Sydney to Abandon Radical Urban Containment Policy

The New South Wales government has proposed a new Metropolitan Strategy for the Sydney area which would significantly weaken the urban containment policy (also called urban consolidation, smart growth, livability, growth management, densification, etc.) that has driven if house prices to among the highest in the affluent New World (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) relative to household incomes.

According to the Australian Financial Review, the state's Liberal-National government plans to allow the building of more than 170,000 new homes, with the vast majority being on greenfield sites, largely beyond the current urban footprint. Premier Barry O'Farrell and his party had promised in their electoral campaign in 2011 to liberalize land-use regulation and to moderate the previous Labor government's quota that required 70% of new houses to be built within the current urban footprint and 30% on greenfield sites. In fact, however, under the Labor government's administration, new house building had been produced at a well below demand level.

Among the major New World metropolitan areas rated in annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Surveys, Sydney has been the most unaffordable, along with Vancouver, in recent years. Sydney and Vancouver have had among the most stringent urban containment policies in the New World, and the resulting unaffordable house prices under such circumstances are consistent with economic principle.

Premier O'Farrell told the Sydney Morning Herald that the government wanted to "make home ownership a reality again." He continued, "The more blocks of land (lots) we can release, the greater downward pressure we can put on housing because it's been so high for so long." In a press release issued by his office, the Premier recalled that “Before the election, I said I wanted to ensure owning a home wasn’t a fading dream for young families" and noted that the massive housing package "will go a long way to delivering on that commitment."

In the longer run (by 2031), the government intends to provide for a total of 545,000 new homes, while abandoning the practice of allocating locations based upon planning theory. Planning and Infrastructure Minister Bradley Hazzard told the Sydney Morning Herald that the government intended to “look further afield” than the presently planned greenfield suburban growth centers. He continued: "We're trying to [be] less constrictive and restrictive and what we're saying is the marketplace should have far more of a say in what the mix of housing is and where it should be,'' adding that ''it doesn't matter'' what percentage was delivered in greenfield and established suburbs. He concluded: ''No one should be preoccupied by particular prescriptive formulas.''

The government also indicated its intention to encourage one half of employment growth over the next 20 years to be in Western Sydney. Western Sydney is virtually across the urban area from the central business district. This dispersion of employment, along with roadway improvements in the area, is likely to improve the metropolitan balance between jobs and housing.

The plan for greater job dispersion would, if successful, bring Sydney more into line with urban best practices, which are exhibited by the location of most new jobs in edge cities, as well as throughout the entire urban area. Sydney has among the longest work trip travel times in the New World. The one-way work trip travel time is newly reported in the Metropolitan Strategy to have reached 35 minutes. Work trip travel times are worse only in Melbourne, at 36 minutes. By comparison, Dallas-Fort Worth, with a larger population, a much lower urban area density and a mere fraction of the Melbourne or Sydney transit work trip market share has a far shorter one-way work trip travel time (26 minutes).

The Sydney developments are the latest in a trend toward liberalizing urban land use in four nations.

In October, the New Zealand government announced plans to liberalize land-use amid growing concern about the extent to which that nation's urban containment policies have destroyed housing affordability. In the introduction to the 9th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, Deputy Premier Bill English said:

Land has been made artificially scarce by regulation that locks up land for development. This regulation has made land supply unresponsive to demand. When demand shocks occur, as they did in the mid-2000s in New Zealand and around the world, much of that shock translates to higher prices rather than more houses.

Recent polling has shown support, by an almost 2 to 1 margin for government action to improve housing affordability, with even higher stronger support in the 18 to 34 age group, where the margin was more than 3 to 1.

The United Kingdom Cameron government is also embarked on a program to liberalize that nation's restrictive land use policies, which former Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member Kate Barker found to be the cause of severe housing unaffordability in a report commissioned by the Blair Labour government. Planning Minister Nick Boles has characterized the unaffordability of housing as "the biggest social justice problem we have."

In 2011, Florida repealed its statewide smart growth mandate and closed the administrative bureaucracy that had overseen the program. Before that, the government of the Australian state of Victoria substantially expanded the urban growth boundary of the Melbourne urban area.

