Austin’s ‘Strong Mayor’ proposal misses the fundamental issues in our country’s electoral process

Democracy, Winston Churchill once said, “is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” Treatises have been written on the subject and as the years pass, more could be added to critique the merits and shortcomings of our modern and imperfect governing system. But that broad debate is not the topic here. Rather, it is a critically local subset:...

‘Strong mayor’ proposition on May ballot would be an obstacle to social justice

Editor’s note: This is one in an ongoing series of essays and analyses Urbānitūs will publish reflecting the diversity of perspectives on the future of Austin’s governance structure that voters will decide in a May 1 ballot referendum. The views here reflect the opinions of the authors who represent the advocacy organization Austin for All People. Over the past few months, a group of political insiders has...

To protect democracy, let us elect our leaders and make city hall accountable

Editor’s note: This is one in an ongoing series of essays and analyses Urbānitūs will publish reflecting the diversity of perspectives on the future of Austin’s governance structure that voters will decide in a May 1 ballot referendum. The views here reflect the opinions of the authors who represent the advocacy organization Austinites for Progressive Reform. “We the People of the United States, in order to...

Texas should empower local innovation, not block it, argues a new ‘Metropolitan Blueprint’

If Texas is to continue its dramatic growth economically and demographically, slow-moving state lawmakers need to get out of the way of the fast-moving cities that are driving the success story but hampered by old mindsets of governance. A new “Metropolitan Blueprint” for the state produced by three leading research universities and published March 24 makes that case far more diplomatically. And three panels of more...

What electricity prices can (and cannot) do in the real world of energy markets

The “what” is pretty clear. The “why” will take a little longer. The “what,” of course is that last month Texas’ electric power grid failed spectacularly in the face of a winter storm of unprecedented intensity, duration and geographic breadth (at least, for Texas). The most serious failures occurred in the part of the electric grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT,...

An energy catastrophe forces the question – just how reliable a power system do Texans really want?

The sure-to-be-lengthy post-mortem of Texas’ February energy catastrophe needs to turn on deeper questions, all more fundamental than a mere ideology-framed debate on regulation vs. de-regulation. Not only that argues Varun Rai, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. Once that post-mortem is over, he adds, we need what amounts to a new ethos of vigilance, awareness and engagement with the growing complexity of...

Texas’ devotion to a ‘free’ market, a wobbly polar vortex, and 4.5 million shivering in the dark

Editor’s note: A version of this essay originally appeared as a collaboration between two institutions at the University of Texas at Austin, the Institute for Historical Studies and the Not Even Past project of the Department of History. The Texas ice storm of February 2021 did not just knock out the power for 4.5 million people, it resuscitated a dormant debate over the wisdom of the...

A Texas city leader’s account of local realpolitik, political favor, and cynical manipulation

Review: Greedy Bastards – One City’s Texas-Size Struggle to Avoid a Financial Crisis, by Sheryl Sculley, 2020, 211 pp., Lioncrest Publications Joint editor’s note: Like so many cities, Austin is in a process of rapid transformation. To better understand this moment and its consequences for the city’s residents, we can draw on insights from other places and periods. This review is part of ongoing new series...

Texas Iced: The culprit of Texas’ power misery is energy price policy — not wind, not gas, not nuclear power

When all is said and done, the one big takeaway from Texas’ week of freezing agony amid a power blackout is that recovery will be time-consuming and horribly expensive -- ironically so since the culprit was a system designed to be price competitive. There are some opportunities to accelerate creation of true resilience, including microgrid concepts capable of serving small islands of load when the...

State of the City – How Paris foreshadowed today’s urban politics of displacement and segregation

Review: Paris – Capital of Modernity, by David Harvey, 2006, 230 pp., Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group Joint editor’s note: Like so many cities, Austin is in a process of rapid transformation. To better understand this moment and its consequences for the city’s residents, we can draw on insights from other places and periods. This review is the first in a new series called The State...