COMMENT OF THE DAY: WALKING IS NOT NATIVE TO HOUSTON “. . . I do think Houstonians tend to really regard walkers as oddities of nature. Our climate doesn’t really foster a natural desire to walk outside so it is a strange sight to see someone actually — outside. Walking. As a native Houstonian, it has taken me decades to realize that walking along a bayou trail — and using relevant sidewalks to get to/from it — is actually quite nice. That being said, I’m more mindful of fellow pedestrians when I’m in my car. I yield for them not only out of lawful duty, general Southern courtesy, but also as a slight ‘Atta boy!’ for them actually walking.” [Wolf Brand Chili, commenting on Comment of the Day: Unlearning That Nasty Stopping for Pedestrians Habit] Illustration: Lulu
Our climate is a lot better than people give it credit for. Average annual temperature is 70 degrees. Glorious in fall and spring.
It’s our development that doesn’t foster a natural desire to walk.
i think it depends on where you are. i stay over in shady acres, and there are always a ton of people walking around.
I hate when people bring up “average” temperature in Houston, we all damn well know it’s 70 degrees for a few minutes on a handful of days and the rest of the times its hellfire and nuclear fusion outside. It’s like saying with Bill Gates and 50 hobos in the room, ON AVERAGE everyone is a billionaire.
Houston has always been a walking town… just not for the suburbanites. Also, just venture to neighborhoods where poorer people live and you’ll see a ton of walking and mass transit (bus) use. I remember growing up in Spring Branch (before it was overrun with wealthy transplants), and Kempwood having as many people walking around as cars back in the 80’s. Summer is really the only miserable time to walk around.
When I see a walker in Houston I usually call 911 and report a confused delirious person who may need assistance.
If it were 70 degrees a handful of days and hellfire the rest of the time, the average would be somewhere around 90. But the average is 70. The problem is that our best months are in fall and spring, and people from other parts of the country are conditioned to thinking that the best months should be summer. So they get to Houston in summer and say “Eww, this is awful!” Which is sort of like judging Chicago or Boston by how the weather is in January.
Growing up in Houston, I never thought the weather was that bad at all. I probably thought winter was worse than summer, since that’s when I couldn’t run around barefoot. Then after moving away, I was sort of “taught” to think of Houston as having bad weather, since it’s so sticky in July, blah blah blah. The worst is when you hear native Houstonians whining like a bunch of Yankees.
While walking in a more commercial area, when someone I know spots me from their car, it’s usually a look of concern, followed up with “where’s your car? Do you need a ride?” Nothing to see here, folks. Just mindin my own business!
What I love is how long Houstonian’s will wait for a parking spot in a shopping center, to be closer to the store they’re going to, avoiding having to park too far away and walking. For the love, you could save time and get some exercise by just parking a little farther away.
“Our climate doesn’t really foster a natural desire to walk outside…”
Yep, let’s just keep promoting that idiocy. I’ve lived in the Heights or Montrose for 20 years, people have always walked here, and they still do. Why? Because there are things to walk to, and to walk by that make walking pleasurable. I lived in Memorial growing up, no one walked because there was nothing within walking distance to walk to.
This isn’t rocket science, and it has nothing to do with the weather. New Orleans, Miami, and even NYC can be miserably hot and humid in the Summer; people walk.
Funny. I used to love walking from my house in Montrose (Westmoreland area) to various places to shop/eat.
I lived in Washington, DC for 8 years and the typical Washington summer day is every bit as miserable as a Houston summer day. (There are somewhat fewer of them, of course.) And all summer, the streets were crowded with people walking. In the dead of winter, when it was 20 degrees out, the streets were full of people walking. The difference is that the city was built for walking; sidewalks rarely vanished mid block. Pedestrian crossings weren’t a mile apart. There were relatively few city streets eight lanes wide to get across.
Obviously the central city density was a big part of that, but funny thing: people seem to actually like walking. Part of that time I lived in Arlington, VA, which is about like the Heights in density, and I thought nothing of walking 15 minutes up the street to the Metro station or the main boulevard where the shops and cafes and whatnot were. I also would regularly visit friends in Takoma Park, MD, another surburban-ish area, and… people walked.
When I was in college in upstate NY, people walked (most students didn’t have cars on campus, because why would you have a car on campus). People walked 20 minutes downtown on subzero nights to go drinking. People trudged up the giant hill to campus in snow and wind. They could wait for the campus shuttle bus a lot of the time… but mostly they didn’t. They walked.
There are very real reasons that people don’t walk as much in Houston, but the weather ain’t one of them.
Average temperatures don’t do us a lot of good when the lows occur at about 4am, but that’s besides the point that other cities have it worse. Want proof? Visit NYC or Boston or Chicago in their long winter seasons. Visit the Las Vegas Strip in the summer. Minneapolis is walkable all year round, but you’ll be in their tunnels for half of it. All of these cities have suburbs that aren’t as walkable as the urban core; just maybe not as many and not as far afield because Houston got it’s growth spurt after WW2. And in between these cities, far and wide, are small towns on old grids in every kind of climate that are walkable on the face of it but not in fact — because most people don’t.
The reality is that some parts of Houston are perfectly walkable for anybody that particularly cares to walk them. People generally don’t order their lives around their feet because they 1) prefer otherwise, 2) can choose from the very best of thousands of business establishments in a large geographic area if they forego walking, 3) can afford not to have to walk, and 4) aren’t very inconvenienced by modes of travel involving private air conditioned vehicles. That last bit is the most important. Most people (excepting tourists) won’t walk any damn place or use public transportation unless they are sufficiently miserable. In fact, if you see a whole lot of people walking all over the damn place, that is how you know that that place is too damn expensive or too damn poor or just full of tourists that don’t know any better and that are content to pay premium prices to rave to their friends about second-rate “local” food that came in frozen on a Sysco truck. Do not confuse something that seems exotic (to you) for something that is desirable in ordinary life. Your grandparents or great grandparents gave up walking just as soon as they were able. So have billions of others that have more recently been lifted out of poverty.
And that’s the nail on the head, right there, is that walkability as public policy embraces a superficial aesthetic goal underlaid by some gentile manner of poverty, legacy infrastructure, and mass tourism.
Planners need to accept that Houston’s legacy infrastructure is fundamentally of a different (and not a worse) character…and seek to exploit and leverage it aesthetically! The future is easy to predict at this juncture, it involves privately-operated fleets of self-driven vehicles, and that is conducive only to walking to the curb and not one or two blocks further than that. That is progress, it is newfound wealth, it is opportunity. To continue on speaking absentmindedly of some cookie-cutter vision of urbanity involving feet is so disappointingly boring, found in so many architect’s renderings is…mindless, uncreative, place-destroying. It reflects a kind of intellectual poverty. It is a delusion and has been for decades now. Abandon it in favor of a New New Urbanism, one where ‘place’ is what you make of it, not what you’re told.