Wanted: A Reasoned Approach to Dealing with America's Infrastructure Needs

It seems like not a week goes by without fresh warnings about the nation’s”crumbling infrastructure" and renewed appeals to rebuild our aging highways and bridges.  President Obama reinvigorated the campaign with his State-of-the-Union proposal for a $50 billion program of infrastructure investments, $40 billion of which would be devoted to a "fix-it-first" program targeted at urgent improvements such as "structurally deficient" bridges. The following day, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on "The Federal Role in America’s Infrastructure," focusing on the importance of infrastructure for the U.S. economy and the federal role in its preservation and expansion. The same day, the U.S. Chamber held a "Transportation Infrastructure Summit," a day-long gathering to explore "transportation infrastructure challenges and promising solutions" with prominent industry representatives. Yet another meeting, this one convened by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-NY), a longtime proponent of a National Infrastructure Bank, will explore innovative strategies for financing infrastructure in a March 18 forum on Capitol Hill.

Two recent reports have added to a sense of urgency about America’s deteriorating infrastructure. The Building America's Future coalition has published a report, Falling Apart and Falling Behind, urging development of a long-term national infrastructure strategy, establishing a National Infrastructure Bank and lifting restrictions on tolling. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has released a report, Failure to Act: The Impact of Current Infrastructure Investment on America's Future, warning that if the investment gap is not addressed, the economy is likely to suffer $1 trillion in lost business and a loss of 3.5 million jobs.  ASCE's 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, a detailed analysis of the performance and condition of America's infrastructure  to be  released on March 19, may be expected to reinforce this gloomy forecast (a previous  "report card," issued in 2009, gave the U.S. infrastructure an unflattering grade of D.)     

What kind of impact this flood of warnings and advocacy efforts will have on public opinion and on congressional attitudes and fiscal decisions remains to be seen. They come at a time of severe budget pressures and intense Republican efforts to curb excessive discretionary spending. To be successful, the pro-infrastructure campaign must persuade fiscally conservative lawmakers that there are urgent reasons for a boost in spending on public works that override the imperative to reduce the deficit and get the nation's fiscal house in order. 

Further, infrastructure advocates must convince the nation's  taxpayers--- who see no visible signs of  "crumbling infrastructure"--- that spending more  on transportation will not be wasted but will result in concrete benefits in the form of reduced congestion or shorter commutes. Infrastructure alarmists also must contend with a public that lately has grown skeptical about warnings of catastrophic consequences of minor cuts in spending.  

Lastly, the advocacy campaign must overcome a cynical perception that pressures to increase funding for transportation are nothing more than special interest pleadings of interest groups that stand to profit from higher levels of public spending.  As one transportation advocate at a recent conference observed, "there is an enormous disconnect between us and the American public" --- a disconnect that may not be easy to overcome.

Significantly, improving the nation's infrastructure was not a topic of discussion at the President's meeting with Senate Republicans, according to Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), as reported in POLITICO.  The President must have come to a conclusion that his $50 billion infrastructure plan stands no chance of winning a favorable Senate vote ---not to mention being an anathema with the House Republicans.

A Reasoned Approach

No one disputes the infrastructure advocates’ claim that some of America’s transportation facilities are reaching the limit of their useful life and need replacing. Nor does anyone disagree about the need to expand infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing population. But fiscal conservatives among these advocates (and we count ourselves among them) contend that this does not rise to the level of a national crisis requiring a $50 billion crash program as proposed by the President, or a two trillion dollar infrastructure investment program over fifteen years as recommended  by ASCE . 

The condition of infrastructure varies widely from state to state as studies by the transportation research group TRIP and by the Reason Foundation have shown. Most states maintain their transportation assets in a state of good repair and only a few need extensive modernization. "There are still plenty of problems to fix, but our roads and bridges aren't cumbling," said David Hartgen, lead author of the Reason study. "The overall condition of the public road system is getting better and you can actually make the case that it has never been in better shape." Hartgen's conclusion is backed by a detailed study of the condition of America's roads and bridges. The study is based on a variety of sources, primarily from the states themselves as reported to the federal government from 1989 through 2008. ( "Are Highways Crumbling? State and U.S. Highway Performance Trends, 1989-2008, Reason Policy Study 407, February 2013).

The generally acceptable condition of the nation's transportation infrastructure in most places, argues for a more selective approach. Rather than launching a new massive national public works program in the name of "fix-it-first," state-level efforts should be targeted specifically at aging facilities that are in a demonstrable need of replacement or modernization.  "The nation simply cannot afford blindly to throw money at the problem," in the words of one senior congressional Republican. "We have learned from the Administration's $8 billion high-speed rail fiasco that scattering resources in an unfocused manner in order to satisfy demands for geographic equity, leads to imprudent, irresponsible and often downright wasteful spending."     

