Opportunity Urbanism

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Opportunity Urbanism

Like the second law of thermodynamics and Newton’s laws of motion, certain economic principles are always confirmed, even if they are not always intuitive. Consider this one: “Everywhere, over extended time periods, free markets create results providing ‘greater good’ for the ‘greater number’ than does centralized command and control.”

Two decades ago, the Trends editors documented a Darwinian, free market mechanism through which superior socio-economic models would evolve and come to dominate free-market countries. We referred to this process as “jurisdictional competition.”1 Under jurisdictional competition, people vote with their feet, their pocket books, and even their political votes, for the policy solutions that they believe to be most beneficial. For well over 200 years, the United States has consistently won the global “jurisdictional competition”—and what’s true at the global level, works at the national level, as well.

Due to jurisdictional competition, we’ve seen a strong divergence in the “quality of life” of “average Americans” in major U.S. metropolitan areas. Demographer Joel Kotkin attributes this to the emergence of a new urban paradigm that maximizes growth and provides greater upward mobility. He calls this opportunity urbanism, an approach that focuses largely on providing the best policy environment for both businesses and individuals to pursue their aspirations.2 That is, cities serve, first and foremost, as engines to create better lives for their residents.

Opportunity urbanism runs contrary to the prevailing urban planning paradigm—referred to variously as “new urbanism,” “smart growth,” or “slow growth”—which seeks to replicate the dense, highly concentrated mono-centric city of the past. At the core of smart growth is the notion that policies of forced density, through regulatory mandates and subsidies, are critical to attracting young, educated people and the global business elite.

No place embodies the idea of opportunity urbanism more precisely than the Houston, Texas metropolitan area. Across a broad spectrum of metrics (income growth, new jobs, housing starts, population growth, and migration), no other major metropolitan region in the country has performed as well over the past decade. Houston was among the first major metropolitan regions to replace the jobs lost in the recession, and has experienced by far the largest percentage job growth since 2009, with Dallas-Fort Worth second...

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