THE INVENTION OF UPPER KIRBY Among Houston’s grids, strips, and cul de sacs, let a million neighborhoods bloom! Perhaps the story of how the area around upper Kirby Dr. came to be known as Upper Kirby can form some sort of template for this city’s vast numbers of undifferentiated districts just waiting to be branded? “We weren’t Greenway Plaza, we weren’t Montrose, we weren’t Rice Village,” Upper Kirby Management District deputy director Travis Younkin tells reporter Nicki Koetting. It was a section of town that lacked identity. “This nameless neighborhood, Koetting adds, “was the sort of place you drove through on the way to other, named neighborhoods.” One helpful step along the way: Planting the shopping areas with red phone booths. “The authentic British phone booths are an homage to Upper Kirby’s acronym, and actually operated as phone booths for a few decades until cellphones became the norm,” Koetting notes. “Now, the telephone booths are lit from within and locked, serving today as a visual indication to visitors that they’ve arrived in Houston’s own UK.” [Houstonia] Photo: WhisperToMe
STILL SELLING A LITTLE PLACE IN THE BIG CITY “In 15 months of reporting on Houston’s suburbs and exurbs,” writes Mike Snyder, “I’ve heard this phrase again and again, usually uttered in a tone of wistful nostalgia. It’s often cited as a vital civic asset that’s at risk in rapidly growing cities such as Pearland that really were small towns within some residents’ lifetimes.” And it hits the print regularly too, he says: “A search for the phrase ‘small-town feel’ in the Chronicle‘s digital archives yielded 245 hits. Most were articles about real estate projects that used the phrase as a marketing tool. They carried headlines such as “Bay Oaks: Resort-style living with a small-town feel” and “Creekside Village will create a small-town feel.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo: Stanford via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN THEY MOVE THE NEIGHBORHOOD TO SELL THE HOME “I think the branding is more about attracting people to an open house. Future buyers scanning online listings are going skip right past something that says Fifth Ward, but might give a second glance at something labeled EaDo (bars! restaurants! sports!). Then, if you get them to look at the place, that’s when you hard sell. And homebuyers and renters for the most part don’t really care about neighborhood designations. I certainly think it’s disrespectful to the histories of these neighborhood and like most gentrification issues there’s undertones of racism and classism. But I’ve met a lot of people who live in GOOF, Shady Acres, Timbergrove, etc., and if you ask where they live, they just say ‘The Heights‘ —either for shorthand or because they don’t even know their neighborhood’s name.” [Pitts, commenting on Renaming Acres Homes; Bringing Back Curbside Glass Recycling] Illustration: Lulu
A couple of days after a lawyer from Zillow sent McMansion Hell author Kate Wagner a letter demanding she take down from her website all the images of homes she’d ever found on the real estate listings aggregator site and artfully marked up with satirical commentary, an attorney from the Electronic Freedom Foundation has responded with an artful letter on Wagner’s behalf and a blog post of its own. (And it’s perhaps worth noting that in creating the delightful graphic above to illustrate its no-can-do response to Zillow’s threat to sue, the foundation itself chose to work from a Creative Commons image.) Writes EFF’s Daniel Nazer: “Using humor and parody, Wagner tries to illustrate the architectural horror of modern McMansions. . . . Importantly, Zillow does not own, and cannot assert, the copyright in these photos. But even if it could, McMansion Hell’s annotation of photographs for the purpose of criticism and commentary is a classic example of fair use.”
Sure, nervous economists and friends, go ahead and fret about how the coming robot revolution is likely to decimate the availability of middle-class jobs. But the likely wide-ranging effects of technological change are notoriously difficult to predict. For example, after viewing the dramatic promotional video above, which brings to the treed expanse of a 0.78-acre vacant lot in The Woodlands the full power of remote-controlled robot-camera cinematic glory, does another possibility come to mind? With this marriage of drone footage, music-video-intro aesthetics, desktop video software, and soundtrack punch, has a Woodlands-area real estate agent stumbled upon the secret to unleashing desires hidden deep inside us all . . . to feed a new vacant land boom?
As delicate orchestral swells matched to lingering aerial pans and zooms tug at our emotions and the full majesty of 67 N. Glenwild Cir. (conveniently located between The Woodlands Preparatory School and the entry gate to the Club at Carlton Woods Creekside) comes into view, can we imagine a new — dare we dream? — vacant-lot-buying frenzy, the wider availability of new technologies enabling craftily orchestrated drone footage to surround and tempt us, and transforming this once dowdy sector?