To the extent that large-scale multi-year megaprojects demanding billions of dollars still figure on the drawing boards of state DOTs,  they can---indeed, they will ---be financed through public-private partnerships, tolling and credit instruments such as TIFIA and state infrastructure banks. They include the I-495 Beltway Hot lanes project in Virginia, New York's Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, the San Francisco Bay Bridge Eastern Span replacement, the I-5 Columbia River Crossing, the Highway 520 floating bridge in Seattle, the Miami Port Tunnel, the Midtown Tunnel linking Norfolk and Portsmouth VA, and two Ohio River bridges in Louisville, a joint undertaking of the Indiana and Kentucky DOTs. All of the above projects will be financed with long-term obligations rather than funded on a pay-as-you-go basis through annual congressional appropriations.

A transition from funding to financing of major transportation infrastructure projects was also the preferred approach of the financial practitioners and analysts assembled at the October 2012 conference on Public-Private Partnerships convened by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). The most practical way to build future transportation megaprojects, these experts concluded, will be through project financing and public-private partnerships.

In sum, the Highway Trust Fund no longer can serve as a source of capital for new infrastructure, and funding large capital-intensive projects with current user fee revenues on a pay-as-you-go basis is no longer feasible. Instead, look for the states to assume responsibility for remedial "fix-it-first" activities, and for a shift from funding to financing for multi-year construction megaprojects. This may turn out to be the only practical long-term solution to our transportation funding dilemma. Mixes Apples and Oranges on "Worst Cities for Drivers"

The website mixes apples and oranges in producing a list of the 10 worst "cities" for car drivers in the United States. The ratings hardly matter, since the score is based on a mixture of urban area and municipality data.

The Apples: uses the Texas Transportation Institute traveled the may delay measures for urban areas. These are areas of continuous urban development that always include far more population than is in the central city or municipality. There is no data for the traffic congestion measures at the central city level. These traffic congestion scores are's "apples."

The Oranges: The oranges of the population densities for the core municipalities. For example, the density shown for New York is that of the city, at 27,000 per square mile. The urban area has a density of approximately 5000 per square mile.

The Comparison: The net effect is that uses the city of New York, with its 8 million people in approximately 300 square miles to the New York urban area with approximately 18 million people in 3,400 square miles. These are not the same things and any score derived from the mixing of these two definitions is inherently invalid.

This is one of all too many examples of comparisons that are made in the press between "cities," with editors and fact checkers taking insufficient care to ensure that they are using comparable data.

Top GOP Budget Officials Call for Investigation of Xpress West High Speed Train from Victorville to Los Angeles

Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee and Sen. Jeff Sessions, Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee have expressed serious reservations on the proposed taxpayer loan to the Xpress West high-speed rail line that would operate two thirds of the way between Los Angeles and Las Vegas (from Victorville).

A joint letter dated March 7 to United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called the taxpayer risks untenable. They asked for a Government Accounting Office investigation of the project and asked Secretary LaHood to suspend final determination on the taxpayer loan until the GAO investigation is completed.

Texas Two Step

There has been a huge spike in the number of New Yorkers relocating to Texas in recent years, even at a time when fewer city residents were departing for Charlotte, Atlanta, Philadelphia and other traditional destinations.


Borough Breakdown: NYC Residents Moving to
Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio (2004/05 to 2009/10)

Migration from Bronx to...
  2004/2005 2009/2010 % Change
Dallas County 77 92 19.5%
Harris County 202 310 53.5%
Tarrant County 28 58 107.1%
Travis County 22 27 22.7%
Bexar County 29 66 127.6%
Fort Bend County 31 33 6.5%
Total 389 586 50.6%


Migration from Brooklyn to...
  2004/2005 2009/2010 % Change
Dallas County 132 152 15.2%
Harris County 271 351 29.5%
Tarrant County 64 71 10.9%
Travis County 83 224 169.9%
Bexar County 76 64 -15.8%
Fort Bend County 40 62 55.0%
Total 666 924 38.7%


Migration from Queens to...
  2004/2005 2009/2010 % Change
Dallas County 146 166 13.7%
Harris County 412 404 -1.9%
Tarrant County 117 125 6.8%
Travis County 56 89 58.9%
Bexar County 80 99 23.8%
Fort Bend County 67 90 34.3%
Total 878 973 10.8%


Migration from Manhattan to...
  2004/2005 2009/2010 % Change
Dallas County 311 356 14.5%
Harris County 346 508 46.8%
Tarrant County 51 107 109.8%
Travis County 167 303 81.4%
Bexar County 96 91 -5.2%
Fort Bend County 15 54 260.0%
Total 986 1419 43.9%


Migration from Staten Island to...
  2004/2005 2009/2010 % Change
Dallas County N/A N/A N/A
Harris County 36 55 52.8%
Tarrant County N/A N/A N/A
Travis County N/A N/A N/A
Bexar County N/A N/A N/A
Fort Bend County N/A N/A N/A
Total 36 55 52.8%

Source: IRS Migration Data. For Staten Island, data was only available for migrations to Harris County.

