3 Reasons Houston Keeps Prospering

by Houston Agent

Political, economic and sociological factors have contributed to Houston's spectacular growth.

One does not have to be a rocket scientist at NASA to see that things are pretty good in Houston right now. Home sales in April were positive for the 11th straight month, reaching their highest level since August 2011, and economic conditions in the city are so strong that even lending restrictions, which still troubles some markets, are improving.

Numerous factors have gone in to Houston’s sterling economy, and a new piece by the Houston Chronicle has effectively pinpointed three of the most potent reasons.

  1. Local control – Texas’ Constitution, which was enacted in 1876 after Reconstruction, has changed little in the ensuing 136 years, and through that time, the document’s emphasis has always been on local, individual control of business and land. So Houston, as a home rule city, has always had the authority to manage its growing, diverse population – and to great effect.
  2. Individualistic Political Culture – A term coined by political scientist Daniel Elazar, the culture of Houston is one where the political realm operates as a marketplace, where government encourages private sector growth and individuals pursue their interests. One example the Chronicle highlighted was zoning; despite Houston’s growth, it remains the only major city without zoning restrictions, and because of that, it has remained a low-cost, affordable city.
  3. Extraterritorial Jurisdiction – This multi-syllabic term is actually a lot simpler than it seems. Commonly called ETJ, it basically means that Houston has not been landlocked (as was the case with other Texas cities, such as Dallas), and because of that, it was able to continue growing through annexations.

And boy has Houston grown. Just look at this chart, which follows Houston’s land and population increases in the 20th century using U.S. Census data:

Table 1. Houston Population and Land Area Growth: 1900-2000

Year Population Percent Increase Land Area
1900 44,633 9.0
1910 78,800 76 15.8
1920 138,276 75.5 39
1930 292,352 111.4 72.3
1940 284,514 31.5 73.1
1950 596,163 55 160.1
1960 938,219 57.4 349.4
1970 1,232,802 31.4 445.7
1980 1,595,138 29.4 557.8
1990 1,631,766 2.2 578.5
2000 1,953,631 19.7 617.5
2010 2,099,451 7.5 656.6

In case you’re wondering, Houston’s population in 2010 was 47 times what it was in 1900. So whether it’s political, economic or sociological, all the elements have come together to produce some incredible growth in the Bayou City.

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