*. While you're at it, write a letter to the editor of ChronBlog and tell them that they're not helping matters. Instead of sounding like civic advocates, they sound like children throwing a tantrum. It might be too late to keep Continental, but it could be the key to ensuring the next round of mergers fall favorably to our region.

*Not to say that streetcars and commuter trains can't play a role (they can) but not at the expense of what should be the bread n' butter of our public transit.

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