This piece originally appeared a tthe Center for an Urban Future data blog.

Fracktivists for Global Warming: How Celebrity NIMBYism Turned Environmentalism Against Natural Gas

Over the last year, celebrities such as Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Robert Redford, Mark Ruffalo, Mario Batali, Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, and Matt Damon have spoken out against the expansion of natural gas drilling. “Fracking kills,” says Ono, who has a country home in New York. “It threatens the air we breathe,” says Redford. 

In fact, “gas provides a very substantial health benefit in reducing air pollution,” according to Daniel Schrag, director of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment. There have been “tremendous health gains” from the coal-to-gas switch, MIT economist Michael Greenstone told The Associated Press. Indeed, air pollution in Pennsylvania has plummeted in recent years thanks to the coal-to-gas switch. "Honestly," added Greenstone, "the environmentalists need to hear it."

Fracktivism might be dismissed as so much celebrity self-involvement had it not reversed the national environmental movement's longstanding support of natural gas as a bridge to zero-carbon energy — and kept shale drilling out of New York state. Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo was set to green-light 40 demonstration gas wells in a depressed part of New York until Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Bobby Kennedy Jr. called him and asked him not to.

Bill McKibben and his organization have made common cause with the anti-fracking movement, as has the Sierra Club. NRDC went from being supportive of a coal-to-gas switch to opposing the expansion of gas production. Even the Environmental Defense Fund’s chief, Fred Krupp, said in a debate last month that he opposes the expansion of natural gas.

All of this comes at a time when carbon emissions are declining in the US more than in any other country in the world. The USA is the global climate leader, while Europe and Germany are returning to coal. The main reason is gas, which increased last year by almost the exact same amount that coal declined

Just a few years ago, environmental leaders were saying that we faced a climate emergency, that emissions must start declining rapidly, and that enemy number one was coal. Now the same leaders are saying we have to stop shale fracking even though it is crushing coal and driving down American carbon emissions.

Of course, the fractivism isn't really about the fracking. Matt Damon's anti-natural gas movie was originally an attack on wind farms. In 2005, Bobby Kennedy Jr. helped lead a campaign to stop the Cape Wind farm from being built because it will be visible from the Kennedy compound. Meanwhile, he was championing the construction of a massive solar farm in the Mojave Desert, 3,000 miles away — itself opposed by local environmentalists.

Fracktivists like Mark Ruffalo protest that his NIMBYism isn't pro-coal. He told AP that we don’t need natural gas; we can easily switch from coal directly to solar panels, like the ones Ruffalo installed on his Catskills house. 

But when the sun isn’t shining on Ruffalo’s roof, he’s mostly getting his electricity from natural gas. In order to accommodate the intermittent nature of solar and wind, utilities rely on natural gas plants, which can be quickly ramped up and down to keep the lights on. Contra Gasland’s Josh Fox's claims about using "compressed air" in a recent debate with Ted at — cheap, utility-scale energy storage simply doesn't exist.

Privately, scientists and analysts within national environmental organizations are appalled that celebrity fractivism could get in the way of the coal-to-gas shift. They say the fracktivists undermine green credibility, and are disturbed by the failure of their movement’s leadership. 

But there’s little reason to expect national green leaders will become, well, leaders. They will likely continue to follow donors who demonstrate time and again that what matters most to them — whether in the case of a nuclear plant in Long Island, a wind farm in Cape Cod, or a gas well in the Catskills — is the view from their solar-plated eco-compounds, not the potentially catastrophic impact of global warming on the planet.

This post first appeared at

The (White) British are Leaving (London)

As reported in The Evolving Urban Form: London, last July the Greater London Authority (GLA), located inside the Green Belt, grew strongly from 2001 to 2011, though remains well below its peak estimated population in 1939. Substantial domestic migration from the core area to the exurbs was a major contributor to their growth during between 2000 and 2010 (Figure 1).

