Comment of the Day: Still Waiting To See How Houston Is Going To Turn Out

COMMENT OF THE DAY: STILL WAITING TO SEE HOW HOUSTON IS GOING TO TURN OUT Hand Drawing Houston“I used to groan and grouch about Houston’s ugly sprawl and wished that the city would be more like its culturally and aesthetically superior East and West Coast brethren. But with all the recent growth, I have come to realize that Houston is really a blank canvas, despite being home to over 6 million people and sprawling out for 30-40 miles in every direction. NY, Boston and San Fran are what they are. They will have to spend more energy just on maintaining quality of life and do not have much of an opportunity to become something new and better. But in Houston, the next ten years will be transformational. While there are never any guarantees in a city that is subject to the boom and bust cycles of the oil industry, I would take living in Houston over any other great US metropolis just for the chance to see the transformation take place.” [Old School, commenting on Comment of the Day: Top Houston Punch Lines] Illustration: Lulu

31 Comment

  • but does a city really ever transform, or does it’s pockets of wealth just shift and wobble around with the times until it finally multiplies upon itself creating new areas that will never be more than a pale imitation of it’s former self?
    let the east and west coasts bask in their culturally and aesthetically superior bubbles of affluence, Houston just needs to stay how it’s always been….except with less pollution and waste.

  • I feel very much the same way about living in Htown.

  • This lovely swrawl and transformation you wax on about is at what cost? There is almost zero Preservation, it’s ALL about the “future”, this transformation obliterates history with a callous disregarded for anything not “new”. I wonder how many cities you’ve lived in because believe me few feel like you about Houston, I certainly don’t. I love you Houston, but its continued “transformation” and tearing down of everything is hardly a strength, frankly it’s why so few actually chose to live here, they’re simply here because they have to be, I never hear the love for the city that you hear in other cities and it’s because as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, “there is no here, here”

  • Shannon, I think you may be living in some sort of bubble. Everywhere I turn, e.g., online, people are marveling at the transformation going on in Houston and are seeing it in a positive light. Urban infill, improved neighborhoods, greater ethnic and cultural diversity, frequent festivals, bayou reclamations and improvements, city cleanups, highrise and midrise density. The list goes on and on. It’s an exciting place to be, and many of us aspire to move there and are watching closely. My only really big complaint is that Houston hasn’t caught up with the rest of the country in establishing no-kill public animal shelters like so many cities have (including Austin and San Antonio).

  • I don’t live in a bubble, I’m just all too familiar with Houston’s slash and burn boom and bust cycles, you’re taking to a Native. Call me in 10 years.

  • And if you think most most around the country see Houston in a positive light, then it’s you that’s living in a bubble. I love Houston, but I’ve lived in other big cities and I’m a realist about Houston’s reputation.

  • Seriously people, what difference does it make what others in cities across the country think of Houston? Obviously despite whatever reputation it has, the city is thriving and has been growing exponentially for decades. We are getting more press than ever so obviously somebody is doing something right. Many positive things have happened here to improve quality of life in the past twenty years–no doubt from newcomers bringing in fresh perspectives. Granted it is not now nor probably ever will be known as a charming city but everywhere in the country cannot be San Francisco. The grit of this city and region with all it’s heavy industry makes a big impact on the lives of a helluva lot of Americans and it just can’t be done architectural marvels on every corner. So preservation isn’t the thing here? What real history is there in Houston? Some real estate speculators, the Allen Brothers, sold a bunch of folks a bogus claim about a healthy promised land known as Houston. Our nod to Texas history, the San Jacinto Monument , sits hidden amongst the industry along the Ship Channel and does anybody really go there and ponder the battle that made Texas possible? Yes, there are a few grand old homes that have bit the dust and Montrose Blvd was lined with them 80 years ago but life goes on. 95% of what is built is of no real architectural merit so is it really so awful from an aesthetic point of view to lose a bunch of poorly maintained garden apartments and generic tract style houses? Just accept Houston for what it is-a good place to make a living and get some good food with friendly people. And if you are bringing in some visitors from the airports, blind fold ’em!

