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Found 6 results

  1. Changing the plans America’s oil capital is throwing up a few environmental surprises Jul 14th 2012 | HOUSTON | from the print edition STEVE KLINEBERG, a sociologist at Rice University, mentions a couple of events that made Houston’s leaders take notice of a looming problem. One was the day, in 1999, when their city overtook Los Angeles as America’s most polluted—evidence that the rise in asthma attacks among the city’s children, and the students passing out on football pitches, were no coincidence. Another was when Houston came up short in its bid to compete to host the 2012 Olympics. No one on the United States Olympics Committee voted for it, despite the fact that Houston had a brand-new stadium and had promised to turn an old sports field into the world’s largest air-conditioned track-and-field arena. At a casual glance, Houston looks much as it ever did: a tangle of freeways running through a hodgepodge of skyscrapers, strip malls and mixed districts. A closer inspection, though, shows signs of change. The transport authority, which branched into light rail in 2004, is now planning three new lines, adding more than 20 miles of track. Most of the traffic lights now boast LED bulbs, rather than the incandescent sort. More than half the cars in the official city fleet are hybrid or electric, and in May a bike-sharing programme began. Every Wednesday a farmers’ market takes place by the steps of city hall. Other changes are harder to see. The energy codes for buildings have been overhauled and the city is, astonishingly, America’s biggest municipal buyer of renewable energy; about a third of its power comes from Texan wind farms. Houston, in other words, is going green. Laura Spanjian, the city’s director of sustainability, says that businesses are increasingly likely to get on board if they can see the long-term savings or the competitive advantages that flow from creating a more attractive city. She adds an important clarification: “We’re not mandating that they have to do this.” That would not go down well. Houston is the capital of America’s energy industry, and its leaders have traditionally been wary of environmental regulation, both at home and abroad. In fact the city has been sceptical of regulations in general, and even more of central planning. Houston famously has no zoning, which helps explain why the city covers some 600 square miles. It is America’s fourth-largest city by population, but less than half as densely populated as sprawling Los Angeles. People are heavily dependent on cars, the air quality is poor and access to green space is haphazard. At the same time, Houston has jobs, a low cost of living and cheap property. Many people have accepted that trade-off. Between 2000 and 2010 the greater metropolitan area added more than 1.2m people, making it America’s fastest-growing city. Still, the public is taking more interest in sustainability, and for a number of reasons. As the city’s population has swelled, the suburbs have become more crowded. Some of the growth has come from the domestic migration of young professionals with a taste for city life. And despite living in an oil-industry hub, the people of Houston are still aware of the cost of energy; during the summer of 2008, when petrol prices hovered around $4 a gallon, the papers reported a surge of people riding their bicycles to bus stops so that they could take public transport to work. The annual Houston Area Survey from Rice’s Kinder Institute also shows a change. This year’s survey found that 56% think a much better public transport system is “very important” for the city’s future. A similarly solid majority said the Metro system should use all its revenue for improvements to public transport, rather than diverting funds to mend potholes. In the 1990s, most respondents were more concerned about the roads. People’s views about houses have changed, too. In 2008 59% said they would prefer a big house with a big garden, even if that meant they had to use their car to go everywhere. Just 36% preferred a smaller house within walking distance of shops and workplaces. By 2012, preferences were running the other way: 51% liked the idea of a smaller house in a more interesting district, and only 47% said they wanted the lavish McMansion. http://www.economist.com/node/21558632
