Drew Carey and John Stossel Tell Cleveland to Learn From Houston

What started as a humble video segment for Reason TV has mushroomed into a lot of positive PR for Houston (and less than positive for Cleveland).  It started with famous actor and comedian Drew Carey working with the libertarian Reason Foundation on a video series about saving Cleveland, his hometown.  Houston is held up as a "best practice" example for land use regulation.  There are lots of suggestions and positive comparisons to Houston on red tape (minutes 29:20 thru 32), zoning (37:30), and opportunity (47:50). Yours truly has a short cameo at 38:55. (If you want to be able to jump around, the trick is to start playing it, then hit Pause. You'll see the grey loading indicator continue to download the video. Come back later after it's fully loaded and you'll be able to jump to any point you like.)

After the series was released to the internet and Forbes declared Cleveland the Most Miserable City in America, John Stossel at FOX Business News picked it up.  A friend of mine loaned me a DVD of the 45 minute show (thanks Nolte), but I haven't been able to find it online.  There are shorter segments about it here and here.  The first one jumps right into talking about Houston 16 seconds in, and the second one jumps into Houston around 40 seconds and 58 seconds in.  The Cleveland newspaper writes about the show here.

Unfortunately, one of the professors he has on the show to present the other side brings up another one of those Houston myths that just won't die: that you can build anything next to anything, including a strip club next to a day care center or school.  No, we have narrow nuisance and SOB regulations to prevent that.   We also have private deed restrictions. You don't have to prescriptively control everything to prevent the worst-case scenarios.

Then Bill O'Reilly picks up the story in an interview with Stossel (hat tip to Jessie):

STOSSEL: People go to where the weather is good. We already have...

O'REILLY: Well, you can't blame the city for the weather. I mean, look at Chicago. Great city, bad weather. Boston, come on. You can't blame the city for the weather.

STOSSEL: You can rank them for that. And you can blame the politicians for saying we're going to raise taxes to build our wonderful projects, and that's going to make things better. The cities that prosper like Houston are the cities that have fewer rules and lower taxes.

O'REILLY: But remember Houston used to be the crime capital? They cleaned that place up pretty well.

STOSSEL: But Cleveland has 22 zoning categories. Houston has none.

O'REILLY: Twenty-two zoning categories? Very hard.

STOSSEL: In Cleveland, to start a business, a politician bragged, "We could get you in there in just 18 months." In Houston, one day.

O'REILLY: One day? The problem with no zoning is you can have, you know, the No-Tell Motel right next to you. And...

STOSSEL: You could. But that rarely happens. And it's not an ugly city, Houston.

O'REILLY: No, I didn't say it was ugly. Who said it was ugly?

STOSSEL: Lots of people. No zoning. The city planner said it will be ugly. You will have...

O'REILLY: We have a lot of Houstonians watching "The Factor," and I love going to Houston. All right. There you are, the Forbes magazine list, and Stossel laying it down.

We've come a long way.  Five or ten years ago, you couldn't find many people - including libertarians - that were willing to hold Houston up as a land-use model in public because our reputation was so bad.  But now they do, and it's (slowly) changing our national reputation for the better.

This post originally appeared at HoustonStrategies.com

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What's good for Houston is good for....Houston.

Cleveland is 88 square miles, and Houston is 607 square miles large.

Cleveland is surrounded by other jurisdictions, therefore, cannot annex more land. While Houston is bordered by other jurisdictions, it is not surrounded by them. Houston can continue to physically grow in land size. It can annex its growth. Unfortunately, Cleveland does not have that option.

In Reason's series about Cleveland, Reason, as well as Joel Kotkin, go on to talk about Cleveland's financing of sports facilities as a poor way to enhance economic development. But lo and behold, Houston too has also publicly fund stadiums and arenas, but you did not hear that mentioned in those videos made.

Houston's zoning laws, or so-called lack of them, have little do with Houston's current success. A strong energy sector, a strong medical sector and busy sea port has more to do with Houston's success than anything else. It should be noted that the strong medical sector is heavily influenced by public funding, and the Port of Houston was created by the county. These are examples of where smart public investment has actually lead to economic growth.

What works in Houston was NOT created there!

As a Cleveland resident (and a former Houston resident), let me do a quick point by point:

> Cleveland is surrounded by other jurisdictions, therefore, cannot annex more land.

The fact Cleveland is surrounded by other cities and townships is not the reason it cannot annex other areas. Annexation is a real pain in Ohio, unless you can get is somewhat streamlined like Columbus did. But even then, they got some serious hoops to jump through to get townships annexed. There is a city near Dayton called Springfield and they have been trying to annex Harmony Township for almost 25 YEARS and still cannot get it.

In Texas, if you want something done, you take your lawyers and suitcases full of money and head to Austin, because that is where Houston got publicly funded sports stadiums, port of Houston, annexation laws, and anything else that makes Houston "a success". Texas is a top-down system, where approval for most major projects require the Legislature to approve and the Governor's signature.

On a side note, Minute Maid park was built ILLEGALLY when they proved more votes were counted than cast in that election. City council admitted the election was questionable, but decided to build ENRON FIELD (old name for it) anyway since it was in the "public interest". By the way, when I lived there, I did vote against it and I have never been inside it.

> go on to talk about Cleveland's financing of sports facilities as a poor way to enhance economic development. But lo and behold, Houston too has also publicly fund stadiums and arenas, but you did not hear that mentioned in those videos made.