  • agreed JT, why on earth should any houstonian care about what other people think about Houston? as opposed to all these other tourist trap american cities, we’re not dependent on tourism to fill any of our coffers. downtown and the surrounding area has been built up a lot to make the convention business more appealing, but why should we be worried about blowing money to appease a bunch of people that have no intention of contributing anything to this city anyhow.
    Shannon, we’ve all been around other places as well and the primary complaint about Houston is always that its in Texas. that’s it. these “others” you speak of have no worthwhile opinions or any concern as to regards to the quality of life of Houstonians. let’s keep houston hated for all I care.
    “I never hear the love for the city that you hear in other cities and it’s because as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, “there is no here, here””…..who cares, narcissism is not a virtue. i know tons of folks who love and adore san francisco, but guess what, they all choose to live in Oakland anyhow. As cool as san fran is, it’s also an abysmal place to live if you don’t have an income in the top 10% of americans. i think you and your friends forget that the other 90% have to live somewhere too.

  • Houston will always be a quantity over quality type of city. The mentality here is to get as much out of something investing as little money possible. Yeah, yeah we have lots of densification occurring and lots of new high rises and mid rises and other new construction occuring as well. Problem is a lot of these recently new developments around town lack cohesiveness with their surroundings and a majority lack any kind of originality. Must, what seems like, 70% of all new commercial buildings recently built or U/C here be a blue glass box?? The sad truth of it all is that the developers run this city and they ultimately dictate how it forms, sprawls and continues to be unoriginal and mediocre compared to other US cities.

  • Ok. Ok. Ok. Here Shannon goes again. She’s on here trying to make us all feel bad about ourselves. Houston is a GREAT city to live in. Sure, we have our problems. It is hot from June – October. People take CAT 5 DUMPS in parking lots that look like 3 coke cans with an apple on top. The Museums are expensive. The zoo smells. I have heard it all before. I have lived here my entire life and I’ve watched the changes. All office buildings were built between 1979 and 1981….until 2 years ago. Think about that next time you are running to the bathroom sweating and hoping that door isn’t locked. Cataclysmic brother. Legitimate CAT 6. Thank you

  • I’m less fascinated by how Houston will wind up, and more fascinated by the incredible dynamics of how we get there. Houston has a dazzling array of cultures, ethnicities, and economies. I don’t believe what the bureaucrats say about socio economic and racial divisions here. We’re more diverse than almost every other city in the US. Add to that our growth and constant demographic shifts – the sort of growth and shifts that cities like New York and Chicago haven’t seen since the 1910s. And then of course there’s the uniquely organic way we develop, thanks to our lack of a comprehensive zoning ordinance. It all adds up to make Houston an amazing, fascinating place to live.

  • East End Eddie,

    “Problem is a lot of these recently new developments around town lack cohesiveness with their surroundings and a majority lack any kind of originality.”
    cohesive->same, fitting in, well-integrated
    originality->new and different

    So the problem is that new developments are not the same AND that they are not different?

    I have long suspected that the people here who complain about new development having a boring sameness also being the same ones who complain when new development ruins the boring sameness of some neighborhood. Glad to finally catch someone doing that, all in one sentence.

  • > does a city really ever transform

    Sure — once Ebola gets into the bat colonies along the bayous we’ll all have to wear containment suits in order to spend any time outside. Do those things have air conditioning?

  • Urban enthusiast live in a bubble. I don’t care where they are. The reality is that the VAST majority of people like getting in a private air conditioned car, driving to an island of shopping or whatever and finding a parking space closest to where they are going without being bothered by street people. Urban enthusiasts are under the delusion that most people want to walk around in sticky moist air and sit at their desk stinking all day from sweat in order to pretend they live in a city that was built before cars were invented so they can live like the people they envy on t.v.