  2. Productivity in Latin America City limits Once a source of economic dynamism, megacities risk becoming a drag on growth Aug 13th 2011 | from the print edition They could all be working instead FOUR out of five Latin Americans live in cities, compared with fewer than half of Asians or Africans. The region’s 198 biggest cities—those with more than 200,000 people—account for 60% of its economic output, with the ten largest alone generating half of that. The productivity gains that flow from bringing people together in cities have been one of the drivers of economic growth in Latin America over the past half century or more. But congestion, housing shortages, pollution and a lack of urban planning mean that Latin America’s biggest cities now risk dragging down their country’s economies, according to a report* by the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of McKinsey, a firm of management consultants. Until the 1970s, Latin America’s big cities led their countries’ economic development. São Paulo saw annual economic growth of 10.3% from 1920 to 1970 and Rio de Janeiro of 7%, both faster than the 6.8% notched up by Brazil as a whole over that period. But in the decade to 2008 São Paulo’s output grew only two-thirds as fast as Brazil’s, whereas Rio de Janeiro managed a pitiful 37% of the national average. Of the nine cities with the biggest economies, only Lima, Mexico City and Monterrey saw economic growth in this period that was above their countries’ norms. Some medium-sized cities—such as Curitiba and Florianópolis in Brazil, Toluca and Mérida in Mexico and Medellín in Colombia—are starting to show more dynamism than the urban behemoths. That is partly the healthy consequence of liberal economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s: the previous policies of state-led import-substitution tended to concentrate economic activity close to the centres of political power. But McKinsey expects this trend to continue. It reckons that over the next 15 years most of the top ten cities will display below-average growth in population and output (one exception will be Rio de Janeiro, boosted by investment in offshore oil as well as the Olympic games of 2016). But other big and medium-sized cities will grow faster than the national average. Unusually early in their development, Latin America’s biggest cities may have ceased to reap economies of scale “because their institutional, social and environmental support structures have not kept up with their expanding populations,” McKinsey argues. Put more bluntly, the problem is that they are “congested, poorly planned and dangerous”. Latin America’s overall record of productivity growth is poor, thanks to a toxic mixture of burdensome regulation, a large informal economy and a lack of innovation. Given the cities’ economic weight, it is not surprising that many of the region’s wider problems are reflected there. Compared with their peers in developed countries, Latin America’s top ten cities are unsafe, suffer endemic housing shortages, poor schooling and weak health services. They are also inefficient in their energy use and waste management. For example, every dollar of GDP generated in Chile’s capital, Santiago, requires 60% more energy than a dollar of GDP generated in (much colder) Helsinki in Finland. McKinsey reckons that Bogotá needs to double its housing stock by 2025. Overcoming Latin America’s housing shortage and supplying its urban population with associated services (sewerage, water, gas and electricity) would require investment of $3 trillion by 2025. If cities are exacerbating, rather than mitigating, national ills, this may be because of a lack of urban planning. Unplanned sprawl leads to a shortage of green space, strains transport systems, and makes it hard for businesses or housing developers to find sites. All this is harder still when cities expand beyond their political boundaries, creating problems of co-ordination (Mexico City is split between the Federal District and the surrounding State of Mexico, for example). But the report also highlights some success stories. In both Monterrey and Medellín, public authorities have worked closely with the private sector to foster innovation. Along with land use, transport is the biggest headache facing city authorities. Vehicle ownership is likely to expand by 4% a year over the next 15 years, further clogging the streets. Curitiba stands out as an exception: 54% of journeys there are by public transport. The city’s pioneering bus rapid-transport system has been copied across the region—in Bogotá, Mexico City and Lima. In Bogotá the number of daily public-transport journeys is equal to 75% of the population, whereas in Santiago this number is only 50%. More is needed. Experience in Europe and Asia shows that public authorities can increase the efficiency of goods distribution in cities by getting private firms to share their lorries. And although metros are expensive, the cost of not having them may soon be even greater. * “Building globally competitive cities: The Key to Latin American Growth”. McKinsey Global Institute, 2011.
