For 200 years, New York City has been the largest city in the nation, and it continues to outperform most cities that were once its competitors. In the 1990s, the city’s population grew by 9 percent and finally passed the eight million mark. New York is the only one of the 16 largest cities in the northeastern or mid-western United States with a higher population today than it had 50 years ago. New York’s economy remains robust. Payroll per employee is more than $80,000 per year in Manhattan’s largest industry and almost $200,000 per year in Manhattan’s second largest industry.
All cities, even New York, go through periods of crisis and seeming rebirth, and New York certainly went through a real crisis in the 1970s. But while the dark periods for Boston, Chicago or Washington D.C. lasted for thirty or fifty years, New York’s worst period lasted for less than a decade. While Boston’s history is one of ongoing crises and reinvention (Glaeser, 2005), New York’s history is one of almost unbroken triumph. The remarkable thing about New York is its ability to thrive despite the massive technological changes that challenged every other dense city that was built around public transportation.
Much to my embarassment, I’ve never been to New York City (on the other hand, much like the protagonist in Savage Steve Holland’s Better Off Dead, this fact has, more than any other, kept me willing to go on with life, no matter how badly the Astros are doing). Nonetheless, a similar question could be asked of Houston. Lord knows that we’ve had “periods of crisis and seeming rebirth.” Indeed, at a meeting on Friday a lecturer asked us if we knew what the “new hot thing” for young lawyers in Houston was twenty years ago. After an uncomfortably long silence in which no-one spoke up to answer, I guessed it might have been real estate.The correct answer was oil and gas. Wrong boom-bust cycle!
Indeed, the most relevant article I can find on Houston’s economic history was written at the peak of the go-go 80s (namely, Joe R. Feagin, “The Global Context of Metropolitan Growth: Houston and the Oil Industry”, Am. J. of Sociology vol. 90 no. 6 (May 1985), 1204-30). Which leads me to believe it’s time for some grad students to get busy on the theses.