    A dense urban environment in the inner city would be a novelty and I’m all for it. Choices are great. Downtown and Midtown are shaping up nicely. The center of Midtown is going to have a very cool buzz going on with all the new infill. The Match, Superblock, Mid-main developement, ect. East side Downtown is going to be a beast and so will Market Square.

    But as cool as it may be to have a tiny, tiny, microscopic sliver of New York in the center of this city, it is totally unnecessary. Our booms have proven that. The VAST majority don’t have a problem with strip malls, blue glass or driving cars to get where they want to go. The VAST majority stay in Houston because they WANT to live in a suburban environment. Jobs? There are jobs in other cities. No one stays in Houston long if they really hate it. You can’t argue with success. Builders keep building things the way they do in Houston because it works.

    “Quality” is subjective. Some people think Miley Cyrus is quality. But you can’t argue with ‘quantity’. Houston is fascinating to people (even the haters) because whatever it is, unlike many of those true centers of urbanity on the east and west coast, Houston IS NOT stagnant. Even in slower economic times, things happen in Houston and it is fun watching it grow.

  • Being appreciated by non-residents is at least as much of a curse as it is a blessing. Case in point: Austin. Austin’s stellar reputation lends it a unique ability to attract droves of highly-educated and yet professionally unqualified young people like moths toward a flame, right along with asinine quasi-public but inherently parasitic phenomenon like SXSW. It’s highly alluring to people who live in a particular city for the same reason that they wear designer clothing; and I’m quite happy to have Austin 162 miles away from Houston, because that’s just close enough to serve as douchebag flypaper. (Dallas, from all appearances, does not enjoy the same benefit.)

  • I feel Houston is filled with acquiescence. Cities do change. At any sign of change besides for the life GIVEN, fear arises. I am a native Houstonian, and I love getting out and walking around in the Houston summer, and the rest of the year–the weather is superb. Of course it’s not year around Mediterranean climate like LA, but it is my home. I despise having to take a car everywhere. I would love to be able to have a more ‘urban’ environment in Houston. Houston was designed around railroads. It’s on our city logo! The idea that people think of Houston as an auto-dominated happening, miss all of the roots of Houston. The heights was founded and designed around a street car system. There was an electric train that ran around the city until the 40’s. So if your fine with artificial air, generic-lack luster development, and cultural muting, there are plenty of places for you in Houston. But let those of us who dare to see our city for what it could be and is becoming have the moment to feel as though our city is a great as it is. Don’t let the current auto-political dominated scheme fool you, the guys who founded our city were from New York, which by the time Houston was founded was developing into a world power. I love Houston, never want it to be New York City or LA, which is why after living in both places, I choose to call Houston my home. But what I cannot stand about Houston, are the people who believe because they are in “Majority”, simply because of misguided and mislabeled factors, that our city should be a traffic burdened, pollution filled, and a backwards thinking place. It’s time for Houston to grow up and be what it is trying to be, an economic and world powerhouse. One, we cannot afford to loose anymore natural elements. Trees are good. And two, history is not bad, every empty lot does not need to be a town house. There are many more factors to urban ism than buildings, its about the quality of life. It is time for Houston to be bold and take a stand. You don’t loose weight by wishing it away. You don’t make money by hoping it will fall into your hands. You must work, and one must study themselves to shed weight in the most specific way possible. With some gumption Houston can deliver, no matter how big and spread out it is. That’s what we do. Look at I-10 for an example. There were so many options to have so many other visions occur there, but crying over spilled milk is a waste of time. So we move forward. Also, if I could live in Clear Lake or Galveston and ride a train into work everyday, I am sure there is an equal number of residents, and visitors to our city that would love to be able to enjoy our great city, without a car. We cannot even get to the airports in the city without a car, what’s up with that?

  • Shannon

    I really think you should leave Houston.

  • I hate watching this complacency about Houston’s problems. Yeah, we’re not like Boston or San Jose, and in some ways that’s good, but there is a lot we can do to get better without losing some sort of mystical “Houstonness” that makes us special.