Obviously, with all that growth and all that domestic out-migration, international migration had to be driving the population growth in the GLA. The British Broadcasting Corportation (BBC) confirms that, reporting that, for the first time "white British" residents of GLA represent a minority of the population. At 45 percent, this population segment is down from 58 percent in 2011.

Whites, however, remain a majority, with more than 1.3 who do not consider themselves British, according to the 2011 census data. The combined white population is nearly 60 percent of the GLA total. The table below provides the ethnic data as reported by the Office for National Statistics.

Greater London Authority: Ethnicity
2011 Census
All categories: Ethnic group      8,173,941 100.0%
White: English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British      3,669,284 44.9%
White: Irish         175,974 2.2%
White: Gypsy or Irish Traveller              8,196 0.1%
White: Other White      1,033,981 12.6%
Mixed/multiple ethnic group: White and Black Caribbean         119,425 1.5%
Mixed/multiple ethnic group: White and Black African            65,479 0.8%
Mixed/multiple ethnic group: White and Asian         101,500 1.2%
Mixed/multiple ethnic group: Other Mixed         118,875 1.5%
Asian/Asian British: Indian         542,857 6.6%
Asian/Asian British: Pakistani         223,797 2.7%
Asian/Asian British: Bangladeshi         222,127 2.7%
Asian/Asian British: Chinese         124,250 1.5%
Asian/Asian British: Other Asian         398,515 4.9%
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British: African         573,931 7.0%
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British: Caribbean         344,597 4.2%
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British: Other Black         170,112 2.1%
Other ethnic group: Arab         106,020 1.3%
Other ethnic group: Any other ethnic group         175,021 2.1%
Source: Office for National Statistics, United Kingdom

Gas Crushes Coal

Coal electricity declined by 12.5 percent in 2012, mostly driven by the switch to natural gas, which increased by almost the exact same amount (217 terrawatt-hours) as coal declined (216 TWh), according to new annual numbers released by the US Energy Information Administration.

Wind electricity increased as well — by about one-tenth (20.5 TWh) as much as gas. Solar increased a little more than one-hundredth as much as gas (2.5 TWh).

The figures come at a time when renewable energy advocates have claimed that wind and solar have been responsible for the big declines in coal — claims that do not stand up to scrutiny, according to a new Breakthrough Institute analysis.

Indeed, the new numbers highlight the key difference between gas and solar and wind. Where taxpayers subsidized unconventional gas exploration from 1980 to 2002 to the tune of $10 billion, natural gas in recent years has been replacing coal without subsidies.

Wind and solar, by contrast, remain almost wholly dependent on public support. Uncertainty last year over whether Congress would renew the key wind subsidy meant that less than half as much new wind will be installed in 2013 as was installed in 2012.

Where the problem for wind has been its high cost, the problem for gas is that it has become too cheap. Natural gas production slowed last year in the face of unprofitably low prices caused by overproduction.

This does not mean that subsidies for solar and wind should be cut, only that they should be reformed. Instead of subsidizing the production of electricity from the same old technologies, we need the kind of innovation that allowed natural gas to become cheaper than coal.

This piece first appeared at The Breakthrough.

Churches and Parking

A recent story over at Atlantic Cities got me thinking about a debate that’s heated up over the last few years: urban parking policy for churches.

Per Atlantic Cities, San Francisco has decided to start charging for metered parking on Sundays. This is starting to happen across America. In San Francisco, as in Chicago and elsewhere, the driver (no pun intended) appears to be revenue raising, plain and simple.

This has angered many attendees of local churches (who have in many cases now moved out of town and drive in for services). They seem to believe that they have a constitutional right to free parking on Sunday mornings. On the other side, of course, are bicycle advocates, who are positively gleeful. (Bicycle advocates are without a doubt the single most self-righteous advocacy group I know, which is why so many people who otherwise might support reasonable pro-bicycling policy can’t stand them).

I think a more nuanced approach should be taken, based on neighborhood conditions and creating the right incentive structures. For example, in some places across the country (San Francisco and Chicago come to mind again), it’s traditional for church goers to park even in what would otherwise be illegal spots. In general, this isn’t a problem – at least from my personal observations in Chicago. Traffic is pretty light on Sunday mornings, and it doesn’t cause any problems.

