Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Only a few U.S. cities can sustain tragic-yet-frequent dinosaur outbreaks.
The entrance by helicopter. The sweeping orchestral strings. The near certainty of death at the hands of a late-Cretaceous-period monster. Paleontologists in jorts! Who doesn’t want a Jurassic Park in their city? The better question may be: What city most deserves to host a dinosaur theme park?
Building a Jurassic Park would be a titanic undertaking for a city, with all the benefits and drawbacks of setting up a world-class zoological facility, developing an Ivy League research institution, and hosting the World Cup. Only a few places are cut out for it.
Jurassic World—the latest installment in the summer blockbuster series launched by the 1993 classic, Jurassic Park—just shattered all box-office records, posting a Brontosaurus-sized $511.8 million over its opening weekend. So let’s assume that demand for an honest-to-goodness, premium-grade, prehistoric throwback zoo runs as deep as the fossil record.
Let’s also assume (purely for illustrational purposes) that the U.S. beats to the punch the dozens of nations with better STEM performance to discover the process for resurrecting dinosaurs from fossilized dino-genes. (In case you need a refresher on this process, here’s a vintage clip from Mr. DNA.) And the U.S. already has the patent-process game on lock.
So who gets the dinosaur bid? There are several tiers of cities to consider, but only one clear-cut, superior destination for Jurassic Park.
Let dinosaurs eat all the NIMBYs: San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Building a Jurassic Park is going to mobilize plenty of folks who do not want dinosaurs in their back yards. Incumbent homeowners in cities that enjoy a high quality of life will rally against building the housing, commercial space, or infrastructure to accommodate new residents—human or otherwise. “A Mesozoic Moratorium in the Mission”: The headlines write themselves.
In any city, a Jurassic Park would draw crowds like a perpetual World Cup. The best case for hosting something on the scale of a Summer Olympics in the District of Columbia or San Francisco is the temporary political consensus it provides to overcome NIMBYism and other structural barriers to growth. Mega-events give cities the political cover they need to pursue big infrastructure spending projects that are otherwise impossible. And there’s nothing more mega than prehistoric mega-fauna.
All of these cities have their problems. Homeowners in New York and San Francisco refuse to pay fair property taxes. In both of those cities plus D.C., they refuse to yield to new housing. Voters in all three fail to support spending for transit or infrastructure at necessary levels to maintain growth.
When dinosaurs break out of a Jurassic Park in New York, S.F., or D.C.—as dinosaurs always do—they will eat all of these NIMBY voters. A dino-park meltdown might solve some immediate affordable-housing issues for these cities. More importantly, though, a wildly popular overarching mega-cause such as a Jurassic Park appears to be the only thing that will convince NIMBY voters to support internal improvements and expand housing supply.
To be fair to the NIMBY cause, roving packs of Deinonychuses would certainly change the character of San Francisco’s historic neighborhoods. That is something to consider.
Park it in an evil-scientist hub: Boston, San Jose, or Research Triangle
The twist in any good Jurassic Park flick happens when a sinister agent tries to steal the top-secret formula for making dinosaurs. I won’t spoil the latest one for you, but suffice it to say, everything goes wrong and dinosaurs commence with the eating of people. Tech bros are an indispensable part of the story; as it happens they make up a big part of the Jurassic diet.
Building a Jurassic Park in one of the nation’s major scientific corridors makes some sense. It’s going to require a fair bit of angel investment and tech know-how, so proximity to Silicon Valley is a priority. On the other hand, much of the work in genomics is currently being conducted in the Greater Boston area, namely Cambridge. The Triangle is another major research nexus that deserves a look.
Now, unless things have changed since I was in middle school, dinosaurs are cold-blooded and can’t survive a Northeastern winter. As much as the city might deserve to be sacked by Velociraptors, that rules out Boston. Duke University is another place begging for a prehistoric purge. Still, the image of a Dilophosaurus hocking a venomous loogie at an IT guy is as irresistible today as it was in 1993. Advantage: Silicon Valley.
Bring the dinosaurs home—to Texas
Not for nothing, but one of the stars of Jurassic World—the fearsome Mosasaurus maximus—was a native Texan, back when the Southwest was covered by a vast, shallow sea. The airplane-sized pterosaur known as Quetzalcoatlus, the largest flying creature that ever lived, was discovered in Big Bend National Park in Texas. Tyrannosaurus Rex also roamed the Lone Star State. Why not bring these cowboys home?
As a pair of paleontologists explained to The Washington Post, dinosaurs don’t thrive in lush rain forests. (Isla Nublar off the coast of Costa Rica is only good for keeping them secret, not keeping them satisfied.) The sheer range of geographies in Texas suggests that some place or another’d suit them. In real life, a Jurassic World would need to encompass a vast area comprising several climates. And where else would you expect the Alamosaurus to live?
The single best place to build Jurassic Park: Houston
Houston is the nation’s most demographically diverse metropolitan area. Its broad base of religious communities and ethnic enclaves, plus its sizable LGBT population, would help to host the millions of visitors who would make the prehistoric pilgrimage every year.
Houston is characterized by its low density—a negative in many respects, but an undeniable plus when it comes to containing the tragic-yet-frequent dinosaur outbreaks. The city’s growth and urban sprawl only indicates the sore need for the kinds of transit and infrastructure upgrades that such a major development could help to facilitate.
The city enjoys a progressive economy that is weathering the downturn in oil prices reasonably well. (Best not to mention oil around the dinosaurs.) According to Area Development, a trade publication that covers, well, area development, Houston ranks second among U.S. metro statistical areas in terms of economic diversity, workforce skills, and other business factors.
Plus, no zoning in Houston means no exclusionary mammal zoning.
Houston is already home to NASA; if past is prologue, then the city’s successes as the host of the nation’s explorations into the final frontier (space) will serve it well when we conquer the next one (time). Put a Jurassic Park next to the Johnson Space Center and call the campus the Space-Time Continuum!
Finally, putting a dinosaur theme park in Houston solves two problems in one. The Astrodome—whose fate is still uncertain—is just begging to be rehabbed as a T-Rex paddock.