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON NEEDS A NEW T-SHIRT “. . . LA and New York marketers just don’t know enough about Houston or don’t bother to learn more. They just hear ‘Houston’ and queue up the rocket launch. This might have been magnified by the rumor that PR firms in Houston were overlooked to market the Super Bowl. But maybe now that the elites have seen Houston thanks to the Super Bowl that will change. It is like when you tell your great-aunt you like Lord of the Rings when you are 12 and so she buys you LOTR T-Shirts for the next 20 years.” [rex, commenting on Taking on the ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ Problem]
TAKING ON THE ‘HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM’ PROBLEM What can a little minor public shaming do in the face of a groundswell of clichéd space-themed Houston references from reporters and observers around the world (and the occasional newscaster from within)? Just in time to chronicle and reflect a seeming barrage of “Gee, no one’s ever repeated this before” references to Houston — as it emerged in the national spotlight in advance of yesterday’s Super Bowl — a Twitter account going by the handle Ugh Houston, created last month, set about to highlight, ridicule, and otherwise express disappointment toward any and all variations on the theme of “Houston, we have a problem.” (The betting circuits even had 5-to-2 odds on whether the tagline, an alteration of the original quotation popularized by the 1995 movie about the Apollo 13 mission, would make an appearance in the Super Bowl broadcast, though ultimately, it appears, it didn’t. and it did.) Other phrases targeted by the account include references to landing eagles and launching anything without an actual rocket engine. Here’s the big question, then, waged in harrumph-y asides, worldwide: Should or shouldn’t Houston embrace its popular association with extreme difficulty?Image: Ugh Houston Twitter account
NOVEL APPROACHES TO HOUSTON Noting the “daily clash” of old and new, local and immigrant, and very rich and very poor around these parts, “the tawdriness of those who control the city’s worst quarters,” and the density of terrific raw material for stories, Mimi Swartz wonders — as she considers 3 new novels set in the Bayou City — why Houston hasn’t served as the setting of more great fiction: “Anyone from Charles Dickens to Edith Wharton to Tom Wolfe would have or should have killed for the chance to take Houston on. And yet, so far, few have stepped up. The hands-down best novelist on Houston is Larry McMurtry; the best of his books set here — Moving On, All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, Terms of Endearment, and The Evening Star — evoke the place with affection and authority. But McMurtry’s last Houston book came out in 1992.” Worth mentioning since then: short stories by Antonya Nelson; a few scenes in Justin Cronin’s vampire trilogy,The Passage; Alicia Erian’s novel Towelhead; and thrillers by Attica Locke. Still, she notes, “with Houston, every writer is pretty much starting from scratch.” [Texas Monthly] Photo: faungg [license]
HOUSTON’S NEW OFFICIAL MESSAGE TO IMMIGRANTS: WELCOME, Y’ALL! Long derided by some illegal-immigration opponents as a “Sanctuary City,” Houston appears now to be rebranding itself to suit. The city’s Office of International Communities, along with 2 area nonprofits, are joining to label Houston an official “Welcoming City” for immigrants and refugees, focused on welcoming and integrating new Americans. In joining the nationwide Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative, Houston is joining such hotbeds of newcomer friendliness as Boise, Idaho; Crete, Nebraska, Salt Lake County, Utah; Dayton, Ohio; and Memphis, Tennessee (not to mention Austin, LA, NYC, Chicago, and other likely suspects). Participating community groups intend to create a plan for Houston to “improve the lives of immigrants moving to Houston” and present it to Mayor Turner in November. [City of Houston; Welcoming America] Photo of sign in Chile: Pipe Loyola M
Leather-clad real estate agent Paul Gomberg, perhaps best known for the sales video of that Champion Forest house filled with excrement that made the rounds back in early January, is now starring in a less nose-threatening video tour — this one of a squeaky-clean 2011 mansion on Lake Conroe. The punchline this time: a suit-and-tie-clad 11-year-old that Gomberg chaperons around the property, who ultimately leaves the contract-ready agent hanging on the steps of the house pending parental permission to close the deal.
The house at 12386 Tramonto Dr., which first went on the market in October of 2014 for $1.6 million, was dropped to just below $1.5 million on Tax Day in 2015, two weeks before an early May relisting. The asking price dropped again last July to the current $1.35 million.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE ONLY 5 HOUSTON NEIGHBORHOODS YOU MEET ON TV NEWS “It’s a balancing act. If they get too specific (address! intersection!) the newscasters know that the overwhelming majority of the metro which has no relation to that spot will tune out. If they are too vague (somewhere in the solar system!), once again they run the risk that the audience will feel no connection to the dateline location of the story and will also tune out. But there’s that sweet spot (southwest Houston!) where a large wedge of the viewing audience will think ‘I live/work/school sometimes in what I think of as southwest Houston’ and sit up and pay attention. Gotcha, TV viewers!” [slugline, commenting on What If Local Reporters Could Keep Their Houston Neighborhoods Straight?] Illustration: Lulu
WHAT IF LOCAL REPORTERS COULD KEEP THEIR HOUSTON NEIGHBORHOODS STRAIGHT? Maybe by being more specific and accurate about the locations they describe, suggests Christopher Andrews, teevee news reporters could help Houston learn a little more about itself: “I sometimes wonder how much more we as citizens could learn about our cities if our local news media accurately described the neighborhoods in our cities. A shooting occurred in the Independence Heights neighborhood of Houston early Wednesday morning. Independence Heights is a neighborhood just north of Houston’s I-610 loop. It is home to what most claim was ‘Texas’ first self-governing African-American community.’
When Houston’s local news media covered the shooting, it was described as a shooting ‘in the Heights-area.‘ Would viewers not know where Independence Heights is located? Well, sure, it was near the Heights. But how close is near? Another outlet described it as ‘north Houston.’ Again, how far north of Downtown Houston is ‘north Houston’? Houston is a gigantic city, so north Houston should be more than a few miles from its center. The site of the shooting is approximately a half mile north of Houston’s I-610 loop, which serves as the northern border of what is known as the Houston Heights neighborhood. (To be technical, Sunset Heights is the subdivision name north of the Houston Heights proper.)
This is part a further trend in Houston of simply attaching ‘-Heights’ to neighborhoods or developments in hope of invoking the charm of the Houston Heights proper. (I’m sure this can be said of many other neighborhoods in other cities as well.)” [Not of It] Screenshot: KHOU