The future belongs to Houston and the San Francisco bay area, but neither can live while the other survives. That’s the thesis of a new piece by Joel Kotkin at New Geography. He argues that three of America’s dominant cities—Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago—are already or will soon cede economic, political, technological, and cultural power to Houston and “SanFran.” Both cities have dominance in key industries—Houston in energy and SanFran in digital technology—and both attract large numbers of engineers (unlike, for example, New York).For now, these two cities of the future have grown without bumping into each other. Houston has grown somewhat at the expense of Chicago, while the Bay area has taken media control away from Los Angeles. But Kotkin argues that a clash between the two is inevitable:
The Valley’s hostility to fossil fuel energy, and its jihad to destroy an entire industry, is only barely recognized in Houston. I also have never heard anyone there suggest that Silicon Valley should be closed down as a danger to the planet (or at least a threat to the attention span of younger Americans). Houstonians, particularly in the energy industry, generally lack media savvy, which is one reason why energy is widely rated as the country’s least popular industry. Also missing, thankfully, is the sense of entitlement and self-congratulation one finds in the Bay Area. But once the intention to devastate the oil and gas industry is better understood, expect the energy capital to square off against the tech center, generating what may be the regional battle royal of our era.
In that battle, Kotkin clearly favors Houston, which is, according to him, more family friendly, cheaper, and suburban than SanFran. He singles out the costly housing in SanFran for particular criticism—and here he seems incontrovertibly right. Here at TAI we’re pluralist about the great urban-suburban debate; there’s room enough for both dense cities and traditional suburbs in America. Kotkin is right that housing is far too expensive in many “blue” cities, including the Bay Area. This limits population growth, even drives people away, and exacerbates inequality. Read the whole thing.