Actually, the State of Texas shook down the Hotel and Rental car industries for the core dollars for the sports stadiums. The owners, County (property taxes), and other private groups and corporations ponied up the rest. Just about everything in Ohio requires a tax increase or levy (which sucks by the way). So taxpayers really did not "publicly support" sports stadiums. Cleveland taxpayers really paid for the stadiums. Harris County (where Houston is) property owners paid a very small amount.

> Houston's zoning laws, or so-called lack of them, have little do with Houston's current success.

Partially agree, but it is really Houston's ability to annex other areas that is the core of its success.

> A strong energy sector, a strong medical sector and busy sea port has more to do with Houston's success than anything else.

Agreed, but give credit were credit is due. And that is to Austin and the governor. Most Texans do not realize how dictatorial that state is run.

That's not Houston, that's my ugly...

Houston being touted as a city to emulate? Yet another sign---as if we need another one---that the four horseman are-a gallopin'through Uhmurica, the wavin' fields of grain, from sea to shinin' sea, and closin' in fast. I, for one, say Houston is ugly. Sharing a chunk of floating arctic ice with a hungry polar bear, I think, would be a more hospitable habitat for a 21st century hominid than anywhere in fetid, concretized Houston. Yes, the majority of zoning laws in this country are in need of amending or outright abolishment, at the very least they warrant a thoughtful reassessment, and are little more than obsolete hindrances to wise development. How deep-thinker Stossel makes the case for Houston as an example of anything more than a suitable location for the next Mad Max extravaganza, because of that city's byzantine lack of zoning, is a fine example of the sort of obstinate dunderheadedness (delivered under the rubric of libertarianism, a once-meaningful body of political philosophy now made preposterous by self-satisfied, perpetually chattering, poorly educated dolts like Stossel) is...unfortunately very consistent with the general cluelessness flowing from our "leadership" class. Hey John: if Houston's so nifty, why don't you move your Wellfleet beach house down to Galveston? In a few weeks, there'll be free oil for everyone down there! Just bring your bucket and shovel to the beach and have at the BP crude. And who let Drew Carey leave the set of Family Feud? Mazel tov!

Here! Here!

As a former resident of the city of Houston now residing in Cleveland I can assure you, Houston is the WORST POSSIBLE city to use as a model.

The weather aside, Houston's lack of zoning, being very beneficial to businesses, has allowed sprawl to run amok and while keeping the city core the home of the poor and indigents. Take note of all the pink and yellow houses in the poor areas. Yep, no zoning. But on the other end, richer areas have Draconian deed restrictions. In fact, you can thank rich, white Texas city's and neighborhoods for Federal Legislation for local govts and HOAs to allow satellite dishes. Yep, the HOAs were in bed with the cable companies and now that is illegal. That started in Texas. HOAs in Texas (not just Houston) are a public menace.

Annexation is another major problem with Houston (as well as other Texas cities but Houston loves it). While in other states, cities can nail people who work but not live there with income taxes, Houston annexes smaller areas at will and with no consideration or input from the residents. Columbus, Ohio spreads like a virus the same way, but at least Ohio throws some roadblocks up so its cities cannot sneak in and take over in the middle of the night like Houston can.

Houston property taxes are stupid high and school system are a laughing stock of the southern US, which are the main reason people move outside Houston, but only get annexed back in 10 years later. Why does this happen? Because incorporating into a city that cannot be annexed is 1) expensive, 2) requires Texas Legislature approval, and 3) signed by the governor. But setting up a non-consolidated city typically only requires the approval of the county where it will be. You can guess why big cities like Houston do not want new smallers cities it cannot annex around. Don't believe me? Go ask the residents of Kingwood, Texas.

Finally, Houston has a program called "safe clear" which basically allows the city to steal your car if it breaks down on the side of a highway. Take a guess who thought of that idea...(hint: he is a democrat running for governor).

^ Resentful?

Half of your post seems just very bitter, resentful and rude. More emotion than fact.

Fact is, there is a city in Texas that is the #1 municipal purchaser of green electricity, ranks toward the top of Green building lists, has a decent urban core, ranks high in amount of parkland, and has a light rail system that is heavily used.

Think it's Austin? You'd be wrong. It's HOUSTON. Austin is constantly touted for being "progressive", but it's not so much. Austin is very overrated and misunderstood by the media in this regard. And outside of its city limits in unincorporated Travis County and surrounding counties, almost anything goes. Most of Harris County (where Houston sits) is not in city limits either. In these cases of unincorporated areas, the state of Texas allows the counties very little power; they don't have the means to stop sprawl or "bad" development. That is a state issue, not a Houston issue. The city of Houston does have land use ordinances and other regulations, contrary to what many think, and does enforce these in the city limits.

I'm starting to halfway

I'm starting to halfway consider either Dallas or Houston over Austin. Yes- I'm another one of those annoying Californians joining the exodus. I automatically thought Austin and might very well move there. But I've been talking to a few headhunters and it sounds like the job prospects might be a bit better in Dallas or Houston. Who knows?

Hi Bob -- It depends on your

Hi Bob -- It depends on your line of work. We have lots of Californians in Fort Bend County (suburban Houston.) And I don't think any of them are annoying at all! Just come to Texas with an open mind and ready for something new, and you'll be just fine. I've lived in Austin, Houston, and now outside of Houston. All have their strengths and weaknesses. Overall, I think Houston is very underrated and Austin is rather overrated. I have high hopes for Houston's new mayor (who is also the only openly gay mayor I know of in the state, and makes Houston the largest US city with a gay mayor. So much for Texas stereotypes!)