    To those marveling at how great and “vibrant” Houston’s flaws are, would you like to go back to 1980 when billboards were three times more crowded along our freeways? Would you like to rip out all the trees that have been planted along those same freeways? Would you like to remove the historic restrictions in the Heights and Sixth Ward and watch those neighborhoods turn into Rice Military? Do you want to see another giant revolving gas station sign atop a downtown skyscraper? Shall we return Hermann Park to its former scraggly state, or put the sewage back in Buffalo Bayou?

    If the answer to these questions is “No,” then you must not be a fan of “Keeping Houston Houston,” because before all that happened, Houston was a lot more “Houston” than it is now. I would argue that the way it is now is a vast improvement, and that we should keep going in that direction.

  • I really hope all these people who hate Houston (and Texas and general) continue to hate it. Harris County is already growing at break-neck speed.

    Can anyone imagine how crazy things would be around here if Houston was as loved as some East/West coast cities?

  • Excellent point, Blue Dog. Though I take personal offense on one level – I consider myself an urban enthusiast but I commute by car and like my single family house – I think you’re absolutely right that the reason Houston is the way it is, is that most Houstonians want it this way. The urbanist-intelligencia pooh-poohs it, but we like our houses and we like our cars. Big boxes are convenient places to shop. Even jammed freeways get us where we want to go faster than most forms of transit, and certainly faster than walking.
    The real problem, to me, is that urbanists in Houston concentrate too much on their efforts to convince middle class and wealthy people to give up their cars. They don’t do nearly enough to make life better for poor people who have no choice but to walk and take transit. Houston has some areas that are really dense, but are poor. Gulfton. Greenspoint. Westwood. These areas suffer from horrific neglect for things like transit and redevelopment. They fight just to get existing sidewalks repaired – forget “complete streets” and other goodies. The cruel irony is that the people who live there would benefit the most from that sort of improvement.
    Now don’t get me wrong. This happens all around the world. But that doesn’t make it any less troubling.

  • The biggest problem with the constant redevelopment of Houston is that the infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, water, green space, etc.) is not keeping pace…and likely never will. The city of Houston just rubber-stamps building permits and never met a variance request they didn’t like. And, since developers aren’t held to any real standards, they’re more interested in maximizing profit than improving quality of life. Look how many new apartment buildings have no courtyards or green space at all so they can cram in more units, and how many projects are built too close to the street for sidewalks. The “walkable neighborhood” trend has resulted in bland little islands of development that aren’t connected to each other. And I’m REALLY tired of Houston cheerleaders telling me to deal with increased traffic because it comes with growth. Traffic and mobility is a huge quality of life issue, and to keep building willy-nilly while ignoring that fact will come home to roost sooner than we think.

  • I agree with Roadchick’s assessment of how Houston’s public infrastructure not keep up with development and population growth. The cluster that is Rice Military today should never have been allowed to happen. 18′ wide streets with no sidewalks and no storm sewers other than drainage ditches in a highly dense neighborhood does not make for a pleasant place. Obviously, plenty of people ignore that and pay high dollar to move there, but some planning by the city 15 years ago could have made it much nicer. Just think of how much additional property tax revenue the city gets from six or eight $400k townhomes crammed onto lots that formerly held probably a 2 bedroom ramshackle house pegged at $85,000. That neighborhood and others like it sure aren’t get any return on their property taxes from the city.

  • I have to disagree with roadchick. The City does have development standards, and some of them are codified while others are unspoken and yet well-understood. I can think of numerous projects that I’ve worked on where the City has shot down variance requests; and most developers will pitch an idea to their architect or land planner, who goes and floats it with the City, gets an opinion, and then advises the developer on whether pursuing a variance is worth the time and money. The variances that are successful oftentimes are the only ones that are requested.

