Houston needs to focus on the right quality-of-life issues

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Tory Gattis of Houston Strategies highlights Joel Kotkin’s new work, ” Urban Legends: Cities Aren’t Doing As Well As You Think”:

Cities must return to a progressive focus on fixing their real problems–that is, the problems of the majority of the people who live there–not serving the interests of artists, hipsters, and their wealthy patrons. Right now school reform is often hostage to the power of teachers’ unions. City budgets, which could be applied to improving economic infrastructure, are frequently bloated by, among other things, excessive public sector employment and overgenerous pensions. In the contest for the remaining public funds, the knitted interests of downtown property holders, arts foundations, sports promoters, and nightclub owners often overwhelm those of more conventional small businesses and family-oriented neighborhoods that could serve as havens for the middle class.

And Tory says:

To be honest, I actually think Houston is doing many of the right things he’s talking about. Yeah, we have gotten caught up in some of the glitz: stadiums, convention centers, a hip downtown – but we’ve also been pretty diligent on improving infrastructure and education.

Actually, we are seeing the local teachers union (assisted by activist groups and the local newspaper) throw up every road block imaginable to Dr. Saavedra’s reform ideas for HISD. In the case of Gayle Fallon’s group, LULAC and the NAACP, it’s not about better education, it’s about maintaining power.

As for the other interests Kotkin mentions, Houston has only temporarily “solved” its pension mess by moving it to the Houston Hilton-Americas, which isn’t doing so hot; the downtown light rail ($320 million +) has been fueled at least partly by downtown property interests, including Metro’s interests; and we have three ritzy new stadiums funded by taxpayers, with the Sports Authority yearning for at least one more.

As one of our commenters so ably put it recently, there are three things that will make a community desirable: good schools, low crime, and low taxes. Houston has many great amenities, but those big three are struggling.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.