  3. North America’s High-Tech Economy - Milken Institute Ranking North America’s High-Tech Economy: The Geography of Knowledge-Based Industries ranks the top high-tech centers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in their ability to grow and sustain thriving high-tech industries. The top 25 markets are listed on the left, showing the 2007 and 2003 rankings. An interactive map of the metros is directly below and scroll down for a full listing of all 393 high-tech centers ranked. Data is also available for each of the 19 specific high-tech industries. Click here for industry specific data. The full report and executive summary of North America's High-Tech Economy: The Geography of Knowledge-Based Industries is available for free download after registration. Top 25 High Tech Metropolitan Areas 2007 2003 Metropolitan Area 1 1 San Jose-Sunnyvale, CA (MSA) 2 3 Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA (MD) 3 2 Cambridge-Newton, MA (MD) 4 5 Washington-Arlington, DC-VA-MD 5 4 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA 6 6 Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX (MD) 7 7 San Diego-Carlsbad, CA (MSA) 8 11 Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA (MD) 9 9 New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ 10 8 San Francisco-San Mateo, CA (MD) 11 13 Philadelphia, PA (MD) 12 12 Atlanta-Sandy Springs, GA (MSA) 13 10 Edison, NJ (MD) 14 14 Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL (MD) 15 25 TORONTO 16 15 Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA (MD) 17 18 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI (MSA) 18 17 Denver-Aurora, CO (MSA) 19 27 MONTREAL 20 16 Austin-Round Rock, TX (MSA) 21 21 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX (MSA) 22 29 Huntsville, AL (MSA) 23 20 Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ (MSA) 24 31 Wichita, KS (MSA) 25 23 Bethesda-Gaithersburg, MD (MD) http://www.milkeninstitute.org/nahightech/nahightech.taf
  4. Le renouvellement perpétuel qui se passe dans les 50 états et milliers de villes que forment les USA. State of renewal The federal government could learn some lessons from the states Jun 2nd 2012 | from the print edition THE American political system, as all the world thinks it knows, is gridlocked, not to mention dysfunctional and broken. The tea-maddened Republicans who seized control of the House of Representatives are holding Barack Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate to ransom, refusing either to balance the federal budget or to pass any of the administration’s legislation without first getting swingeing cuts in taxes for the rich and in aid for the poor. In the White House Mr Obama is too busy planning his re-election to govern, while the economy races towards a “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and spending cuts that will take effect on January 1st next year unless they can find consensus; that seems more elusive than at any time since the end of the civil war. All true, up to a point; but not the whole story. Across America, most obviously in the battered Midwest and the property-busted sunnier climes of Florida and Nevada, a turnaround is under way. Thank many things for that: lower energy prices, recovering demand in at least a few places abroad, exceptionally loose monetary policy at home and the effects of the stimulus that Mr Obama was able to push through Congress before he lost control of it at the 2010 mid-terms. But also thank the fact that gridlock in Washington does not mean gridlock in the real drivers of America’s prosperity, its 50 competing states and its hundreds of self-governing cities. It is in those states and those cities that America is endlessly renewing itself. It is at city and state level, for instance, that America’s education system is being rewired, thanks to the independent or “charter” school revolution that was pioneered in places as diverse as New York City and Texas and is growing all the time. Experiments with health care in states as far apart in every way as Utah and Massachusetts pre-dated anything done at the federal level. A clutch of new Republican governors elected at those mid-terms have been driving forward the reform of the public sector, often controversially but in the long-term interest of their states. In Republican Indiana Mitch Daniels, the governor, has made his state the only one in the Midwest to ban the closed shop; other states in the region may have to do the same if they don’t want to be left behind. And, it bears repeating, since states and cities are not supposed to run deficits, it is at these levels that most progress has been made in restoring public finances. Jon Kasich, the new Republican governor of Ohio, for instance, has made up an $8 billion shortfall while cutting taxes. A number of states, mostly Republican ones, have “rainy-day funds” which saw them through the worst of the post-Lehman storm, though the federal government also helped a lot. Slashing red tape and opening government to inspection by the public by means of “sunshine laws” have also played their part; here again, the record of Republican states has been better than Democratic ones. California, for the eighth year in a row, has just been voted the worst state in which to do business, with New York (also strongly Democratic) a close second, thanks to high taxes and excessive regulation. According to Chief Executive magazine, which did the survey, all top ten spots are held by Republican states, with Texas in the lead. As we report here, a feature of the past year or so of the recovery is that among the dozen “swing states” that will determine the outcome of the election, unemployment has fallen by more than the national average. You might think that this is bad news for Mr Romney: his pitch is that Mr Obama has failed to sort out the economy and that he can do better. Actually, it is potentially good news for the man who this week clinched his nomination with a spectacular victory in Texas. Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, probably the five states most critical to the election, are all run by new small-government Republican deficit hawks. Mr President, learn from your enemies The newcomers do not deserve all the credit, of course. The bail-out of the car industry, for instance, was what saved Michigan. Yet Mr Obama should take note. Sound public finances, opening up government, taking on unions, privatising services: the mid-terms showed that there is a great appetite in America for these right-of-centre remedies. http://www.economist.com/node/21556247