    Also FYI, the City does not merely rubber-stamp permits. No, no, no. That can be an intense battle — and sometimes it can be more an ordeal of personalities rather than of code. Its been my experience that outcomes are often unpredictable and subject to human factors.

  • Niche: everything’s relative. I’ve permitted projects in Rosenberg. I’ve permitted projects in Houston. I’ve permitted projects in Sugar Land, and I’ve permitted projects in unincorporated Fort Bend County. Houston’s not the easiest (that honor, if you can call it an honor, goes to unincorporated Fort Bend County). But they’re far, far from being the toughest. Really, Sugar Land takes it to a whole new level.

  • Do neighborhoods like Rice Military exist in any of the other 10 major cities in the country? i.e. with relatively high home prices in spite of the open drains, no sidewalks, unimproved shoulders, etc.

  • Ironically this is one of the main reasons why I found living in Houston so depressing. Houston does have a blank slate to build something newer and better but it seems like every project is just slowly making it worse.

  • rice military isn’t the only neighborhood in Houston with no sidewalks and exposed ditches, there’s tons of them all over. why does only a neighborhood that just very recently transitioned into a wealthy district deserve sidewalks while other parts of town still go without? the answer is they don’t deserve them anymore than the others, it should be a standard across the board.
    it wasn’t done before as we didn’t have the money and we still don’t. 5 years of increased tax appraisals does not equate to enough funding for street redevelopment. perhaps the city would be open to discussing this with the neighborhood to sort out the funding from various interest groups. maybe open up a TIRZ or something for it (yeah, you can tell i don’t know how any of that works). Regardless, the homes in this area were/are discounted in comparison to neighboring parts of town with these developments for this very reason and the new residents shouldn’t expect anything to be done until the city has enough funding to prioritize it (which won’t be soon). we live in a low-cost and low-tax atmosphere so we will always have a problems with increased density building up before we have the funding to address it. if we wanted this infrastructure to be built in this area first before allowing the current boom then we’d still be sitting here with $85K homes all over. as bad as the current situation is, the alternative would be even worse with restricted development, increased density in all areas surrounding it and a lot of newer residents locating themselves in the burbs depriving Houston of much needed revenue to address said problems.
    and roadchick, i think your screed goes a bit too far. developers building bland tiny units with decreased standards of living is not a negative, but a positive. it’s called housing diversity and allows poorer folks unable to afford nice places in better parts of town to still live in areas with good infrastructure and access to quality education and jobs. as for traffic, again i think it’s a positive. it encourages density, alternative transportation methods and increased funding for mass transportation. you have to take the good with the bad and can’t just hold up everything until we only receive the good stuff. there’s certainly more Houston could be doing, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong either.

  • Joel, I think what chaps folks’ hides is that normally new development is required to at least put in the sidewalk, even if it doesn’t connect to anything; over time redevelopment will slowly stitch together a continuous sidewalk network or at least make filling in the gaps less daunting. However, townhome developers in Rice Military were allowed to build without doing so because they claimed hardship to the City, which should have held firm. Not to mention that the City doesn’t enforce the legally mandated requirement for private properties to keep up their sidewalk – no penalties for allowing it to deteriorate or disappear.

  • I’m not a bigtime Mover & Shaker, but I’ve got a small correction for BrianMac. Who said: ” We cannot even get to the airports in the city without a car, what’s up with that?”

    Metro buses 50 & 88 will take you to Hobby; 102 goes to IAH. The rides are long but they are cheap! There are also shuttle services–pricier but quite convenient.

  • The 73 Bellfort Crosstown also goes to Hobby. I once commuted home via the 73 from Hobby to TMC Transit Center, transferring to the Red Line to the Wheeler Station, and then to the 25 Richmond. It was a long ride, but I got home safely and cheaply.

  • Local Planner, understood, but is it really a normal requirement to install sidewalks in areas with open ditches for new developments. Thinking off hand here, but don’t think i’ve ever seen any new sidewalks built in open ditch areas.