What’s more, enabling that temporary use of public space for a couple hours on a Sunday morning is exactly the sort of thing we need more of, not less. An institution like a church that has a single demand spike for parking during a generally low demand period is a great candidate for flexible uses of public space that would otherwise be underutilized. Liveable streets advocates are quick to decry the empty lanes off peak from oversized roads. So what’s the problem with putting a boulevard on a “road diet” on Sunday morning by using a lane for parking? Sounds like a winner to me. I’d be asking what other types of institutions or events could do similar things.

And consider, what will happen if churches are banned from using these spots or otherwise have to pay? Well, it depends on the neighborhood, but it’s easy to see what organizations often do when they need parking: build parking lots. Do we really want churches acquiring private off street lots that will sit empty 166 out of 168 hours per week – and generate no property taxes? It makes no sense to me. Why would we want to create incentives for people to own parking lots just because some folks hate cars? We should be going exactly the other direction. There are way too many church parking lots already if you ask me. We should be trying to cut deals with them to open that land up for development by making temporary blocks of street parking available for a couple hours on Sundays.

Now, in places where there is legitimately congestion and/or parking shortages on Sunday mornings (and San Francisco might be a case here – I don’t know for sure), implementing parking charges and restrictions would certainly be reasonable. The principal reason for allowing these church uses in the first place shouldn’t be some religious exemption per se, but rather enabling a local chronologically niche use to take advantage of underutilized public space. (Keep in mind that many other local users get truly special privileges based solely on their local presence: loading zones, valet zones, residential parking – and the latter is usually de facto free). If the space is over-subscribed, then feeding the meters to help rationalize demand is reasonable, and the churches should stop grumbling.

In short, we should be basing this on some type of rational decision process based on neighborhood conditions, setting the right overall incentives, and balancing the needs of competing uses, not pandering to churches treating illegal spots as if they were some ancient feudal right, nor sanctimonious bicyclists behaving as if a double parked car on Sunday morning is a menace to the planet or to their own self-evident status as the most perfectly entitled form of urban transport.

This piece first appeared at The Ubanophile.


A Fly-Over State Change of Mind

Google the phrase “fly-over state.” You will find some unkind and a few nasty characterizations of the states that occupy the middle of the country. Nobody goes to these boring, unremarkable places with their ignorant people, uncultured lifestyles and awful weather. "Fly-over states" are where people never actually go but just fly over to get from the East Coast to the West Coast where the interesting places are.

Now I don't want to disparage the coastal states or their “cool” cities because I have many friends living and working there that I would never dream of offending. But the truth is that the middle of the country is doing quite well and can look forward to a bright future with unaccustomed, uncharacteristic optimism.

The Great Plains turnabout is robust and pervasive, according to “The Rise of the Great Plains,” a report on the future of the American Great Plains recently released by Texas Tech University. Joel Kotkin, Praxis Strategy Group and Kevin Mulligan of TTU’s Center of Geospatial Technology authored the report, which is accompanied by an interactive online atlas of economic, demographic and geographic data.

Instead of being passed over, the region has surpassed the national norms in everything from population increase to income and job growth during the last decade. After generations of net out-migration, the entire region now enjoys a net in-migration from other states, as well as increased immigration from around the world. Contrary to perceptions of the area as a wind-swept, old-age home, the vast majority of the newcomers are between the ages of 20 and 35.

“The Rise of the Great Plains” concludes that three critical factors will propel the region’s future in the 21st century.

First, the region’s vast resources places it in an excellent position to take advantage of worldwide increases in demand for food, fiber and fuel. The region’s manufacturing prowess and increasing trade savvy can propel it into more global markets.

Second, the hyper-evolution and adoption of advanced technologies has enhanced the development of precision agriculture and energy resources, notably oil and gas previously considered impractical to tap. So, too, the Internet and advanced communications have reduced many of the barriers — socio-economic and cultural — which have isolated the Plains from the rest of the country and the world.

Third, and perhaps most significantly, are demographic changes. The reversal of out-migration means that the region is again becoming attractive to people with ambition and talent. This is particularly true of leading cities, many of which now enjoy positive net migration not only from their own rural hinterlands, but from metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Minneapolis, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and Chicago.

Fly-over states forever? Certainly some of the economic realities and perceptions of the Great Plains will persist. Yet, we can accelerate their demise by choosing to make prudent, generative investments in our infrastructure, businesses, institutions, communities and people. By doing so, we ourselves will be empowered to fly over to opportunities wherever they might be found throughout the world.

Delore Zimmerman is the President of Praxis Strategy Group and Publisher of This piece originally appeared in Prairie Business Magazine, January 31, 2013.