  5. America’s triple A rating is at risk By David Walker Published: May 12 2009 20:06 | Last updated: May 12 2009 20:06 Long before the current financial crisis, nearly two years ago, a little-noticed cloud darkened the horizon for the US government. It was ignored. But now that shadow, in the form of a warning from a top credit rating agency that the nation risked losing its triple A rating if it did not start putting its finances in order, is coming back to haunt us. That warning from Moody’s focused on the exploding healthcare and Social Security costs that threaten to engulf the federal government in debt over coming decades. The facts show we’re in even worse shape now, and there are signs that confidence in America’s ability to control its finances is eroding. Prices have risen on credit default insurance on US government bonds, meaning it costs investors more to protect their investment in Treasury bonds against default than before the crisis hit. It even, briefly, cost more to buy protection on US government debt than on debt issued by McDonald’s. Another warning sign has come from across the Pacific, where the Chinese premier and the head of the People’s Bank of China have expressed concern about America’s longer-term credit worthiness and the value of the dollar. The US, despite the downturn, has the resources, expertise and resilience to restore its economy and meet its obligations. Moreover, many of the trillions of dollars recently funnelled into the financial system will hopefully rescue it and stimulate our economy. The US government has had a triple A credit rating since 1917, but it is unclear how long this will continue to be the case. In my view, either one of two developments could be enough to cause us to lose our top rating. First, while comprehensive healthcare reform is needed, it must not further harm our nation’s financial condition. Doing so would send a signal that fiscal prudence is being ignored in the drive to meet societal wants, further mortgaging the country’s future. Second, failure by the federal government to create a process that would enable tough spending, tax and budget control choices to be made after we turn the corner on the economy would send a signal that our political system is not up to the task of addressing the large, known and growing structural imbalances confronting us. For too long, the US has delayed making the tough but necessary choices needed to reverse its deteriorating financial condition. One could even argue that our government does not deserve a triple A credit rating based on our current financial condition, structural fiscal imbalances and political stalemate. The credit rating agencies have been wildly wrong before, not least with mortgage-backed securities. How can one justify bestowing a triple A rating on an entity with an accumulated negative net worth of more than $11,000bn (€8,000bn, £7,000bn) and additional off-balance sheet obligations of $45,000bn? An entity that is set to run a $1,800bn-plus deficit for the current year and trillion dollar-plus deficits for years to come? I have fought on the front lines of the war for fiscal responsibility for almost six years. We should have been more wary of tax cuts in 2001 without matching spending cuts that would have prevented the budget going deeply into deficit. That mistake was compounded in 2003, when President George W. Bush proposed expanding Medicare to include a prescription drug benefit. We must learn from past mistakes. Fiscal irresponsibility comes in two primary forms – acts of commission and of omission. Both are in danger of undermining our future. First, Washington is about to embark on another major healthcare reform debate, this time over the need for comprehensive healthcare reform. The debate is driven, in large part, by the recognition that healthcare costs are the single largest contributor to our nation’s fiscal imbalance. It also recognises that the US is the only large industrialised nation without some level of guaranteed health coverage. There is no question that this nation needs to pursue comprehensive healthcare reform that should address the important dimensions of coverage, cost, quality and personal responsibility. But while comprehensive reform is called for and some basic level of universal coverage is appropriate, it is critically important that we not shoot ourselves again. Comprehensive healthcare reform should significantly reduce the huge unfunded healthcare promises we already have (over $36,000bn for Medicare alone as of last September), as well as the large and growing structural deficits that threaten our future. One way out of these problems is for the president and Congress to create a “fiscal future commission” where everything is on the table, including budget controls, entitlement programme reforms and tax increases. This commission should venture beyond Washington’s Beltway to engage the American people, using digital technologies in an unparalleled manner. If it can achieve a predetermined super-majority vote on a package of recommendations, they should be guaranteed a vote in Congress. Recent research conducted for the Peterson Foundation shows that 90 per cent of Americans want the federal government to put its own financial house in order. It also shows that the public supports the creation of a fiscal commission by a two-to-one margin. Yet Washington still sleeps, and it is clear that we cannot count on politicians to make tough transformational changes on multiple fronts using the regular legislative process. We have to act before we face a much larger economic crisis. Let’s not wait until a credit rating downgrade. The time for Washington to wake up is now. David Walker is chief executive of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and former comptroller general of the US