Fifth Ward: New Urbanists Meet Old Toxic Waste

Residences at Seventh at 5th, by DPZ

A reader who lives in the neighborhood points us to drawings and information from New Urbanist planners Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. about the firm’s designs for the former MDI Superfund site in the Fifth Ward. DPZ, of course, is most famous for the enormous small-town-sized stage-set the company designed for the 1998 Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show, which became so popular that it was kept on and is now used as a Florida Panhandle resort named Seaside.

InTown Homes and Lovett Homes owner Frank Liu bought the MDI site — a former metal foundry and spent-catalyst “recycling” facility famously polluted with lead and several thousand chemistry sets’ worth of other toxic substances — from the EPA late last year, with promises that he’ll spend a couple of years and $6.7 million remediating the property before letting Houstonians live there. Still, 36+ acres of inner-loop land at $5 a square foot doesn’t sound like too bad a deal.

After the jump: a look at DPZ’s MDI plans, plus large grains of salt.


Seventh at 5th by Duany Plater-Zyberk

Seventh at 5th Site Plan Version Two for Many Diversified Interests Superfund Site in Fifth Ward, Houston

Seventh at 5th Site Plan Version One for Many Diversified Interests Superfund Site in Fifth Ward, Houston

Here’s DPZ’s description:

The site is bound by an operating vinegar factory, a public housing development, a number of deteriorating shotgun houses, several new town home developments, a new school . . .

The first option extends the existing grid and subsumes the easements into the block structure, allowing the neighborhood to be bisected with an east to west linear green/pedestrian mall. The second option features a more organic block structure using the various easements and thin angles to create distinct sub-neighborhoods each with their own central green.

Both plans include a proposed neighborhood commercial center to the south of the site, residences at 22 units per acre with a wide range of housing types and explicitly sustainable urban design. When built, Seventh at 5th promises to bring urbanity and stability to a neighborhood that is already showing signs of regeneration.

Exciting? Sure. But don’t hold your breath waiting for this one — unless, of course, you’re standing at the MDI site itself (at 3617 Baer St.), in which case that might be a good idea. Sure, Frank Liu brought Andres Duany and the DPZ folks out here to work on several projects, but you should believe this one as soon as you see it. About the only thing New Urbanists and most Houston developers appear to have in common is a love for buildings that look old-timey.

Our reader’s report:

I drove by the facility yesterday and the site is still being demo’d. . . . It still looks like a go.

On the other hand, maybe it’ll take something as dramatic as an actual New Urbanist development to bring residents to an old superfund site. Just ax the commercial center, the green spaces, and all that towne-squarey stuff . . . and make it happen!

Images: DPZ