The numbers grab the attention. Since the financial crisis took down the American economy in late 2007, Texas’s four major metropolitan areas—Austin, Dallas–Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio—have created 30 percent of the new jobs in the United States, despite accounting for only 6 percent of the population. As Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox explain in “Urbanism, Texas-Style,” one of the features in this special issue of City Journal, no other big American cities can match the job-creation rates of these metros. Even as Chicago lost employment over the last 15 years, and New York added 10 percent to its job base, for example, Austin expanded jobs by 38.2 percent, San Antonio by 31.4 percent, Houston by 31.2 percent, and Dallas–Fort Worth by 22.7 percent.
The jobs aren’t all low-wage positions, as skeptics might think. Middle-class and high-paid positions abound, and not just in energy production—where Texas firms’ innovation is enabling them to adjust rapidly to global competition, according to Robert Bryce in “Texas Flood”—but in surging high-tech and manufacturing sectors, too.
This breathtaking vitality isn’t an accident but instead is an outgrowth of Texas’s robust culture of opportunity, which is why it carries lessons for the nation as a whole. Texas urbanism is business-friendly, with low taxes and light regulations that make forming a new company and getting it off the ground easier than in most of the rest of the country. And central to this “opportunity urbanism” is housing affordability, as builders take advantage of the absence of restrictive planning policies, which have driven up costs and slowed development in coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, to provide a copious supply of homes, at all price levels. Housing affordability has proved a real draw for companies like Toyota, which recently decided to relocate its North American headquarters from Los Angeles to Dallas.
Immigrants and people moving from elsewhere in the country are unsurprisingly flocking to Texas’s revved-up metros. Indeed, if Houston and Dallas–Fort Worth keep expanding at their current feverish rates, Houston will vault past Chicago and become America’s third-most populous city by 2030, and Dallas–Fort Worth will become the third-largest metro region, pulling ahead of Chicagoland before midcentury, notes Aaron Renn in “Lone Star Quartet.”
Can this “Texas model,” as some call it, be sustained? Several essays in the issue explore emerging threats to the state’s opportunity culture. Mark Pulliam’s “Red State, Blue Cities” details how Texas cities are drawing new residents from blue states like California, who may be coming for Texas’s jobs and reasonable cost of living but are bringing with them the same liberal views—and voting patterns—that have made blue-state economies so hostile to middle-class aspiration. A culture clash looms.
Despite Texas’s reputation for fiscal sanity, debt is a concern, too. In “Hooked on Debt,” Steven Malanga details the out-of-control borrowing by the state’s municipalities, which collectively owe $213 billion—up from $130 billion in less than a decade. Per-capita local debt in Texas is now the second-highest in the United States, and the rate of increase is about twice the rate of population growth, plus inflation. Some of this borrowed money is funding the construction of superexpensive, tricked-out high school football stadiums—not a wise use of new debt, to put it mildly, warns Malanga. Texas localities also have not been putting enough money into their retirement systems, explains Josh McGee in “The Time to Fix Texas’s Public Pensions Is Now.” The cost of servicing mounting pension debt has begun to cut into key government services and raises the prospect of sizable future tax hikes.
The issue contains a lot more, from Howard Husock on Texas’s social philanthropy, which is doing good works for the poor and helping civil society thrive to Mario Loyola’s assessment of the state’s public schools (they’re getting better but have lots of room to improve) and Judith Miller on the fascinating story of how the tiny town of Marfa became an international arts destination. It all adds up to a broad and varied look at Texas and the Texas model—both of which, faults and all, have much to teach us.
—Brian C. Anderson