Hunt Builds Communities

Really. That’s what they do. They got rich building housing for military families, all over the world.

If you believe this book, the Hunts were one of the architects of the plan to develop El Paso. The plan we’re suffering under now.

Hunt builds the physical community. The “built environment.” They don’t build the kind of community that will help you move a couch, or get your cat out of a tree, or bake a casserole when your mother dies. They build buildings. It must have been a short leap for them to think that all they had to do to make El Paso a thriving city was to improve the built environment.

In 2012, El Paso was coming off a couple of years which had seen three and a half percent growth. Against that backdrop, El Pasoans were easily convinced that the city was getting ready to explode.

But El Paso was seeing the results of a couple of black swan events: widespread violence in Juarez, inducing juarenses to flee the city, and a population boost from Base Realignment and Closure. Those one-offs didn’t produce sustainable growth. Since 2012, El Paso has only grown by a little more than one percent.

El Paso’s built environment is not the only obstacle to the city’s growth. El Paso is far from the markets where manufacturers can sell their products. El Paso is far from the markets where manufacturers can source their raw materials. Despite the city’s propaganda to the contrary, El Paso is not home to an educated and motivated workforce. Utility rates are high. Our property tax rates are the highest in the country.

Which do you suppose means more to a family’s quality of life? Great public schools, or a world class children’s museum?

Will a Triple A baseball team fix our limitations? USL soccer?

I like watching soccer games. (We call it futbol at our house.) But even MLS soccer is a step below the European leagues, and USL is a step below that.

For El Paso to thrive, we need a balanced approach to development. We need to address our other limitations, the ones we can, and not just our lack of pretty buildings downtown.

We need early childhood education. Don’t tell me we can’t do that. Don’t tell me that’s not the City’s business. Water parks are not the City’s business. San Antonio offers programs that support early childhood education.

We need lower utility rates. Encouraging rooftop solar would go a long ways toward that. Why do we let the El Paso Electric Company build new generating stations when they could lay off a lot of their peak demand to customers with solar panels on their roofs? Why do we let the City pad our electric and water bills with exorbitant franchise fees?

Why don’t our City Representatives represent the citizens?

I don’t believe that our oligarchs have bad intentions. I don’t believe that their blueprint for the city was born of their desire to get richer.

But I believe that they were blinded by their hubris. They thought that their particular skills were sufficient to launch El Paso into the twenty-first century.

Focusing solely on the built environment has left us with an unbalanced development strategy, and the highest property tax rates in the country.

And no relief in sight.


  1. I agree with you here:

    “I don’t believe that our oligarchs have bad intentions. I don’t believe that their blueprint for the city was born of their desire to get richer.

    But I believe that they were blinded by their hubris. They thought that their particular skills were sufficient to launch El Paso into the twenty-first century.”

    I don’t think the oligarchs are bad people and they’re clearly smart enough to realize that someone with their level of wealth has quicker and easier ways to make money than building arenas and hotels in downtown El Paso. And while I also don’t think they’re bad people, I also don’t generally agree with their strategy. I think the arena is a misguided way to revitalize downtown and I don’t think USL will save our city.

    I also agree with you that education is the best way to sustainably move a community forward, and that lower utility rates would be helpful. But I do want to play devil’s advocate on a couple points.

    Investing in early childhood education will not produce any economic impact on the community for at least 20-30 years, and the main effects won’t be felt for 50-60 years. Many of us won’t be around by then, or we’ll be too old to care. And even that assumes that those children decide to stay in El Paso after high school or college. Otherwise we’re just producing the best-educated future citizens of Dallas, Chicago, and New York. I agree that early childhood education, but I can also see why leaders looking to make an impact in their own lifetime want to diversify their strategy.

    And I agree about utility rates. But even including this, El Paso still has a far lower cost of living than just about any larger city. So while companies looking to relocate to El Paso are wary of high utility costs, they’re probably also looking at how affordable other costs of living are.

    I don’t think that water parks and arenas are the answer, but the built environment as a whole can certainly be helpful. It’s no coincidence that areas like the West Village in NYC and La Condesa in Mexico City are some of the prettiest areas in those cities and also some of the most desirable areas. We’ll never have anything like that in El Paso. We had our population boom about 100 years too late. But I think that sprucing up downtown, Sunset Heights, and other sort of walkable, historic areas might put us a couple paces of wherever we are now. And it wouldn’t take 50 years for us to see the results.

    In your opinion, what should the balance be? Is the issue that the city has focused too much on the built environment? Or that Hunt, et. al. generally haven’t been focusing on building the right kind of environment?

    1. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today.

      Early childhood education has the immediate benefit of making El Paso a more attractive place to live. Given two places with equal attributes, would you rather live in a city that supports early childhood education, or one that has USL soccer?

      Companies, generally, don’t care about the cost of living. Companies care about the bottom line. Production costs have lots of components, the availability of an educated and motivated workforce being one. Utility costs are a visible and easily quantifiable factor. Electricity and water and natural gas are homogeneous, and their costs directly impact a company’s profits.

      Living expenses, not so much. El Pasoans bundle of consumables is definitely different than the citizens of Des Moines. Lobster in El Paso is more expensive than in Maine. Chiles rellenos are cheaper.

      I like some of the sprucing up the City has done, but we’ve passed the point of diminishing returns.

      We’re trying to play catch up, when we should be leveraging out strengths. El Paso is culturally unique. So why are we trying to be like every other city in America?

      El Paso should focus on industries that are deliverable via the internet. Software. Graphic arts. We won’t attract companies like Google or Facebook because they like to go where electricity is cheap.

      If I were the City, I’d make Creative Cloud available to anyone that wanted it, and offer classes via at the public libraries, or a dedicated space.

      I always enjoy our conversations, Joel. Keep in touch.

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